Stepan Kolesnikoff (Kolesnikov)

Stepan Kolesnikoff (Kolesnikov), Ukrainian, Russian Yugoslav artist gouache and oil
I came across the work of Stephan Fedorovich Kolesnikoff (alternately spelled Kolesnikov or Kolesnykov) while poking through some Russian language blogs, and had a “Woah! Who is this?” reaction.

After searching up a bit more of his work, Kolesnikoff immediately went on my list of favorite artists who work in gouache. Though he also did very nice oils, it was his gouache paintings, with their wonderfully delineated trees, shadowed walls, gritty earth, soft fields of snow and colorfully dressed peasants, that grabbed me.

You will alternately see him mentioned as Russian or Serbian, but the best information I can find indicates that Kolesnikoff was born in Ukraine, and after studying there at the Odessa Art School, went on to study at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his instructors included Ilya Repin.

Kolesnikoff lived and painted in Russia for some time, travelled and painted in various parts of Europe, and eventually settled in what was then known as Yugoslavia, in the region now known as Serbia.

Kolesnikoff’s primary subjects were farm workers, their toil in the fields, village life and church celebrations. His scenes were frequently of winter landscapes, in which he found fascinating contrasts of detail and open space, texture and softness.

His trees, figures and buildings were given form with carefully controlled variations in value and subtle nuances of color. Combined with his handling of the medium of opaque watercolor, and the matt areas of color it facilitates, the resulting works are a treat for the eye.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a major single source for Kolesnikoff’s work, a search made more difficult by the fact that he didn’t die until 1955, which leaves his work subject to copyright in most countries. I’ve gathered what I can below.

 
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29 Replies to “Stepan Kolesnikoff (Kolesnikov)”

  1. Thank you,it is a real discovery and it makes us realize how little we know and how vast the world of beauty is, with hidden gems ,made by artists who stand in the shadow by all kind of reasons . Reasons that have nothing to do with their talent and their ability to move us.

  2. Another really great find (and Russian painter?) Charley and one new to me!
    I don’t know how you keep coming up with such treasures.
    I must say seeing these gouache paintings remind me of much of the best digital concept art, similar in its application to gouache. Or perhaps it is the other way around.
    He certainly had an utter command of the medium and composition and the things you mention.

  3. Thanks, Hilde. I think because the Soviet Union closed off cultural interaction with the West for many years, there are many more artists from Russia and the former Soviet satellite states that are not as well known in the rest of the world as they should be. The internet is helping us make up for some of that, but I think there are still many wonderful artists to be discovered.

  4. Thanks, David. One of my earliest introductions to digital painting was coming across “digital gouache” illustrations by Nancy Stahl in Communication Arts back in ’94 or ’95. These were done in Fractal Design (now Corel) Painter, and I just loved them! Unfortunately, she rarely works that way anymore, but you can still see some of her older pieces done that way: http://www.illoz.com/stahl/?section=portfolios&gallery_id=120

    I think it’s the matte surface and the discrete, flat areas of color that I find so appealing in both digital and traditional gouache.

  5. Thanks, Mike. I’ve wondered about that, too. I think there was the strong tradition of academic training, insistence on the fundamentals, in the Russian art schools. I think the Western European and American artists moved away from that more readily than the Russian artists did.

  6. Mr. Parker, I really don’t know what I would do without your truly wonderful site. My goodness, you have introduced me to so many fantastic artists. I spend most of my waking hours looking at art and seeking out artists, and still you consistently shed light on new favorites I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

    I also have to say how much I appreciate the tone of your site. Thoughtful, concise, and mercifully free of the “snark” and bitterness plaguing countless other sites, Lines and Colors is at the top of the handful of sites I enjoy visiting regularly. Thank you very much for your efforts and for your excellent taste!

  7. Yes I remember seeing the work of Nancy Stahl back then too and was equally impressed. I know she worked digitally but didn’t she also work in traditional gouache before the digital medium?
    And back to Kolesnikoff I should add I love the linear quality here too, the calligraphic drawing in paint. That is certainly a huge part of its strength, the drawing in gouache against the larger flat areas of matt color and tone.
    It gives those trees for instance so much character. He really exploited gouache for all its worth.

  8. I don’t know much about Stahl’s work in traditional media, but I would not be at all surprised of she was fluent in several.

