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“Moonlit Night on the Dnieper”: Why did the audience look for a light bulb behind Kuindzhi’s picture

The picture “Moonlit Night on the Dnieper” can be safely called the most famous masterpiece of the Russian artist Arkhip Kuindzhi – one of the greatest Russian landscape painters of the second half of the 19th century. The picture is distinguished by magnetism, mystery and high skill. The canvas wanted to see dozens of people waiting in long lines even before the opening of the artist’s workshop, and the most curious even looked for a bulb behind the picture.

The main work in the work of Kuindzhi
The work “Moonlit Night on the Dnieper”, which has always had a truly bewitching effect on the public, became legendary even before it was exhibited publicly. According to the artist, it is the main work of his life. Kuindzhi’s knowledge and talent was focused on conveying the illusory nature of moonlight and finding the perfect composition to convey space and mood.
The source of light in the picture is the moon. It sheds a mysterious green light on the river and the village on the shore. Most of the picture is covered in darkness, only a few rays of light distort the dark space. This meager light is enough to see the smooth flow of a great river. Dramatic contrast and masterful use of color have become the key to the success of the painting. It so accurately conveys the radiance of moonlight and lighting effects that visitors to the exhibition were simply amazed at the artist’s skill.

“Moonlit Night on the Dnieper” depicted not so much a concrete look as an endless celestial space – the universe. After writing this picture, Kuindzhi’s work acquired a contemplative, philosophical perception of the world that permeates the greatness of life. Unlike his previous works, in which reality took completely definite forms, here he is looking for completely new dimensions. From now on, he sought to convey not the dramatic states of nature and not even her beautiful physical manifestations, but something more substantial and eternal – a sense of the universe as the center of the organic unity of nature and humanity. The solemn phosphorescent colors of “Moonlit Night on the Dnieper” evoke high feelings, thoughts about earthly life and the heavenly world. The romantic harmony of Kuindzhi’s painting is comparable to the work of his predecessor, the German artist Caspar David Friedrich.

Painting in glory
The fame of the unfinished painting and its extraordinary beauty and lyrical expression spread so quickly throughout St. Petersburg that it forced Kuindzhi to organize two-hour visits to his studio on Sundays before the official presentation. Huge lines gathered long before the opening of the workshop. Kuindzhi demonstrated it to his friends, among whom were writer Ivan Turgenev, chemist Dmitry Mendeleev, poet Yakov Polonsky, artists Ivan Kramskoy and Pavel Chistyakov. By the way, it was Ivan Turgenev who played a special role in the history of the picture. His enthusiastic story about the new painting at one of the evenings was heard by the Grand Duke and art connoisseur Konstantin Konstantinovich. He came to Kuindzhi’s workshop in the guise of a naval officer (the artist did not recognize him). When the prince said that he was ready to buy a masterpiece and asked for its price, Kuindzhi laughed and said that he didn’t have that kind of money, saying the cost was 5 thousand rubles. It turned out that it was the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov, who acquired the painting for his collection. The prince loved this canvas so much that he took it with him on all trips and trips.
Exhibition of one painting
“Moonlit Night on the Dnieper” was exhibited in 1880 on Bolshaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg, in the hall of the Society for the Promotion of Artists. It is important that this was the first exhibition of one painting in Russia, and it became a sensation. The artist took all organizational measures to enhance the effect of the picture. He ordered the windows to be closed with curtains so that daylight would not get into the exhibition hall. To further enhance the effect, the picture was illuminated with a single electric beam directed directly at it. The exhibition was a success. Kuindzhi became the idol of the public.
Is there a lamp?
Some skeptics could not believe that the light of the moon in the picture can be so bright, even shining. When the painting was exhibited, the illusion of light was so realistic that many people furtively tried to look behind the canvas. Surely there should be a lamp. There was no lamp. Others suggested that Arkhip Kuindzhi was helped by his friend, the chemist Mendeleev, providing the necessary substances for a special glow. But that was not true.
Many were sure that the artist had some special secret. And to this day, its breathtaking beauty invariably makes museum visitors stop before it in admiration and surprise. Kuindzhi was truly a “wizard of light”, he experimented and strived for excellence in his color and light realization – this can be seen in his other works. His characteristic style and mastered techniques made the picture a unique masterpiece.

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