1919 Dec. 16th Born in Irkutsk.
1920 Family moves to Czechoslovakia.
1927 Parents became Soviet citizens and moved to Leningrad.
1932 Started attending drawing class at (Tchaikovskigo street) where A. Eberling, I. Mikhailov taught. Studied together with Y. Tulin, P. Kulikov, V. Sokolov, E. Rubin etc. At the Ebeling’s studio met A. Rylov, V. Shukhaev, B. Fogel, A. Ostroumova-Lebedeva, E. Kruglikova, I. Gintsburg.
1933 Received First Prize for drawing at the Young Talents Competition. Studied by S. Abugov, V.Anisovich.
1939 Called up for military service, participated in the Winter War against Finland, commanded a calculation dept of the anti-aircraft detachment during WWII up till 1942.
1942 Worked in the “Murmansk-rybstroi” administration, Murmansk, Archangelsk.
1945 Entered the Arts Academy, Leningrad.
1946 Studied in prof. Ioganson’s atelier.
1949-50 Worked on the diploma work “Spring in Kolkhoz”.
1950 Admitted to the Leningrad dept of the Union of Russian Artists by prof.B.Ioganson’s recommendation.
1950 Member of the Leningrad dept of the Union of Russian Artists, delegate of all its congresses. Vice-chairman of its administration responsible for the exhibitions and a member of the Union of Soviet Artists administration.
1955 Journeys to the Onega Lake, the Issyk-Kul and the Crimea. Painted “Spring Day”, “Flying Away”, “October”. Started participating in the exhibitions of Leningrad artists.
1959 First book on Zagonek’s art is published. (L.Mochalov. Viacheslav Frantsevich Zagonek. Leningrad. 1959)
1960-1962 Chairman of bureau of section in the Leningrad dept of the Union of Russian Artists, a member of the Big Art Council.
1960 Journey to Romania.
1963 Honored Artist of the Russian Federation.
1965 Received a Silver Medal of the Arts Academy for the pictures “Morning”, “Pool”, “Spring Water”, “Spring”, “The Volkhov. Northern wind”, “Thaw Is Outdoors”.
1965 Journey to Poland.
1967 Member of administrative boards of the Leningrad dept of the Union of Artists of Russia, of the Union of Artists of Russia, of the Union of Artists of the USSR. Deputy of Oktiabrskiji District Council of Deputies, Leningrad.
1968 Honored Cultural Figure of Russia.
1970 Journey to Italy.
1971 Journey to the Yenisey District.
1976 Corresponding member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR.
1977 Received the Repin State Prize of Russia.
1978 Journey to Spain. Headed the creative atelier of young artists, the “Creative Association”. Second book on Zagonek’s painting (P. Arbuzov. Viacheslav Frantsevich Zagonek. Leningrad.1978)
1978 Honored People’s Artist of Russia
1985 Honored People’s Artist of the USSR.
1988 Elected a member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR.
1991 Headed the creative studio of the Academy of Arts of the USSR.
1994 Died in St. Petersburg. Buried on the “Liratorskie mostki” of the Volkovo Cemetery.
Artistic journey and the heritage of a distinguished Russian artist Viacheslav F. (Frantsevich) Zagonek (1919-1994) give an insight into how natural talent for painting and artistic ideals acquired over time could be successfully realized in the contradictory atmosphere of the twentieth century.
Viacheslav Zagonek was born in Irkutsk, Siberia. His par ents were an 18-year old girl from Belarus, thrown to the Urals by the inclement winds of the Revolution, and a Moravian former officer of the AustroHungarian army. In 1920 the family immi grated to Czechoslovakia; however, in 1927 they became Soviet citizens and settled in Leningrad.
Later, speaking of his predisposition to painting he inherited from his father, Viacheslav Zagonek gratefully recollected everything his father had done for his son’s artistic development. It was his father who took him to renowned art teacher Alfred Eber ling to study at his private art studio and also enrolled him to the Centre of Art Education for Children. Before the revolution, Eberling studied at the Ilya Repin’s atelier of the Academy of Fine Arts and was taught by the famous Franz Lehnbach in Vienna. He was a fashionable court artist and a typical metro politan Bohemian of the early twentieth century.
