Isaac Levitan

Born: 1860, Kybartai (Lithuania)
Died: 1900, Moscow

Painter, graphic artist, teacher. Born to a poor Jewish family in the town of Kybartai near Kovno in Lithuania (1860). Moved with his family to Moscow (1870). Studied under Alexei Savrasov, Vasily Polenov and Vasily Perov at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1873–85). Member of the Wednesday Art Club (1886–89), Moscow Society of Lovers of the Arts (1888), Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (1891) and Munich Sezession (1897). Academician of painting (1898). Headed the landscape class at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1898–1900). Worked in Ostankino near Moscow (1880–84) and painted sets for Savva Mamontov’s Private Russian Opera (1884–86). Lived in the village of Maximovka in Moscow Province, where he met Anton Chekhov, who was a guest at an estate in nearby Babkino (1885). Travelled to the Crimea to rest after suffering from heart disease and manic depression brought on by constant poverty and stress (1886). Painted melancholic “mood landscapes” which were considered a reflection of his own troubled psyche. Never married, but had many affairs and was suspected of being in love with Anton Chekhov’s sister Maria. Lived and worked in the small town of Plyos in Kostroma Province (1888–90), where he painted two hundred landscapes. Visited France and Italy (1889–90), where he was influenced by the works of the Barbizon school and the Impressionists. Fell out with Anton Chekhov (1892–95) after the writer used his liaison with married student Sofia Kuvshinnikova as the plot for his short story The Grasshopper (1892). Broke up with Sofia after having an affair with Anna Turchaninova, wife of the governor of St Petersburg (1894), which led to another love triangle when Anna’s eldest daughter also fell in love with him (1895). Mother and daughter fought over the artist, who attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in Gorki (1895). Visited by Anton Chekhov, who further angered the artist by depicting him as the suicidal playwright Konstantin Treplyov in The Seagull (1895). Lived and worked in Finland (1896). Contracted typhoid and diagnosed as suffering from aneurysms (1896). Visited the town of Courmayeur in the Italian Alps (1897) and lived at the house of Anton Chekhov in Yalta (1899). Returned to Moscow (1900), where he remained housebound and died of tuberculosis shortly before his fortieth birthday (1900). Buried at Dorogomilovo Jewish Cemetery (1900) and reburied next to Anton Chekhov at the Novodevichy Cemetery (1941). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1880). Contributed to the exhibitions of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (1884–1900), Moscow Society of Lovers of the Arts (1887–1900), Fellowship of South Russian Artists (1892), Moscow Fellowship of Artists (1893), Munich Sezession (1896, 1898, 1899), Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists (1898), World of Art (1899, 1900), Pan-Russian Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod (1896), World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893), Kraft- und Arbeitsmaschinen-Ausstellung in Munich (1898), Exposition Universelle in Paris (1900) and posthumous one-man shows in St Petersburg and Moscow (1901).

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