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Niko Pirosmani Photo

Niko Pirosmani

Georgian Painter

Born: May 5, 1862 - Mirzaani, Georgia
Died: April 9, 1918 - Tbilisi, Georgia
"When you have the exhibition, if you give me a room where I might work, and canvas, within a month I could paint ten to fifteen paintings, better than those that are here"
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Niko Pirosmani
"Pirosmani was not an avant-gardist, he was a vagabond who painted directly for his commissioners, the owners of taverns and restaurants. What seems of interest today is exactly this direct relationship to an audience, which made him paint his brilliant creations in a fast and concise painting style"
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Bice Curiger, curator the Albertina exhibition Niko Pirosmani
"I am poor and my clients are not educated"
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Niko Pirosmani
"I believe in my St. George. When I go to bed, he materializes with a whip in his hand by my bedstead and says, 'Don't be afraid!' And in the morning my brush paints by itself."
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Niko Pirosmani
"Niko Pirosmani is the Rousseau of the East...the naïve, amateur painting that made the breakthrough of the avant-garde possible, that is what Niko Pirosmani did in the East"
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Klaus Albrecht Schröder, Director of the Albertina Museum
"Pirosmani is a kind of pop artist, because he has an incredibly direct language that appeals to a broad audience"
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Bice Curiger, curator the Albertina exhibition Niko Pirosmani

Summary of Niko Pirosmani

Posthumously celebrated Georgian painter Niko Pirosmani was a true artist's artist and a prime example of the starving artist archetype. Self-taught, he used his life in the progressive country of Georgia as fodder to create works illustrating the customs, traditions, environments, and culture of his native land. Using cheap materials and a neutral palette, he documented his world using folk art traditions to inform a unique visual aesthetic. Though his lifetime never saw monetary success or widespread fame, he managed to make enough to consistently supply him with materials from which to create a prolific body of work. He is now seen as an important contributor to the Russian avant-garde, particularly the Neo-Primitivist and Rayonist movements.


  • The artist began his career painting signs for local businesses as advertisements for their wares, where he learned to work fast on commission. Deeply committed to remaining creative at all costs, these signs allowed Pirosmani to buy art supplies to create his fine art paintings and kept his work positioned in the public eye, leading to his status as a hometown hero.
  • Pirosmani's oeuvre is a remarkably precious glimpse of the Georgian lifestyle, heritage, and experience of the late 1800s and early 1900s. His paintings provide a solid, historical time capsule of the country's union of traditional rural life and its evolution into a more cosmopolitan locale. Because of this, the artist found champions in many members of the entitled classes of the time, who recognized his talent and ability to capture the period's cultural cross section of the old with the new.
  • Pirosmani is often coined a Naïve artist, or one who lacks a formal artistic education or training. This allowed him to birth his own signature style, which was dynamic, organic, and truly original, setting him apart from other painters of his time. Like Henri Rousseau before him, his brand of vagabond creativity would set the stage for later artists, working in the same primal fashion, eventually leading to the formation of art movements such as Art Brut and Outsider Art.

Biography of Niko Pirosmani

Niko Pirosmani Life and Legacy

Niko Pirosmani was born in the village of Mirzaani in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia in 1862. At the time, Georgia was on a large trade route between East and West: an interesting junction which produced a myriad culture combining elements from Christianity and mainland Europe, as well as the Mediterranean, Byzantium, and the Orient. It was also a place of folkloric tales and deeply engrained traditions and rituals.

Progression of Art

Feast in the Grape Pergola or Feast of Three Noblemen (1905)

Feast in the Grape Pergola or Feast of Three Noblemen

This painting depicts three Georgian noblemen at a feast table, toasting goblets of wine and eating traditional dishes. In the foreground sits a dog, while in the background plentiful vines hang above the feast-goers. Painted in Pirosmani's usual neutral palette, the style features a flatness and lack of depth typical of the Naïve artist. The brushstrokes, particularly in the background, demonstrate how Pirosmani painted in a rapid and dynamic way in order to capture the simplicity of the everyday lives and traditions of the Georgian people.

Pirosmani's unique visual vocabulary and traditional subject matter, unconnected to the artistic trends taking place in Moscow and Paris, as well as his impoverished living conditions and local status, set him apart from other artists of this time. Paintings such as Feast in the Grape Pergola, caught the eye of the Russian avant-garde artist Mikhail Larionov, who became a steadfast champion of Pirosmani's, and both the subject matter and style can be seen as having informed Larionov's later works. The artist painted street scenes, such as A Stroll in a Provincial Town (c.1909), in a similar flat, non-perspectival manner to Pirosmani.

Oil on cloth - Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

Signboard 'Cold, Cold Beer' (c.1910)

Signboard 'Cold, Cold Beer'

This work is characteristic of the signboards Pirosmani was commissioned to make for the local taverns in Tbilisi. It was painted on tin due to the metal's cheapness, but also because it could be hung outside in any weather. The sign's text translates to "Cold, Cold Beer;" a message illustrated by the two typically and identically dressed Georgian men at the table enjoying a jug. The tree in the background suggests that they are drinking outside.

The simplicity of signboards such as Cold, Cold Beer captured the imagination of Le Dantu and the Zdanevich brothers when they traveled to Tbilisi. The simple color palette was chosen as dark paints were easily obtainable and inexpensive, but the effect they created - the pictorial flatness, the simple outlines, and the boldness - found resonance with the vision and ideas of the developing avant-garde in Moscow. Art historians Alla Povelikhina and Yevgeny Kovtun have argued that the artist's signboards differed from those of contemporary Russian painters, writing, that "by comparison, Pirosmani is closest to Henri Rousseau, except that Pirosmani relied on the heritage of Georgian and Persian art."