Twice a week Zagonek drew plaster casts of male sitters. On Sundays he painted stilllives, portraits and nudes. The teach ing was not limited to professional training: driven by a desire to broaden his students’ horizons, the teacher organized meetings with prominent artists such as Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Arkady Rylov and Vasily Shukhaev.
In 1933 Zagonek won the first prize at the young talent competition for his drawings which impressed the director of the Academy of Fine Arts Isaac Brodsky. In 1936 whilst continuing at Eberling’s studio, Viacheslav Zagonek was admitted into the fifth grade of the Secondary Fine Art School. There much attention was paid to the development of creative imagination and the ability to draw from memory. This combination of in tense drawing from nature and the subsequent creative comprehension of the object painted became the foundation for the future development of the artist.
In 1939 Zagonek was conscripted. He participated in the SovietFinnish war and during the World War II he was the crew commander of an antiaircraft battery situated near Lenin grad. In late 1942 he demobilized and in 1945 was summoned by the Academy of Fine Arts to return to Leningrad. In 1946 Zagonek began his study at the personal atelier of Boris Iogan son at the Academy. The students grasped the skill of composition, studied how to render firsthand impressions from objects and mastered various art materials.
Zagonek began his diploma work in 1949. By that time he had become more drawn to landscape painting. On the basis of studies painted en plein air he created a composition called “Spring on the Collective Farm” in which he beautifully depict ed the atmosphere of awakening nature. The persuasiveness of the execution and the harmony of colour merited the highest grade and earned Zagonek the title of a Painter.
During his study he acquired the essential professional knowl edge and skill which enable a creative person to realise his individuality. This was greatly enriched by his serious research of classical art at the Hermitage, the Russian State Museum and the Art Museum at the Academy. Among Zagonek’s teachers were many Masters of Painting such as Vasily Surikov, Valentin Serov, Isaac Levitan, Mikhail Nesterov, Konstantin Korovin and Igor Grabar.
The artist’s debut was an exhibition in 1952 when his land scape called “Spring Day” impressed its audience. Visitors re membered an image of joyous excitement in his colourful canvas. This first success inspired him and soon after he painted land scapes called “Flying Away” (1954) and “October” (1955). In them he aspired to capture the fleeting moment of first impression. Perceiving nature as a constantly changing living or ganism, Zagonek combined in his canvases the contrasting and mutually complementing elements of landscape: forest, fields, river, and skies which he often depicted with dramatic suspension.
Zagonek’s trip to the Lake Onega in 1955 became pivotal for shaping his now familiar artistic style. The nature of Northern Russia, the simplicity and purity of colours, the melodious breadth of panoramic views struck a cord in the artist’s heart. He fell in love with this region and painted numerous studies which served as material for future paintings such as “It is Getting Cold”, “On the Banks of Lake Onega” (both 1956) and “Dear Mountain Ash Tree” (1957). In the latter, according to Zagonek’s biographer G. Arbuzov, the artist conveyed the impression that “it is not only people who listen to the quietened nature but, nature itself, from the majestically rising moon to the trembling leaves of young aspen, listens to the inner thoughts of men.”
His accumulated experience allowed the artist to paint a brilliant composition called “Morning” (1960), which he took three years to complete. His methods of painting, typically suited to monumental murals, were dictated by the enormous size of the canvas. Art critics at the time remarked that through search for the best way to express himself Zagonek had found his own artistic manner, both individual and stylistically modern. His ability to breathe new life into traditional techniques is acutely revealed in his painting called “The Thunderstorm is Over” (1961) where he conveyed with great sincerity and warmth the sense of elation overcoming people after the devastating war.
These canvases, which reflected an entire historical era, brought their author great popularity. His influence grew and Zagonek was elected to the administrative board of the Union of Artists. He travelled considerably across the Soviet Union: to the Far North and the Far East, Lake Baikal, IssykKul, Crimea and the Baltic Republics. Zagonek’s art had a special connection with Staraya Ladoga. A small town, noted for its austere northern beauty, old fortress and churches towering above the fullflowing river Volkhov always attracted artists. The expanse of fields and forests with scattered villages and blue sparkling rivers under the transparent dome of the sky were close to Zagonek’s heart.