    Yes, I agree; one of the other wonderful characteristics of gouache is the ability to make fluid, calligraphic lines within the context of more painterly passages, allowing gouache artists to traverse that etherial netheworld between painting and drawing in the same work. I just love that! I think it’s vastly underrated as a medium for gallery art and plein air. Too often, the association of gouache with illustration is thought of as a limitation rather than an extension of its use.

  9. Charley,
    This site has a short biography of the artist, where they say – among other things – that he was born in peasant family in Southern Ukraine, emigrated to Serbia in 1920 amidst the horrors of Russian Civil War and lived and worked in Belgrade till he died at 86. Last 12 years he suffered from Parkinson disease. After immigration he continued to paint and taught in Belgrade academy of fine arts; one of his commissions was mural of the ceiling in National Theater in Belgrade (80 sq. m!)
    I wanted to find the image of this mural; instead all I could find was this Serbian site that mentions that mural as current and the site of the theater itself that claims that after many renovations the painted ceiling was destroyed and doesn’t mention Kolesnikov name. My search of the images didn’t produce any picture at all…

    I want to thank you, again, for your commendable work popularizing Russian and Ukrainian artists. You’re right: there are many unknown in the West – and deserving wider recognition.

  10. Wonderful. Thanks, ETat. To bad there are not images of the theatre in Belgrade, but nice to know about. I posted about Kolesnikoff to a Facebook Representational Art Group and the image I posted got a very enthusiastic response. Hopefully word will start to get around and his work will become more widely recognized.

  11. Kolesnikoff was a friend of my grandmother. She was born in 1888, and fled Russia during the revolution along with her husband and 2 children, my father being one of them. They moved to Belgrade, where they met Kolesnikoff. We have four of his paintings, 2 oils and 2 gouache. The delicate linework and light/shade in the gouache is magical.

  12. This is fabulous gouache work. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I have never seen such heavy and commanding use of this medium; his paintings have the “weight” of oils.–Jeri

  13. I have been a fan of Stepan Kolesnikov for years….his brush work is so extraordinary it looks like it has been photoshopped. There is a gallery in Moscow http://www.maricevicfineart.com that specialises in his work. The director has even made a documentary about him that she very kindly sent me. It’s all in Russian obviously but is neverthless fascinating. There is a school of Russian painters known as the Itinerants because they traveled Russia and painted landscapes and locals rather than society portraits. There are some very fine artists amongst them but for me SK is far and away the best. I have been told that quite a lot of his work turns up in Canada, geographical proximity, climate and a Russian diaspora having a lot t do with it. SK was revered in Russia during his time there. Having one of his snowscapes on your wall was a real status symbol. Sadly he ended up the victim of politics and his last decades in Belgrade were tough. He taught at the art school there and exhibited in small galleries. His reputation is now being re established in Russia, sadly a bit late for him. Repin famously said that SK was the best student he ever had.

  14. My parents collected Kolesnikov’s paintings. He painted a huge mural of my mother that my father commissioned Kolesnikov to do and we have been searching for it for years. I have an article from a former Yugoslavian periodical that discusses it. No luck so far. Just want to see it. We have a photograph of it. Love the paintings. wish we could find that painting!

  15. Hi Natalie. That’s wonderful.

    The best I can suggest in continuing your search is to try alternate spellings of his name in English (there are variations of both Stepan and Kolesnikoff) as well as searching in Russian: Художник Степан Колесников (and perhaps add “mural”: фреска according to Google translate).

    There are a lot of Russian language art resources that do not always show up in English language searches. Also, try finding large Russian language art websites and then searching within them, in Russian, using the site’s own local search feature. Google only scrapes the surface of many databased websites.

    (If, in the process, you come across a large trove of images of his work not listed here, I would love to know about it.)

  16. Hello Charley! My interest in Kolesnikoff is due to finding a post card from 1919 to my Great Uncle Ned with a painting by SK on it. His friend who send the card had been sent to Archangel, Russia by the YMCA. It has a censored stamp with signature. I liked the painting and was curious about the artist so googled him. So many interesting things on one small post card! I suppose it could be valuable. Julia in Cincinnati

  17. Thanks, Julia. It’s interesting how these things have different cultural connections. I wasn’t aware of the stamp with one of his paintings. (I don’t know about the value of the stamp or card, you could try searching on stamp collecting sites.)

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