Discover “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” by Arkhip Kuindzhi

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“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” (Лунная ночь на Днепре) is considered Arkhip Kuindzhi’s (Архип Куинджи) most famous work. It is a landscape depicting a wide river on a summer moonlight night. It is an oil on canvas of 105X146 cm painted in 1880 and stored in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

In “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” the space of the picture “is organized by a stream of light streaming into the depths of the picture.” which was characteristic of romanticism , and it could be seen as a departure from the principles of classicism and realism . 

"Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" by Arkhip Kuindzhi

“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” by Arkhip Kuindzhi

While working on the painting “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper”, Kuindzhi invited friends and acquaintances to his workshop in order to test the strength of the canvas’s influence on them.

Ivan Turgenev was one of the first to see Kuindzhi’s new painting, and, according to Yakov Polonsky, he was delighted. The poet Yakov Polonsky himself wrote: “In a golden frame or through an open window we saw this month, these clouds, this dark distance, these“ trembling lights of sad villages ”and these play of light, this silvery reflection month in the jets of the Dnieper, enveloping the distance, this poetic, quiet, majestic night”

In October-November 1880 for the first time in the history of Russian art a single painting was shown at the exhibition. This painting was “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” which was was exhibited in a semi-dark room, the windows of which were draped, in the building of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists in St. Petersburg. Many people lined up to see the canvas often more than once. 

When watching the painting people did not understand why such an unusual light came from the picture. It seemed impossible to achieve such an effect just with oil paint. Some even tried to look behind the picture to see if there was a lamp. There were many rumors and the artist was suspected of using some unusual mother-of-pearl paints brought from Japan or China, and even accused of having links with evil spirits. The hype rose to such an extend that the artist decided to go into seclusion for 20 years. The secret was simple. Kuindzhi was a passionate experimenter, and mixed not only paints, but he also added chemical elements to them. 

At the end of 1880, after the exhibition was completed, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich who bought “Moonlit Night on the Dnieper” went on a sea voyage, taking with him the painting. Kuindzhi was categorically against it, fearing for its safety in conditions of high humidity and sea water evaporation. Both could have a negative effect on the color of the paints. Sadly his fears were confirmed and the canvas was seriously damaged during the journey.  Konstantin Konstantinovich asked Kuindzhi to restore the canvas, and the artist agreed but it was not possible to completely restore the picture. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that when creating the canvas, paints were used that contained bitumen , which darkened under the influence of bright light and sea air

"Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" (dark) by Arkhip Kuindzhi

“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” (dark) by Arkhip Kuindzhi

Arkhip Kuindzhi repeatedly repeated and varied the canvas “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper”. A full-scale repetition of the painting, called “Night on the Dnieper”, is stored in the State Tretyakov Gallery and other repetitions of the canvas are kept in the Simferopol Art Museum, the Astrakhan Art Gallery,  the National Art Museum of Belarus, and the Kiev Art Gallery.

The State Tretyakov Gallery also has an undated reduced version of the painting “Night on the Dnieper”, and in the State Russian Museum there is another version under the same name which is a paper on canvas, oil, 40 × 54 cm received in 1930 from the Society named after A. I. Kuindzhi.

Description of the painting

"Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" (part - moon) by Arkhip Kuindzhi

“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” (part – moon) by Arkhip Kuindzhi

The painting depicts a summer night in which the artist chose a perspective from a distance and from above, leaving most of the canvas for a cloudy sky. The darkness of the sky, spreads over the earth’s surface, creating the impression of infinity. In the gap formed between the clouds, the full moon shines , the light of which fluctuates on the dark waters of the Dnieper. The river  flows calmly among the banks and merges with the dark sky.  

Thanks to the moonlight, low huts with twinkling windows, paths leading to the river, as well as the silhouette of a windmill are visible on the near bank of the river. 

"Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" (part - river) by Arkhip Kuindzhi

“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” (part – river) by Arkhip Kuindzhi

It is almost impossible to find the same shades in the black color that was used when writing the sky and the plain. When depicting a plain that stretches on the far bank, as you move away from the river, the black color becomes deeper and deeper, almost merging at the very horizon with the tone of the night sky. 

I hope you enjoyed this painting as much as I did

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