HISTORY OF ART

Pirosmani, the Georgian genius artist

by Maya Mandzikasvili, 14 Apr 2018

Niko Pirosmani might be considered as the national treasure of Georgia, whose paintings are now exhibited all around the world and sold for millions, had ended his life in the dark basement under the stairs of his old house. He became really famous only after his death and his artworks started to be appreciated when he emitted his last breath. Nikoloz has never been taught how to draw, never attended any art school, but if you want to know and see the real Georgian art and feel the Georgian culture, do not miss his paintings. But what kind of person Nikoloz Pirosmanisvili actually was?

Niko Pirosmani might be considered as the national treasure of Georgia, whose paintings are now exhibited all around the world and sold for millions, had ended his life in the dark basement under the stairs of his old house. He became really famous only after his death and his artworks started to be appreciated when he emitted his last breath. Nikoloz has never been taught how to draw, never attended any art school, but if you want to know and see the real Georgian art and feel the Georgian culture, do not miss his paintings. But what kind of person Nikoloz Pirosmanisvili actually was?

Niko Pirosmani might be considered the national treasure of Georgia, whose paintings now exhibit all around the world and sold for millions, had ended his life in the dark basement under the stairs of his old house. He became really famous only after his death and his artworks started to be appreciated when he emitted his last breath.

If you want to know and see the real Georgian art, look for his paintings

But before that, let’s start with who Nikoloz Pirosmanishvili actually was. He was born on May the 5th year 1862 in Kakheti,  in a small village called Mirzaani. According to one version of Pirosmani decency, his parents were farmers, with a middle prosperity and small vineyard, other sources tell that they were wealthy gardeners.

Both sources, although reaching the same conclusion: at the age of eight, Niko lost his father, later his mother.  Little Niko loved his family very much, helped his parents on a farm and the days of his life in Mirzaani might be considered one of the brightest periods of his life.His love to his family later was captured in his paintings. The picture named “Gathering grapes” where a man and woman working in a vineyard might be dedicated to his parents, who worked from dawn to dusk to support their children.

Another of his works might portray Niko himself with his father and mother. Such version might be true, due to the similarity of a children portrayed in both pictures, appearance.

After his father’s death, Niko’s family moved to Tbilisi, where he worked as servant in one wealthy house, mostly serving tea and washing dishes as his main duties, that period of his life he learned to read and started painting, having a very good skill of declamation, young Niko used to tell neighbourhood children fairy tales, painting in the same time on the wall his stories’ scenes.

Later Pirosmani moved to another family and started working as servant as well. He was respected and well treated. Sometime later young Niko felt in love with his landlord’s daughter, Elizabeth, proposed her with a secret letter, but, unfortunately, probably because of his poverty, or maybe a slightly hard temper, his feelings were not reciprocated.

It was his first love…

Nikoloz had worked a hundred types of jobs, starting farming, being the shepherd, being the servant as a child, to salesman and railway worker when grew up. After commissioning from the railway, he bought a small tavern where he and his companion used to sell milk and cheese. But, although, being the great painter, he was not a great businessman, though he did not suffer from poverty in that period.

 In the year 1905, he met his second and, probably last love, though we are not sure, whether there was any relationship between them.

Her name was Margarita De Sevr, she was a French dancer. During her tour, she was performing in the variety show on Kargan Street. Niko liked such performances. When he  entered the variety the performance had already started and Margarita was standing on the stage and singing.

Pirosmani without taking his eyes off her, took a place by one of the tables, Margarita  did not see Niko, who was sitting and shaking like being in fever and staring in one spot. He was totally taken by an unknown feeling. He did not pay attention to food or wine; his heart and mind belonged that moment to Margarita. He did not contemplate the creation arisen before him, he quietly stood up and left without being noticed. The next day nine carriages filled with flowers appeared in front of the hotel where the actress stayed. Pirosmani had sold everything he had, for this; his paintings, paints, workshop, what had left he gave away to the poor. Amazed Margarite sent to her unknown admirer a perfumed invitation to her next performance, asking him to meet her.

 Pirosmani received the letter, but nobody knows, what prevented him from meeting actress: shyness or wine. Although, later, when Niko went to the hotel to meet Margarite, she had already left.

