Progression of Art
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'
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
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
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
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
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