The Dynamics of Colour: Aristarkh Lentulov


Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943) is yet another artist whose work is fascinating and influential, yet about whom very little information is available. His work, however, is too amazing to go without mention in "Feel Art Again," so I've scrounged up what information I can about Lentulov and his 1913 painting "Vasily the Blessed Cathedral."

1. Although Aristarkh Lentulov was not born into a rich or artistic family, he was still able to receive 8 years of art schooling, after which he studied in the private studio of Dmitry Kardovsky in St. Petersburg. He became very active in the art scene, co-founding the Jack of Diamonds group, a group of exhibiting avant-garde artists, and serving as chairman of the Society of Moscow Artists. Among those he influenced were Vassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, whose fame seems to have surpassed Lentulov's.

2. While studying in Paris from 1911 to 1912, Lentulov hung out with the Cubo-Futurists, who referred to him as a "futurist à la russe."

3. In "Vasily the Blessed Cathedral," Lentulov tried to portray "every part of the cathedral at the same time." His daughter wrote that "He went around the cathedral dozens of times trying to remember its strange angles"¦in order to make it a boundless fantasy worthy of fairy tales in terms of shapes and colours." He called the principle he worked on the "dynamics of colour."

4. The cathedral depicted is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin of the Moat, which is located on the Red Square next to the Kremlin. The cathedral is often mistaken for the Kremlin, or at least part of it, in the West, but the two buildings are separate and unassociated (other than their geographic proximity).

5. Commissioned by Ivan IV (a.k.a. "Ivan the Terrible"), the cathedral consists of 9 chapels on one foundation. The original concept was to build a cluster of chapels, each one dedicated to one of the saints on whose feast days the tsar had won battles. Since the tsar's victory against the Tartar Mongols came on the feast of the Intercession of the Virgin, the whole cathedral was named in her honor. It became referred to as St. Basil's, after the "holy fool" Basil the Blessed, who was quite popular at the time (1555-1561).

6. Several legends surround the iconic cathedral. One tale involves Ivan blinding the cathedral's architect, Postnik Yakovlev, to prevent him from building an even more magnificent building for anyone else. The tale has been debunked, though, since Yakovlev designed an addition to the building in 1588, after Ivan's death. Another story involves Napoleon, who was supposedly so impressed with the cathedral that he wanted to bring it back to France. Lacking the ability, he ordered the building destroyed during the French retreat from the city. Kegs of gunpowder were set up and their fuses lit but, thanks to a "sudden, miraculous shower," the fuses were extinguished, the explosion prevented, and the cathedral saved.

A larger version of "Vasily the Blessed Cathedral" is available here. Fans should check out the Wikimedia commons gallery of Aristarkh Lentulov paintings. Current Exhibitions featuring "Feel Art Again" artists:Georgia O'Keeffe and the Camera (Portland, ME: through September 7, 2008)Frida Kahlo (San Francisco: June 14 - Sept. 28, 2008)The Glass Experience, feat. Dale Chihuly (Chicago: through Sept. 1, 2008)Picasso: Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi, UAE: through Sept. 4, 2008) "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. E-mail us at with details of current art exhibitions or suggestions of artists.