Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Golden Autumn 1895

How much Levitan was influenced by the French Impressionists is still debated, but it is clear that despite that influence, Levitan always went his own way. I like that. "You don't keep a seagull in a cage," Mother Placid would say. 

Not only did Levitan go his own stylistic way, but he also painted Russia, which had its own unique landscapes full of spiritual energies. 

"He closed his eyes to the gladness and glory of the world, selecting in preference the sternest and most melancholy aspects of Russian scenery: grey days, autumn moods, rain-washed skies, all seen with a deeply poetic vision and painted with a breadth and boldness that aroused the hostile criticism of old-fashioned critics who spoke of his pictures as "unfinished sketches" or accused them of being pasty." The Russian Arts, Rosa Newmarch 1917

Here, the white-bark birch trees are like flame. Late blooming plants tumble down the incline to the stream and even a couple of branched plants reach out over the edge of the water. Maybe they are Michaelmas Asters which bloom in late September for the Archangel's feast day.

Fall-blooming Michaelmas Asters

There is an opening in the trees beyond which we see a farmer's field that has already been plowed  for the winter rest. The stream twists, but we don't know if it has come around the bend from left of right. This is how my science-consultant friend describes Levitan's clouds:
These are Cumulus clouds, specifically Cumulus Humilis. The are found in separate puffy piles and indicate fair weather, usually developing in moderate tempertures. In this case, they get the name humilis because they are relatively small and non thretening cumulus type clouds. Other forms of cumulus, with more vertical development, indicate possible thunder storms.
Four years before Golden Autumn was painted, art critic Alexander Benois wrote about a large exhibition he'd gone to see which featured some of Levitan paintings.  Levitan was thirty-one at the time. Benois wrote in the Tretyakov Magazine:
"It felt as if windows were un-shuttered and flung wide open, and a stream of fresh, sweet smelling air rushed into the stuffy exhibition room filled with the stench of too many sheepskins and oiled boots."
"A stream of fresh, sweet-smelling air" - can you sense it?


  1. He used such vivid colors in this painting. Yes, I can smell the sweet air. I really can! ThanK you for showing us the different ways that Levitan views similar landcapes. It really helps me to get the mood that he might have been in at the time of each.

  2. Father, I have been following your blog for a number of years and as this Lent is more than half way over, I thought it would be a good time to tell you how much I have enjoyed the Levitan series for Lent. I was first drawn in by your use of icons and their subtleties, and then by your ability to make us view the world with much more open eyes. And now I am learning that I can make a spiritual connection through landscape paintings. I see with new vision that religion doesn't have to be about scripture and theology. It isn't all about holy and sacred objects or about how pious or devout I am. It is about making a connection to God and listening to what he tells my heart. I am the seagull set free from my cage.

  3. Isn't that the best line: "You cannot keep a seagull in a cage." Religion should open us up to all the possibilities God presents. And they are everywhere. I send a blessing for these last two Lenten weeks.

  4. And the little clump of houseson the rise beyond reminds me that we have to live in harmony with the good earth we inhabit. Nature is at the forefront of these Levitan paintings, but our role is great.

  5. This is one of the most colorful of the paintings you have shared with us. Trees burning like candles and the calming waters quenching the scene.