Pirosmani was a main influence in using simple art scenes of everyday life to illustrate advertising concepts. The style would become widely seen in Russia shortly after the revolution of 1917.

Oil on tin - Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki (Date Unknown)
Date Unknown

Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki

The composition is simple, featuring a woman who takes up the whole canvas from top to bottom, and is set against an unknown landscape background. The materials are signature to those that Pirosmani used throughout his life: readily available paint colors and anything easily on hand as an improvised canvas, such as tablecloths from the taverns at which he was working.

This painting is another prime example of Pirosmani's depiction of everyday scenes in Georgian life.

It is one in a series of paintings illustrating women in traditional Georgian dress; it is set apart from the series by the inclusion of the bird on the dress lapel and the intricacy of the floral lace on Lechaki, with matching cuffs and neckline on the dress. The equation of women with nature was a common theme in both Georgian folklore and Pirosmani's paintings. This painting was previously in the collection of the Austrian author Stefan Zweig, who became familiar with the work of Pirosmani during a 1928 visit to Moscow. Zweig's late discovery of Pirosmani is a clear example of how the artist only really achieved widespread recognition posthumously. The writer was an enthusiast and keen collector of Primitivist art, and following his discovery of Pirosmani's work at an exhibition in the State Tretyakov Gallery described the artist as "the great Piro" and predicted his work would be a "true discovery for Europe."

Oil on cloth - Private Collection

Roe Deer Drinking From A Stream (Date Unknown)
Date Unknown

Roe Deer Drinking From A Stream

In Roe Deer Drinking From A Stream a deer fills the frame much like in the artist's portraiture. The work is painted in Pirosmani's standard oil paint palette of dark greens, blacks, and browns, and was completed using quick brushstrokes against a cardboard canvas. It was featured in the Target exhibition of 1913.

This painting demonstrates Pirosmani's preoccupation with nature and rural life, particularly that which was native to his Georgian home. Like many folk artists before him, the juxtaposition of nature with everyday life was an important motif for him. The deer could be seen as an example of innocence amongst a changing country moving toward progress much like the own artist's role in the rising art scene of the time that contributed to evolving the Russian avant-garde.

The painting was previously hung in The White Dukhan tavern in Tbilisi. It was one of many works that the artist completed for local patrons in exchange for food, drink, or lodgings. The Georgian actor Tamar Tsitsishvili, who instantly acknowledged it as a work by Pirosmani, purchased it in 1949, and it remained in her family for 50 years. This purchase highlights the devotion that the Georgian audience had for Pirosmani.

The painting's status as an immediately recognizable and highly characteristic Pirosmani work is reflected in the fact that it sold for just over $500,000 at auction in 2011, to Georgia's former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who donated it to the Art Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi.

Oil on cardboard - Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

Portrait of Ilya Zdanevich (1913)

Portrait of Ilya Zdanevich

As in his other portraits, Pirosmani uses the full height of the canvas to portray his subject; in this case, the poet and avant-garde advocate Ilya Zdanevich. Like other depictions of Georgian figures painted by the artist at this time in his career, the protagonist is painted flatly against a background, which is not distinctly recognizable, but definitely rural. The dark colors are typical of Pirosmani's work, as is the cheap material on which he painted: in this case cardboard. What differentiates the portrait is that the figure is clearly not Georgian in his dress: he is a Russian subject painted in a traditionally Georgian manner.

Pirosmani's meeting with Ilya Zdanevich in the early 1910s changed his career significantly. An enthusiastic promoter avant-garde art, Ilya Zdanevich and his brother Kiril discovered Pirosmani's work in the taverns of Tbilisi. They took a small collection of works with them to Moscow to feature in the Target exhibition in Moscow in 1913, the same year the artist painted this portrait. In Moscow, for the first time the artist's works had a public audience beyond the patrons of the bars and restaurants of Tbilisi. It also put his paintings in front of the eyes of key members of the Russian avant-garde, such as Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. Following the Target exhibition, Pirosmani was invited to join the Society of Georgian Painters and was included in numerous publications in Russia and Georgia.

Oil on cardboard - Private Collection

Wedding in the Old-Times Georgia (1916)

Wedding in the Old-Times Georgia

Wedding in the Old-Times Georgia depicts a traditional wedding taking place in rural Georgia. The is the first time we see the artist working on a large landscape scale, having usually painted single or small group portraits. The background is more detailed than Pirosmani's previous works, and illustrates dark hills, a distant village, a church, and thatched farm buildings. In the foreground, a group of celebratory wedding guests dressed in traditional costume greet passers-by on horses. The appreciation of Georgian customs is highlighted in the foreground, where a small boy stands behind an old man walking towards the horses.

One of the most ambitious works by Pirosmani, it was painted using funds the artist received from the Society of Georgian Painters. This can perhaps be viewed as the most financially lucrative moment of the artist's career. However, his naïve style and lack of formal artistic education was mocked by some members, resulting in his leaving the Society a short time later. This painting can therefore be seen as a turning point in his career, in which he may have continued on within the Society to receive future commissions and financial gain, yet remained true to his personal style and ambitions as a lone wolf unconfined by formal artistic conventions.

Oil on cloth - Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Niko Pirosmani
Influenced by Artist
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    George Zaziashvili
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    Dito Shevardnadze
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Ilya Zdanevich
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    Mikhail Le Dantu
Movements & Ideas
  • Naïve Art
    Naïve Art
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    Georgian folk art
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    Kiril Zdanevich
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Niko Pirosmani Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
Available from:
First published on 13 Aug 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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