Ivan Pokitonow (Matrionovka, 1851 - Bruxelles, 1923)
Ivan Pokitonow was born in the Russian village of Matrionovka in 1851. As a young man he went to Moscow to study agriculture and forestry. Caught up in a revolutionary student movement he was sentenced to return to his native village in 1869 where he discovered his inclination to art.
As a self-taught artist Pokitonow showed great talent in depicting landscapes with wide horizons, the sheer immensity of the steppes, the day-to-day life of his family and peasants of his home town. The first opportunity to expose his exquisitely detailed, miniature paintings was granted to Pokitonow by an art gallery in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1872. The exposition was a surprising success and his works were instantly sold out. Pokitonow however returned to Russia to take over the family business from his father.
Pokitonow’s visit of the 5th exhibition of the travelling Russian painters (Peredvijniki) in 1876 in Odessa marked the turning point of his life. Inspired by the originality of the paintings he became part of this artistic circle. He left his home and settled in Paris in 1877, the capital of 19th century art.
At the beginning of the 1880s Pokitonow experimented with different genres: landscapes, still lifes and battle scenes. His style resembled the so-called “mignon” painting featuring small formats as well as the use of very fine and thin brushes for depicting miniscule details. His themes were influenced by landscapes of painters of the Barbizon school like Corot, Millet and Daubigny as well as by urban motives of the Impressionists and their use of light. Pokitonow quickly earned the reputation of being the « roi du mignon » of Paris.
In 1882 Pokitonow was invited to represent Russian painting at the Exposition Universelle. Due to his success he received a contract from the famous Parisian art dealer Georges Petit. With Petit’s help Pokitonow became known abroad and received a prestigious command from czar Alexander III.
In the following years Pokitonow spent most of his time travelling through France and Russia working on his miniature landscapes. He repeated his tiny representations of people embedded in nature working or wandering in fields or flowering gardens, hunting in the woods and steppes in various variations. At the end of the 1880s his paintings featured a fascinating mix of French and Russian artistic currents.
In the early 1890s Pokitonow travelled to Southern France and Italy where his palette lightened up under the impression of the southern light. The use of bright, sparkling colours in representations of the sky, sea, Mediterranean towns and people was typical for this period of his work. In 1893 Pokitonow moved from Paris to the calm suburbs of Jupille, Belgium. The colours of his paintings darkened again. His motives reflecting the surroundings of Liege and picturesque sea baths like La Panne and Oostduinkerke at the Belgian shore became tamer and less brilliant.
At the turn of the century Pokitonow returned to Russia to the little village of Jabovchisna. Landscapes with cottages depicting land life were his main motives in this period. In 1905 Pokitonow met Leo Tolstoy and painted a series of paintings of the great Russian writer, his house and park in Iasnaia Poliana near Moscow.
After the First World War the painter returned to Belgium and died in December 1923 in Brussels.