His second love left him, with no money and luck. Sad, broken-hearted and extremely poor Niko dedicated the rest of his life to one and only passion: painting. After losing his tavern Niko starts working as a painter, drawing different signboards for taverns (Duchans in Georg.), shops and workshops.

Never being a material man, he did not care much about money, mostly spending them on his friends and himself, drinking. He had many friends, used to dress very fancily and as a joke was nicknamed as Duke He used to paint with his own made materials, usually not on the paper, but on the oilcloths taken from the table. Niko painted everything: kings and peasants, town and country, parties and prayers, dancers and singers, people and animals, managing to portray even courtesans as innocent angels.

Also, there are scenes from the past of Georgia – the wonderful queen Tamara, brilliant Shota (12-century great poet), Heroes and Heroines – real people, but by their deeds talked about like a saint.

In his artworks Pirosmani used to capture everyday scenes from the life of Georgians belonging to different social layers, men mostly were wearing national costumes, as long as a woman having typical to that period costumes and jewellery. Niko made a great variety of paintings capturing everything happening around him each day, what gives him a resemblance with Vincent Van Gogh. He often used contrasting colours, his drawing style of character which was mostly static figure and no action might be the compared to the theatrical performance of one actor, standing on the scene, with just a small light on his figure, which helps to focus on its character.

Pirosmani used to walk along Tbilisi streets, not talkative, very thin, looking always hungry. He often visited the post office, nobody knew, whom he was writing, but, probably it was Margarite, whose songs still sounded in his ears. He drank a lot and often, he got used drinking, taking regularly his alcohol dose during his last days of life. Nobody could explain why his painted animals have human eyes, colours he used, but time to time, his customers got used to his technique and painter started to get more and more orders. Niko painted from dawn till dusk, drawing before candles, hard to imagine how he handled such pressure. Some people thought, that it was Saint George, who kept his motivation and the one Niko claimed to see, or rather, hallucinate. No one knows. Nobody knew, who taught him to mix paints that way, use such reach palette of colours. The story of his inspiration goes deep into Georgian art culture, during the childhood he was strongly affected by old frescoes in ancient churches and monasteries. And then he was discovered, by brothers Zdanevich. With their help, the first Niko Pirosmanishvili exhibition was organized and the painter finally met educated artists society. Niko was happy, his name was known even in Paris, the city where lived his love, Margarita De Sevr.

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Pirosmanishvili appeared in local papers, the first article was written about him as about uprising genius of art, the article made him very proud. But very soon another publication appeared, which totally destroyed Niko. In the newspaper, the was published caricature of Pirosmanishvili with phrase “Study, buddy, to draw, study, and maybe after 10 years, you will learn and we shall organize your exhibition. “This strike was deadly for the painter, and since then nobody saw him, he merged with the city, lived where used to take orders, tried to hide from people, who offended him First World War started- the start of Niko Pirosmani end. Woes of war touched Tbilisi, many shops and duchans closed, painter started to get fewer orders, soon there were no orders at all. In the city raged Spanish Flu.

            There is the version, that Pirosmanisvhili was the victim of this disease, other suggestions, that he died from hunger. Niko Pirosmani died in Tiflis on May 5, 1918. He spent three days in the basement of house 29 in Molokansky (now Pirosmani) street. Having found out, he was taken to the hospital, where the artist died one and a half days later. The location of his grave is unknown, presumably a common grave for the poor at the Cemetery. After his death, his artwork was appreciated more than ever. His artworks exhibition at first took place in Moscow and then in the 1968 year in Paris in Louvre gallery. Actress Margarite portrait also was exhibited in Paris. Margarite de Sevre was still alive, and there is the version that she visited that exhibition because on 1968-year one old lady holding a package of letters appeared close to the Actress Margarite portrait. She asked to make a picture of her standing next to the picture, sadly, this photo was not saved. Though another picture of this lady standing next to the painting was saved, and according to Niko Pirosmanishvili artwork expert’s it was actress Margarite. So many years later she visited Niko exhibition and saw herself on one of his painting, like a long time before Niko spotted her one of the posters during her tour in Tbilisi.

            Most of his life Niko lived very poorly, what definitely contributed to his death, was not appreciated enough by his people while was alive, what, sadly the very common feature of many talented artists, hopefully getting the older times, then nowadays problem. Happily we have internet, which helps to find your artwork admirer.

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