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The Art of JAMA
October 27, 2015

Evening (Landscape in Brilliant Colors)Nikolai Nedashkovsky

JAMA. 2015;314(16):1676-1677. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12049

The life of Russian painter Nikolai Nedashkovsky (1896-1924) was a light that burned briefly but brightly, leaving behind work of creative inventiveness and use of color, revealing an imaginative world that perhaps transcended the time and place in which it was wrought. Indeed, the following would be noted about the artist and his work: “Another adventurer in the realm of chromatic landscape is Nikolai Nedashkovsky. … [H]is canvases relate to the new school, wherein the actual landscape is expressed in pure color and significant form that tell of its eternal verities rather than its passing mood. His brush is brave and his results show an understanding that is yet formative but progressive. … ” (Modern Russian Paintings in San Francisco Show: San Francisco, April 4: Special Correspondence. The Christian Science Monitor, Boston. April 16, 1928:16.GH).

Nikolai Nedashkovsky (1896-1924), Evening (Landscape in Brilliant Colors), circa 1922-1924, Russian. Oil on canvas. 119.4 × 148.6 cm. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (https://www.famsf.org/), San Francisco, California; gift of Albert M. Bender and Friends, 1926.37.

Nedashkovsky was said to have been a student of the noted painter Konstantin Korovin. He was active in the artistic social circles of his colleagues and is thought to have been a member of a Russian art society known as Boodiak. As war and revolution shook Russia in the early 20th century, Nedashkovsky traveled to Japan. Here he and another artist, Sergei Scherbakov, found a natural beauty in scenic isles that included the Bonin Islands (also designated as the Ogasawara Islands [http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1362]), situated southward of Japan. (Young Russian Painters Will Exhibit Works: Graduates of Schools in Moscow and Kharkov Back From Winter on Bonin Islands. The Japan Advertiser, Tokyo. March 26, 1921:10).

America would become the home of Nedashkovsky and Scherbakov in 1922 but not without meeting obstacles when they attempted to disembark. The immigration officers were apparently suspicious of the claim of the men to be artists, who were at a disadvantage because of their limited knowledge of English. To establish his authenticity as an artist, Scherbakov extracted examples of his work from a trunk. But as his art was rendered in a more abstract genre, when the officers contemplated the modernistic works, they were further concerned that what appeared to them to be glyphic symbols were in fact a type of code representing potential peril for the government. Thus, the artists were kept aboard ship until someone with an understanding of the Russian language spoke on their behalf, after which they were allowed to come ashore (Powers LB. Artists and Their Work: “Undesirables” Trying to Prove Themselves Artists. Oakland Tribune. April 22, 1923:4-S).

Nedashkovsky became established in San Francisco, exhibiting his works and receiving favorable notice for his colorful portfolio. An example of his vivid artistry is Evening (Landscape in Brilliant Colors), which, as noted, features a palette reminiscent of the Fauves (a group of modernist painters in the early 1900s who used expressive pigments). A more cubiform-like configuration of landscape topography is also evident, which may suggest modern influences (http://art.famsf.org/nikolai-nedashkovsky/evening-landscape-brilliant-colors-192637). The surfaces of the rocky cliffs and outcroppings seem composed of satiny crystalline mineral of varying shades that heighten the rich tones of the calm cerulean waters, perhaps bringing to mind precious stones. There is a fantastical sense to this setting where anything might happen. All seems reduced to a glowing primordial scene of exuberant hue and possibility. Even the clouds in the improbable greenish-blue sky have a science fiction feel to them. The viewer may shiver in anticipation of what could happen next; eg, exotic creatures materializing amidst the clefts and crevices along the shore? Perhaps a flock of birds silently alighting in the leafless tree? One’s imagination may be the only limitation when experiencing this enigmatic waterscape.

Much was happening with evolving innovations during the modern art movement of early decades in the 20th century: as noted, the works of Wassily Kandinsky and others would serve to advance experimental ideas in artistic expression (Sarabianov DV. Russian Art: From Neoclassicism to the Avant-Garde: 1800-1917: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. New York, NY: Abrams HN; 1990:192). Meanwhile, Nedashkovsky had developed a vision of conveying his feelings for nature with a style and coloration that cannot but leave a lasting impression on the viewer.