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LEVITAN, ISAAC (ISAAC ILYICH):

Russian painter; born near Eidtkuhnen Aug. 18, 1860; died at Moscow July 22, 1900. His father, who earned a livelihood by giving private tuition, removed to Moscow when Levitan was still a boy and gave him a good home training. About 1875 Levitan entered the Moscow School of Art, where he finished the course. Living in great poverty, and at times in actual want, he still continued his work, and at the age of nineteen displayed considerable talent in his "An Autumn Day at Sokolniki." This picture was purchased by the well-known connoisseur Tretyakov. In 1880 Levitan exhibited "The Plowed Field," which attracted much favorable comment. As late as 1886, notwithstanding the reputation which he had acquired, he still continued to derive only a very small income from his profession.

The period 1887-97 was the most happy of Levitan's life, and to it belong his best works. He was a tireless worker and painted a very large number of pictures. Twenty-five of his paintings are to be seen in the Tretyakov gallery alone. He probably produced in all about 1,000 paintings and studies, most of them in the decade 1887-97. In 1892, when Levitan was already widely known and after the award to him of the first prize for his picture "Twilight" at the Art Lovers' Exhibition, the notorious May Laws were enforced in Moscow, and he was permitted to remain there only owing to the influence of powerful friends. His nearest relatives, however, were compelled to leave the city, their business was ruined, and Levitan had to render them material aid to the end of his life. In 1897 Levitan was elected an active member of the Munich society Secession, and the Academy of Art selected him an academician.

Levitan's paintings are marked by a thorough knowledge of Russian scenery and types. They possess a decided originality; at the same time they convey an expression of sadness. In his funeral oration Count A. E. Lvov said of Levitan: "He was an artist-poet. He not only painted pictures—in his paintings there was something besides; we not only saw his pictures, we also felt them. He knew how to interpret Nature and her mysteries as no other man." Even the "Novoye Vremya" (July 29, 1900), an organ decidedly anti-Semitic in its policy, admitted that "this full-blooded Jew knew, as no other man, how to make us realize and love our plain and homely country scenes."

Among the works of Levitan may be mentioned: "Over Eternal Rest "; "The Neglected Graveyard"; "A Tatar Graveyard "; "Relics of the Past—Twilight in Finland"; "The Golden Autumn"; "Vladimirka"; "March"; "After the Rain"; "Forest"; "Evening"; "The Peaceful Retreat"; "The Hay Harvest"; and two lake scenes. A picture by Levitan, entitled "A Convent on the Eve of a Holiday," was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, in 1893.

Bibliography:
  • S. Vermel, Voskhod, xxii. 34.
H. R. J. G. L.
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