He used to spend more than three months a year, from spring to late autumn in Staraya Ladoga. Regardless of the season he went to the fields with his painting box or worked in the studio on a new painting. Here his style finally took shape. Zagonek always aspired to create paintings which he perceived as “strictly organized expressions of a big idea and the art of great philosophic generalization”. His habit to persevere in composition is apparent even in his sketches. Although a study, to his mind, was only an expression of a particular thought and only one part of a future creation, many of his sketches are works of art in their own right. Studies called “The Flowering Willow” (1958), “After the Rain” (1960), “Melt Water” (1965), “The Glittering Sun” (1966) and “Evening Field”(1969) were used as material for large canvases but are themselves accomplished art works.
In Staraya Ladoga he painted a series of landscapes such as “Winter Day” (1961), “The River Volkhov” (1962), “The Ice had Gone Morning” (1965) and “Winter Landscape with Robins” (1966). One of his most memorable paintings is called “The Spring” (1965). It captures the artist’s favourite theme: deep shadows on the mauve snow, strong rhythm of birch trees posing against the turquoise blue sky and a tractor crossing through the thick snow.
Genre paintings called “The Flowering BirdCherry Tree” and “March Workdays” (both 1964), which Zagonek considered particularly important were also dedicated to spring. In his own words: “one can reveal the beauty in everything, even in something very simple and at first sight unattractive”. The subject matter of the painting is only a pretext for the poetic comprehension of the relationship between man and nature, and the quest for beauty in the surrounding world in all its manifestations.
After being awarded the title of the Honorary Artist of Russia in 1965 Zagonek organized a solo exhibition – the result of fifteen years of his artistic work. The exhibition was shown in Warsaw, then in Moscow and Leningrad. Judging by the favour able reviews the exhibition became an outstanding event in his career. It struck the audience with its colourful, lively and sincere depiction of the world.
Coming to the end of this important period in his career, the artist could have been satisfied with his achievements: he had built his own artistic circle, he had developed his own style, and most of his paintings were acquired by the largest museums of Russia. But it was then, in the late 1960s, that the very concept of his artistic perception of nature changed its course, at first, ever so slightly, and then with increasing rigour.
Gradually, the prosaic and everyday content disappeared completely from his art. The idea of a storytelling painting was replaced by the concept of painting as a musical and lyrical poet ry. The earliest works featuring the poetic image of nature were the wonderful landscapes such as “The River Volkhov High Water Season” (1967), “The Baltic” (1967), “October Twi light” (1968) and others.
He used a compositional method, typical to his subsequent artistic period, whereby the panoramic image is transformed into a lively, interpenetrating superimposition of natural shapes. He built the correlated colour scheme not on the colour contrasts, but on a delicate harmony of light and shadow, cold and warm, that so precisely reflects the modest northern nature. One of the landscapes called “The Baltic”, which he particularly valued, invokes an incredible union of all elements of nature. It differs from his earlier works in the effortless fluency with which Zagonek operates. The spectacular motif transformation was not the most important element of painting for him. He valued the creation of an artistic image of nature, revealing the cultural wealth and not the mere formal values.
Soon after Zagonek started working on the painting called “Spring Winds” (1968). The landscape is observed from above and this creates the effect of slight hovering. The dynamics of the composition built on different rhythms create an impression of an orchestra playing an anthem to wakening nature. Subtle colouring adds reverence and transparency to this free flowing melody akin to the fresh breath of spring wind.
A combination of realistic perception of nature and an innovative quest for colour and shape added poetic qualities to his art. The painting called “May” (1969) embodies the artist’s thoughts about youth, the time when people are not burdened by the philosophical questions of eternity and the universe, when man simply enjoys the warmth of the sun and the beauty of early spring.
