Living On Through Their Art
Today is World Tuberculosis Day, designed to raise public awareness of the disease, which still claims the lives of about 1.6 million people each year. While the disease is most prominent today in third-world countries, it claimed the lives of many prominent artists in the past. Today's "Feel Art Again" features three Russian artists who all succumbed to the disease.
Born into a wealthy family, Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884) grew up travelling through Europe with her mother. After an education at the AcadÃ©mie Julian in France (one of the only schools that accepted women), Bashkirtseff became established as a feminist and "intellectual powerhouse." Writing for a feminist newspaper, Bashkirtseff penned her most famous line, "Let us love dogs, let us love only dogs! Men and cats are unworthy creatures." Although many of her paintings were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, two of Bashkirtseff's most famous paintings have survived: "The Meeting," which depicts Parisian slum children, and "In the Studio" (shown), a portrait of Bashkirtseff and her fellow artists at work. (She's the one in black in the bottom right corner.) Bashkirtseff is most well-known for the journals she maintained from the age of 13, though. I Am the Most Interesting Book of All, her most popular journal, is still in print today. She passed away from tuberculosis at the tender age of 25. Bashkirtseff's burial monument is a full-sized artist's studio in France that the government has declared an historic monument.
Andrei Ryabushkin (1861-1904) got off to an early artistic start, helping his father and brother—icon painters—during his childhood years. Ryabushkin was orphaned at the age of 14, but was soon afforded the opportunity to study at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, becoming one of the youngest students in the school. After studying under Vasily Perov, Ryabushkin moved on to the Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was disappointed with the classes. His final work at the Academy, "Descent from the Cross" (1892), didn't follow the guidelines and thus did not receive an award. However, the president of the Academy was so impressed with the quality of the work that he provided Ryabushkin with a stipend from his own money for the artist to travel and study abroad. Ryabushkin travelled through ancient Russian towns, gaining experience in the realistic, natural paintings of Russians for which he would become known. Because his paintings are not dramatic historical scenes, filled with action, depict social conflicts, or even considered (at the time) to be very "beautiful," Ryabushkin did not achieve great fame or acceptance during his life. Ryabushkin was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1903 and died within a year.
Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927) simultaneously attended theological seminary and received private art lessons. After deciding to pursue art full-time, Kustodiev studied painting, etching, and sculpture at the Imperial Academy of Arts. His first big break was his role as assistant to Ilya Repin for a large-scale canvas in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the State Council. During the early 1900s, Kustodiev travelled throughout Europe, visiting France, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Germany. In addition to his painting, Kustodiev also spent his time contributing to satirical journals and illustrating books, including Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. Kustodiev, who suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, became a paraplegic in 1916. His friends and colleagues were amazed by his ability to remain cheerful and active despite his condition; Kustodiev himself remarked, "Now the whole world is my room." He continued to paint, engrave, illustrate books, and design sets for theatrical productions until his death 11 years later.
Larger versions of Bashkirtseff's "In the Studio," Ryabushkin's "Session of Tsar Mikhail Feodorvich with his boyars in his State Chamber," and Kustodiev's "Country" are available.
Fans of Ryabushkin should check out his artwork on Wikimedia.