The exhibition Niko Pirosmani – Wanderer between Worlds brings together almost thirty paintings by the Georgian artist (1862–1918) presenting a real and fantastical panorama, suffused with great calm, of an epoch in the midst of transition.
Pirosmani’s imposing figures and motifs, with their powerful graphic quality, are wide-ranging: a train steaming through the countryside at night, a woman with a mug of beer, a monumental boar and, sometimes, animals such as a giraffe or lion from imagined lands. Rarely dated, his paintings on wax cloth are largely composed in black and white, enlivened by the presence of blue or white.
Self-taught, a wanderer, meandering between town and country, Pirosmani embodies the popular modern vision of the clear-sighted artist on the margin of society. Far from the symbolic intermediate spaces of galleries, artists’ groups and museums, Pirosmani forged an œuvre imbued with modesty in the taverns and stables of Tbilisi and its surroundings, painting to order or offering his art in exchange for food. He distanced himself from the image of the naive painter immured in his solitude and – like Van Gogh – built up a body of work that seems to belong to everyone.
Uniting works by these two artists for the first time in the same place, Niko Pirosmani – Wanderer between Worlds is thus no ordinary exhibition. The Georgian painter is namely presented at the Fondation alongside six canvases by Vincent van Gogh, grouped under the title Vincent van Gogh: Speed & Aplomb. Produced between 1884 (the Dutch period) and 1889 (the Provençal period), Van Gogh’s paintings, too, convey a sense of speed and attest to a humble look at the people and the things surrounding the Dutch artist.
Pirosmani’s influence on the art and vision of his contemporaries is clear. His œuvre was caught up in the ferment of emulation propelling the various Russian and Parisian avant-gardes of the era. Alert to artists whose work – seen as “authentic” – signalled a rejection of academic conformism, the Russian avant-garde awarded generous space to Pirosmani at the exhibition The Target held in 1913 in Moscow. Pablo Picasso’s 1972 drypoint etching Portrait of Niko Pirosmani, presented in the Arles exhibition, speaks of the impact of the Georgian’s work on French modernist avant-garde circles.
The legacy that Pirosmani has bequeathed to the art of our own day also deserves a closer look. Among homages by contemporary artists on the second floor, the exhibition at the Fondation includes a new piece by Tadao Andō: a monumental monolithic table incorporating blue roses – in the words of the Japanese architect, “a metaphorical tomb in memory of this artist”. Pirosmani’s influence continues to make itself felt in new ways through the works of artists such as Raphaela Vogel and Christina Forrer.