Niko Pirosmani, a Georgian primitivist painter, orphaned at a young age, was characterized by the naïve, childlike simplicity of his subject matter and technique. He taught himself to paint as a child, creating his own oil for painting, and his specialty was painting directly onto black oil cloth. He was always poor, but willing to work, and as such he held many jobs throughout his life, including a herdsman and a railroad conductor. He also created signboards, co-founded a dairy farm, and held odd-jobs like house painting or white-washing buildings. Because of his destitute situation, he had little relationship with the profession of being an artist. As an example, he joined the Society of Georgian Painter, but developed a strained relationship with the society after one of the other artists drew an offensive caricature of him.
Many of his works were either of historical figures or of everyday people living their everyday lives. In the 1910’s he did receive some recognition, when a famous Russian poet and his brother presented his works to the Moscow newspaper, which published four of his works. Although he did receive some recognition, he died of malnutrition and liver failure, destitute and without artistic recognition.
Posthumously, after WWI, his reputation grew, when his naïve style became popular in the art circles of Paris, and the first book of his work was published in 1926. A legend, which also helped cement his reputation, was that he had a romantic encounter with a French actress with whom he fell deeply in love. He thus filled the square outside of her hotel window with flowers, allegedly making himself bankrupt. His works have since been in exhibitions all around the world, and the Republic of Georgia recently put out a currency with Pirosmani’s paintings on them.
Niko Pirosmani (Georgian: ნიკო ფიროსმანი), simply referred to as Nikala (ნიკალა) (1862–1918), was a Georgian primitivist painter who posthumously rose to prominence.
Pirosmani was born in the Georgian village of Mirzaani to a peasant family in Kakheti province. His parents, Aslan Pirosmanashvili and Tekle Toklikishvili, were farmers, who owned a small vineyard, with a few cows and oxen. He was later orphaned and left in the care of his two elder sisters, Mariam and Pepe. He moved with them to Tbilisi in 1870. In 1872, while living in a little apartment not far from Tbilisi railway station, he worked as a servant to wealthy families and learned to read and write Russian and Georgian. In 1876, he returned to Mirzaani and worked as a herdsman.
Pirosmani gradually taught himself to paint. One of his specialties was painting directly into black oilcloth. In 1882, with self-taught George Zaziashvili, he opened a painting workshop, where they made signboards. In 1890, he worked as a railroad conductor. In 1893, he co-founded a dairy farm in Tbilisi, which he left in 1901. Throughout his life, Pirosmani, who was poor, was willing to take ordinary jobs including housepainting and whitewashing buildings. He also worked for shopkeepers in Tbilisi, creating signboards, paintings, and portraits, according to their orders. Although his paintings had some local popularity (about 200 survive) his relationship with professional artists remained uneasy; making a living was always more important to him than aesthetic abstractions.
In April 1918, he died of malnutrition and liver failure. He was buried at the Nino cemetery; the exact location was not registered and is unknown.
Pirosmani’s paintings were influenced by the social conditions of his time and place. There are many works about merchants, shopkeepers, workmen, and noblemen groups. Pirosmani was fond of nature and rural life. He rarely employed city landscapes. He made many animal paintings. He was the only Georgian animalist. Pirosmani also was attracted by historical figures and themes such as Shota Rustaveli, Queen Tamar, Giorgi Saakadze, as well as ordinary Georgian people and their everyday lives.
Usually, Pirosmani painted on oilcloth. Unlike other artists, Niko didn’t aim at a pure imitation of the nature and paid no attention to details. Some of his paintings are monochrome. His paintings demonstrate the author's sharp compositional consideration. Placements of the figures are frontal, while faces do not demonstrate a specific mood.
In the 1910s, he won the enthusiasm of the Russian poet Mikhail Le-Dantyu and the artist Kirill Zdanevich and his brother Ilia Zdanevich. Ilia Zhdanevich wrote a letter about Pirosmani to the newspaper Zakavkazskaia Rech, which it published on February 13, 1913. He undertook to publicise Pirosmani's painting in Moscow. The Moscow newspaper Moskovskaia Gazeta of 7 January wrote about the exhibition "Mishen" where self-taught painters exhibited, among them four works by Pirosmani: "Portrait of Zhdanevich", "Still Life", "Woman with a Beer Mug", and "The Roe". Critics writing later in the same newspaper were impressed with his talent.
In the same year, an article about Niko Pirosmani and his art was published in Georgian newspaper Temi.
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