Fiction in 50: The Path to Enlightenment

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Look at them poring over their dusty books.. Philosophy, history, bits of Code on scraps of paper – who was working while they scribbled? If he expects me to serve a dainty tea when they all start solving the problems of the world, well, I’ll show them the path to enlightenment…

The Bookshelf Gargoyle curates a Fiction in 50 mini-narrative challenge – this month’s prompt is The Path to Enlightenment! Take a deep breath, look inwards for the muse but don’t take too long – write a piece of short, short fiction, send it in and then go have a peek at the other entries – GargoyleBruce writes wonderful reviews on all sorts of kid lit (big and small) with a cheeky tone guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Wander through the stacks, you are sure to find something you’ll like.

Click on the icon in the sidebar for previous entries…

F is for Friday: Ilya Repin

Sadko

Where choice cannot be swayed by desire

Commissioned by the future Tsar Alexander III, the natural and supernatural worlds become one in Ilya Repin’s Sadko, a rich pageant of Russian orientalism depicting a scene from the Novgorod epic poem of the same name. Loosely following the Orpheus tale but in an underwater setting, the emphasis here is on the minstrel-merchant presented with a bevy of beautiful potential brides ranging from the siren, the supplicant, the aristocrat, the eager to the numerous faceless fit for any European salon of the period – his gaze is fixed on the peasant girl Chernava standing on the shore who presents her back to him with an almost rebuffing demeanour.  The canvas itself is slick, containing all the mythic elements necessary to fuel a collective vision of a submerged kingdom – inquisitive fish, phosphorescent creatures, lithe kelp floating amid the bubbles and ruins, right down to the cold clay sea bed. At the time of its execution, Repin was at the Imperial Academy of Arts in France and perhaps longing for his native soil had written, “The idea expresses my true state and perhaps the state of our as-of-yet still Russian art.”  Fantasy and mythological subjects were, unfortunately for the viewer, not to be pursued. Repin turned his prolific talents to the more realistic portrayal of events transpiring in his homeland and the immortalization through portraiture of some of Russia’s great political and cultural figures.

What freedom

what freedom!

Repin’s fascination with the sea is still present in the canvas above painted almost thirty years later: much had changed in Russia, with its worldview shifting from one of Empire to Nationalism, the overriding pre-revolutionary atmosphere enveloping the common man is clear in its components. There is no land in sight, the horizon is vague and one can feel the weighty power of the ocean buffeting the figures.  He embraces the experience while she clings to notions of propriety with one hand on her hat and the other gripping his hand for reassurance. The choice of subject is perhaps an unconscious visual addendum to the Sadko saga – not a true fairy-tale ending but one moment of pure, childlike joy in which the couple are free from the stifling control of state ideology.

As Fan and Stephen Jan Parker write in their book Russia on Canvas, “Western art historians and critics have minimized Repin’s achievements and contributions either because his very “national” identity has not been grasped, or because – and this is most likely – Repin was neither a technical innovator nor the creator of a school of painting. Moreover, he was a realist and not a modernist. Yet in the esteem of both prerevolutionary and Soviet Russia, Repin occupies a position alongside Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Musorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. He was and is Russia’s foremost national artist, whose oeuvre adheres to the requisities for national art as proposed by the noted painter and art historian Igor Grabar: it must reflect the spirit of the people, expressing their thoughts and aspirations; it must excite; and it must be understandable to the people”.

Discover more at:

Ilya Repin – The Complete Works
Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom
Rimsky-Korsakov: Sadko (opera): Overture
Sadko – the film

F is for Friday: Russian Realism

the duel

The hour of fate has struck at last    The poet stops and silently his pistol drops
alexander pushkin – Eugene Onegin

Oddly enough, it was facebook that led us back to the prodigious catalogue of work by Russian Realist Ilya Repin.  Unreasonable amounts of snow earlier this week rivalled any slavic winter making the roads impassable and muffling the sounds of the city with a white hush. We found ourselves tucked up in bed chatting and glancing occasionally at Miss Z’s laptop screen while she caught up with friends post-NYE. While scrolling through the endless status updates and randomly vague grammatically-incorrect comments, the image above jumped out from a timeline header – as out of place as freesia in February.

Anyone born in a cold climate knows exactly what this work feels like – trees stripped bare of their leafy protection, icicles lengthening with each frigid passing night, every breath drawn sharp and crystalline no matter how many layers we are swaddled in. The duel between Onegin and Lensky, where social considerations outweigh rational thought and end badly, are not that far removed from the constructs of our own age where we are, despite our best efforts, unprotected.

Discover more on Ilya Repin next week…