Christmas in Painting: Pavel Filonov

 Although the themes of Adoration and the journey of the Magi seem to be more common in the Western tradition in art, they are by no means alien to the Orthodox tradition, and these two works by the Russian painter Pavel Filonov (1883-1941) are good examples. Since painting on this occasion serves to interpret (i.e. to translate) the Bible, it is interesting to observe how Filonov “domesticates” his translation. On the one hand, he obviously does exactly what European painters did before him, i.e. giving the people on his canvas a distinctly Russian look. Yet on the other hand, he introduces to the Russian painting the new methods and techniques. The same is true about The Magi, which is a watercolour painting featuring the black Balthasar in the foreground. If both paintings, but particularly The Magi, offer a good example of application of the recent methods in Western painting (Futurism, Cubism) to the Russian tradition.

Derek Maus in his article explores how Andrei Bely and Pavel Filonov, the writer and the painter respectively, studied the dimensions of space, time and “strangeness” of things in their works. It seems that the “strangest” thing about Peasant Family is that Filonov had chosen to depict the villagers, not proletarians. This is partly explained by the painter’s personal dislike of the city as the epitome of hustle and bustle. In a way, too, Filonov could merely follow the tradition that depicted the holy family in the “bucolic”, and not urban, environment. But one can also agree with Maus that “widespread socio-political sympathy for the plight of the Russian peasantry as, minimally, an image of the rural proletariat, made it possible for Filonov to use this visual allegory to glorify, perhaps even deify, a peasant family“.

Pavel Filonov, The Magi, 1914
(The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia)
Pavel Filonov, Peasant Family (Holy Family), 1914
(The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia).

One thought on “Christmas in Painting: Pavel Filonov”

  1. In the Magi, there is a lot of movement, as the horses throw their heads from side to side.. they move to follow at a dizzing pace.. the first ridder has two faces.. one looks back at the second and third ridders, when seen from a distance.. the other face look at you as you stand close.. there is both pain and hope within this work..

    In the Holy Family, there is more beauty, but it lies still in a pool of pain and hunger…

    In both Pavel has shown the Russian Peasants pain, hope, and want….

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