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Gevorg Bashinjagyan

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Gevorg Bashinjagyan was born on 16th September 1857, in Signakhi, a small town in eastern Georgia. In 1857, a large group of artists, poets and journalists came to Signakhi to mark the centenary of Bashindjagyan's birth. "The serpentine road ascends steadily," wrote one of them, "and I keep wondering what made people build that town so high in the mountains. They must have sought safety up there and perhaps they just loved their dwellings to be almost level with the highest peaks of the Caucasus... It is a place of undisturbed tranquillity. The mountain air is cool and heady".

Zachary Bashinjagyan, Gevorg's father, was one of the best-educated men in Signakhi, although the life-style of his family did not differ much from the simple ways of other townsfolk. A warm-hearted out-going man, he was endowed with extraordinary linguistic talents. A part from his native Armenian, he was fluent in Russian, Georgian, and Persian, and was frequently engaged as a guide and interpreter by merchants traveling from Georgia across Armenia to Persia. Gayane Kulidjanova, his wife, taught her own children and those of her neighbors to read and write. All the members of Gevorg's large family were avid readers and ardent lovers of poetry. His father was an amateur poet himself and took great pleasure in reciting his verse to his children. He wrote down his best poems in a thick notebook and Gevorg illustrated them with scenes from fairy-tales and folk legends. The father's notebook was for many years reverently preserved by the son. Zachary Bashinjagyan died in 1872 during a trip to Persia. Gevorg was fifteen at the time and studying at the local school. Bashinjagyan finished the Arts School with flying colors. His graduation certificate described him as a highly promising student who would do well to continue his studies at the Academy of Fine in St. Petersburg. The young man decided to try his luck and left for the Russian capital in 1878.

In the autumn of 1879, Bashinjagyan successfully passed the exacting entrance examinations and became a student of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. The huge, impressive building on the Kadetskaya Embankment, which he had long known from postcards, was now his Alma Mater where he was going to spend the following three and half years. His life in St. Petersburg was even harder than back home. He was granted "...a monthly allowance of eight rubles which was berely enough to pay for bread". In 1882, he was forced to become an external student; although his tuition was no longer free, he hoped to make a living by selling his paintings. Bashindjagyan's tutor was Mikhail Klodt, a man of democratic convictions and one of the organizers of what is known as the Peredvizhniki Group or Itinerant Exhibitions Society. Having found an excellent teacher of drawing and composition in Klodt, Bashinjagyan soon discovered other masters he wished to emulate.

He completed his studies at the Academy in 1883. His graduation work, "Birch Grove", won him a silver medal. In the spring of 1883, the artist returned to Signakhi. In the summer and early autumn of the same year, he made a long tour of the Caucasus and Transcaucasia - a venture he had dreamed of for years. He went up to the Semyonovsky Pass, down the giddy winding road to Lake Sevan, and on to Yerevan, Ashtarak, Vagharshapat (at present- Echmiadzin), and the south-western part of Armenia. From there he he aded north and traveled over Georgia and the Northern Caucasus, visiting many places he had never been to before. Wherever he went, he avidly sketched the breath-taking scenery around him. The sketches soon developed into a series of magnificent canvases, a long row of "windows overlooking the Caucasus and Transcaucasia"; peaceful valleys, softly undulating hills, misty pine forests, sunlit roads, and majestic mountains, including Europe's highest peak Elbrus and the lofty Mt. Ararat with its two silvery crowns.

In 1884, Bashinjagyan made a trip to Europe, using the scholarship that went with the silver medal awarded by the Academy. He toured Italy, visiting Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples, and was fascinated by the masterpieces of the old Italian art. He also spent some time in Switzerland where he made several sketches of Mt. Jungfrau. "The Alps are beautiful," he wrote, "but they cannot win your heart if you have seen the Caucasus."

It must be noted at this point that he was never detachedly contemplative and aloof. A true patriot, he was keenly interested in the past, and genuinely concerned about the present and future, of his native land. In 1897, he produced a series of oils depicting Ani, once a mighty fortress and the capital of Armenia in the Middle Ages. Bashindjagyan viewed the proun ruins as a symbol of the grim past and also of the undaunted spirit of his people who had courageously stood up to all invaders.

In the 1890s, Bashindjagyan 's oils were displayed at art exhibitions in Moskow, Odessa, and Novocherkassk. At an exhibition in St Petersburg in 1891, critics singled out his "Night in the Environs of Tiflis" and "the River Debet at Night". In 1899, he visited Paris. A year later, he went there again with his wife Ashkhen Katanyan, daughter of a graphic artist from Tiflis, and their three children. The family stayed in France for more than two years. An admirer of the Barbizon school of painting, Bashindjagyan made trips to many places in France, once the favorite retreats of Corot and the other founders of that school. In 1900, he exhibited four landscapes at the exhibition of four Armenian artists in Paris. During his stay in France he produced almost thirty paintings. Perhaps the best of these is "Meudon" (1901).

The artist died on 4th October 1925. In accordance with his will, he was buried at the side of Sayat Nova's tomb in Tbilisi. Today, rich collections of Bashindjagyan 's paintings are on display in the Art Galleries of Georgia and Armenia, and in the Museum of Oriental Art and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Bashindjagyan's work is deeply rooted in Armenian culture, but he was also influenced by European and Russian art. A bold innovator, he introduced new forms and styles into Armenian painting which today is unthinkable without his legacy.