Isaac Levitan is an outstanding master of the “moody” landscape, in which the personal, emotional and the lyrical are forcefully emphasized. Levitan’s landscapes are dominated by an elegiac mood, close to what has come to be known as Chekhovian. The painter sees nature as endowed with an inner life of its own.
Lurking behind the mirror of a dammed stream is an inexplainable threat, there is something mysterious in the haunting beauty of the abandoned look, danger seems to loom in the quiet dusk at nightfall.
The picture “Above the Eternal Peace” is distinguished by a feeling of boundless expanse, as if the painter has been amazed by the very endlessness of the Earth. The grey Northern skies are reflected in the empty and cold waters of the lake with fluffy clouds hanging above it. Nature stands immobile in its primeval majesty. Time has stopped above the lake and the green promontory with the little church cemetery and the leaning crosses over the graves and only a twinkling light reminds one of how transitory human life is.
Levitan’s refined palette is equally matched to the depiction of objectively observable and subjectively perceived nature.
His manner is distinguished by a leading colour key determining the emotional force of the landscape. Levitan displays a special simplicity of feeling, which, however, is lacking neither in intimacy nor in depth.
If his earlier works were chiefly of an intimate and lyrical character, his mature art becomes philosophical, expressing the artist’s meditation about man and the world. These pictures were particularly loved by the Russian intellectuals of the time, for they represented the purest specimen of the ‘mood landscape’, most popular in Russia at the end of the 19th century. To this period belongs “The Vladimirka Road” (1892), a rare example of social historical landscape; Levitan painted the tragically famous road, along which convicts were marched to Siberia. In “Above the Eternal Peace” (1894) the artist’s meditations about the controversies of life, about the transience of human being, gained almost monumental scale and philosophic character.
Tears... again these bitter tears,
For broken dreams that flew far away,
For dreaded sadness that nothing cheers,
For new darkness, that nothing keeps at bay.
What is to come? More such torment?
No, its enough... It is time to rest, let go,
And to forget the sounds of lament,
A heart is full and can stand it no more.
Who is singing in the shade of the birch tree?
The sounds are familiar— the tears again...
These tears are for my homeland and to me
They are full of longing, worry and pain.
I am in my beloved country; yet, my grave-
Heart languishes in tears, I weep...
Now it seems that only in a cold grave
I will be able to forget and find some sleep.
Translation by K.M.W. Klara