Martiros Saryan

Martiros Saryan (Born either 16 or 28 February 1880 — Died 5 May 1972) was a Soviet-Armenian painter.

Saryan was one of the plead of major cultural figures of Armenia at the turn of the century. His work, in common with the library contributions of O. Tumanian and A. Isaakian, those of T. Toramanian and A. Tamanian in architecture, and of Komitas in national music, set the standard of national art, and laid the foundations for its flowering in the Soviet period. Hi was born in 1880 and dead in 1972. In the course of his long life, Saryan experienced much sorrow and much joy. He witnessed the two World Wars and the tragedy of genocide in Armenia in 1915. He suffered the destruction of many of his paintings, and the death of his beloved son.

Recalling his own background, Saryan said, “My ancestors had come to the banks of the river Don from the Crimea, and to the Crimea from Ani, the capital of medieval Armenia. I was born into a family which followed the old patriarchal customs. There were nine children and I was the seventh.” I do not know when the artist was born in me. It was probably in those days when I used to listen to my parents’ stories about our mountainous, enchanted country, when I used to run as a small boy over the land around our home, and was filled with joy at the many colors of the butterflies, insects and flowers. Color, light and day-dreaming – those are what fired me”. The Fancies and Dreams present a synthesis of the aesthetic aims which the artist set himself at that time. He was striving to represent nature symbolically as a “living entity”. The works of this period, which Saryan began to show at Moscow exhibitions, were executed mainly in watercolors and tempera. They include: “Flowering Mountains”, “The Comet”,” By the sea: Sphinx”, “Two Panthers”, “Under the Pomegranate”, “At the Well on a Hot Day” and others.

A new stage in Saryan’s work began in 1909. There is no longer anything fantastic in the subjects of such paintings as “Self-portrait” (two versions), “In the Grove at Sambek”, “Morning at Stavrino”, “Hyenas”, or “Burning Heat with a Dog Running”. In “Morning at Stavrino”, an actual place is depicted, the yard of his father’s farm, yet the canvas breathes the mystery of awakening nature.

Among his celebrated pictures belonging to the beginning of the 1910s are “A Street at Noon: Constantinople, Dogs of Constantinople, Date-palm in Egypt, Night Landscape, Still-life with Grapes, Flowers of Kalaki, Still-life with Masks, Flowers of the East”. Each of these works, with its brilliant, joyous colors, overcomes the viewer with a sensation of the joy of life.

Landscape always remained a leading aspect of Saryan’s art. But beginning with the 1920s landscape became more synthetic monumental in character. The artist creates a generalized image of Armenia. In the paintings “Armenia”, “Mountains”, “Midday Stillness”, “Erevan”, “Mount Aragats”, an effect of spatial depth is achieved through a balanced arrangement of saturated color patches. The absolute harmony of color and light arouses in the viewer a restful feeling, a deep sense of peace.

The artist brings to each of his works the most delicate shades of a mood, an intimate, lyrical mood in most cases. He composes cycles in which the meaning of the present and the eternal is philosophically explored. One such series consisting of seven landscapes, “My Homeland”.

Saryan’s work is not limited to his paintings in oil and -later -tempera: he also drew a great deal and painted in watercolors. His sketches from life are outstanding. Saryan was famous for his work in the field of book illustration. Particularly in the 1930s, he worked enthusiastically in graphics and did his wonderful illustrations to the works of Tumanian, Isaakian, Charents, and to the poem of Firdawsi, “Shah-Nameh”, Saryan also worked in monumental painting and in the sphere of theatrical design.

To the end of his life he never lost his talent for work or the freshness of his vision. The vitality of Saryan’s genuinely national art lies in its truth to the character of the artist’s homeland, in its originality and its purely coloristic beauty. The master always managed to achieve a striking clarity and simplicity in the expression of complex ideas. His works are in no sense rationalistic; they are deeply emotional.

He was born into an Armenian family in Nor Nakhijevan (now part of Rostov-on-Don, Russia). In 1895, aged 15, he completed the Nakhichevan school and from 1897 to 1904 studied at the Moscow School of Arts, including in the workshops of Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin. He was heavily influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse. He exhibited his works in various shows. He had works shown at the Blue Rose (art group) Exhibit in Moscow.

He first visited Armenia, then part of the Russian Empire, in 1901, visiting Lori, Shirak, Echmiadzin, Haghpat, Sanahin, Yerevan and Sevan.

From 1910 to 1913 he traveled extensively in Turkey, Egypt and Iran. In 1915 he went to Echmiadzin to help refugees who had fled from the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. In 1916 he traveled to Tiflis (now Tbilisi) where he married Lusik Agayan. It was there that he helped organise the Society of Armenian Artists.

After the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 he went with his family to live in Russia. In 1921 they moved to Armenia. While most of his work reflected the Armenian landscape, he also designed the coat of arms for Armenian SSR and designed the curtain for the first Armenian state theatre.

From 1926 – 1928 he lived and worked in Paris, but most works from this period were destroyed in a fire on board the boat on which he returned to the Soviet Union.

In the difficult years of the 1930s, he mainly devoted himself again to landscape painting, as well as portraits. He also was chosen as a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet and was awarded the Order of Lenin three times and other awards and medals.

Saryan died in Yerevan on 5 May 1972. His former home in Yerevan is now a museum dedicated to his work with hundreds of items on display. He was buried in Yerevan at the Pantheon next to Komitas Vardapet.

Martiros Saryan Quotes

“Nature’s ways are wonderful and unfathomable. The grain swells in the soil, the sprout grows and flowers when the time comes and then it bears new fruit and so does not die. We are like grain. We never die because we are One with Nature. To understand this is to comprehend Immortality–the Apotheosis of the Human Race. It is with this conviction that I have lived my Life. My Life is a store of my experience, a Life of aspirations, sorrows, joys and triumphs.” – Martiros Saryan.

“Life is an island. People come out of the sea, cross the island, and return to the sea. But this short life is long and beautiful. In getting to know nature man exalts the wonder and beauty of life.” – Martiros Saryan.

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