In his paintings called “The Rains of May” (1969), “The Nightingales are Singing” (1970), “On the Horses” (1971), “Youth” (1972), “Frosty Morning” (1975), “Grandchildren” (1977), “Childhood” (1979), “Free open spaces” (1982) and “Northern Spring” (1985) Zagonek enriched his deep under standing of tradition with a unique individualistic artistic language. As a dedicated supporter of realist painting he continued developing the principles of classical school in the field of colour ing, form and content.
Since the mid1970s Zagonek spent every summer at the “Academic Dacha” for artists near Vyshny Volochek which was visited by wellknown artists such as Nikolay Timkov, Yury Tulin, Alexey Gritsay, Vladimir Gavrilov and many others. After every visit Zagonek brought home 4045 finished studies: his habit for daily focused work was a vital necessity. In 1971 Zagonek took a group of artists to the Yenisey River and re-turned to Leningrad two months later with 30 studies notable for their diversity of motifs and sharpness of artistic vision.
The studies led to a series of landscapes. In the works entitled “It Rains over the Yenisey River”, “Before the Storm” and “Yenisey Motif” (1972) the artist continued his search for ways of depicting space. He paid particular attention to the colour and the texture of air flow and clouds in his representation of the severe beauty and the might of nature, which he achieved with spectacular results. According to the artist Anatoly Levitin, Zagonek’s originality was in his remarkable ability for rendering texture, which did not create an illusion of space but conveyed its concept and it “was not clear how he had done it”.
The period at the Academic Dacha became fruitful for Zagonek: it was a time of inner liberation and freedom from con ventional artistic solutions. His sharp awareness of nature and his ability to preserve it in his paintings allowed the artist not to rely on illusory likeness. By varying the colouring methods and emphasizing the plastic expressiveness of forms he achieved extraordinary poetic fluency.
Coming to the Academic Dacha, he searched for hours for that instant of harmony between nature and his own feelings. His letters reveal his anxious expectation of that moment and the delight of finding it.
His friends recall that Zagonek combined deep emotional sensitivity of perception and accuracy in his work, gentleness and kindness in dealing with people but with firmness in decision making. Being shy and vulnerable, his artistic goal became the ability to express in painting the soulilluminating harmony of nature. Sincere and openminded Zagonek discussed with col leagues the issues arising in his work. Heading the creative studio for young artists he was not afraid of seeking students’ verdicts on his own studies and paintings, understanding the mutual benefit of this process.
The most famous works of the Master called “Dear Mountain Ash Tree”, “Morning” and “The Thunderstorm is Over” were recognized in 1970s and 1980s as classics of national fine arts. Those colleagues who realised the importance of his contribution to the development of national painting held him in very high regard. Zagonek was elected a full member of the Academy of Fine Arts of the Soviet Union and was given the title of the Honorary People’s Artists of USSR.
More than 10 years ago Viacheslav Zagonek passed away. Now it is the twenty first century and Russia has radically changed. The complex and controversial era, impossible to evaluate unambiguously, had gone. However the fruits of labour of people who lived and worked in those uneasy times remain. Zagonek always considered his challenge to reveal and reinforce the beauty of the surrounding world. He used to say: “I do not want to be a mere describer of nature; I strive for saying some thing more. Only when the spectator feels the force of your love, your conviction, will he “enter” your painting and will he feel with you”.
The methods of expression which Zagonek utilised in his canvases, in particular during his mature years, were dictated by the complexity and omnitude of nature. The artist bravely experimented with spatial composition and the sculpturesque sharp ness of forms, all of which helped him to achieve in his paintings the inner consonance felt by the author. This is how he ex pressed his views: “Some painters believe that it is sufficient to find a suitable motif and transfer it with precision onto the canvas to create a work of art. In actual fact one sees only mud in a puddle, while another sees the stars”. With a remarkable ability to see the beauty in every happening – be it the gentle smile of northern summer or tender melancholy of autumn, the artist ex pressed in his works his love for nature in the name of which he painted.
In his difficult but at the same time fortunate journey of an artist in twentieth century Russia, Viacheslav Zagonek demonstrated in his works the ability of a real talent to resist all the temptation and conventionalities of “progressing” existence whilst preserving the faith in the high purpose of art.