"COURT PAINTER" OFFERED MANSION IN DOWNTOWN MOSCOW TO SHOWCASE HIS WORK

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By Anatoly Korolev, RIA Novosti Writer

The controversial Russian painter Ilya Glazunov has just had a gallery of his own artwork opened in a mansion right across the famous Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, in downtown Moscow. Not many artists get such a privilege in their lifetime. The lavishness and pomposity of the three-story edifice with turquoise-green columns is stunning, and resembles a miniature Kremlin palace.

This grand style reveals Glazunov's main secret-he was born in the wrong time. A court painter at heart, he had come into this world in an era of Bolshevik dictatorship, with the golden age of Russia's monarchy long gone.

Glazunov lost both of his parents to famine in the besieged Leningrad during World War II. He was only eleven at the time. Early in his career, he worked in an austere style and achieved renown as a book illustrator. His debut-illustrations to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel "The White Nights"-is still considered a masterpiece by many. But judging from what Glazunov has been reported as saying to admirers of his, the important thing is that "the famous Italian film director Luchino Visconti bought the book, was keen to make a movie after Dostoyevsky, and offered me the art director's job."

Glazunov's gift for ceremonial portraiture revealed itself for the first time when he was commissioned to do a portrait of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. The lustrous, flattering portrait prompted commissions from other foreign dignitaries, including royalty and heads of state, while at the same time making him a victim of art critics' sarcasm and an object of fellow painters' envy. The envy grew into open hostility when the Foreign Ministry commissioned Glazunov to decorate the interior of the Soviet Embassy in Madrid a la Russe. His colleagues labeled him a hypocrite and a toady, and would deny him membership in the National Artists Guild for years to come.

Glazunov is full of contradictions. He has a courtier's mindset, but his hands would have made Rembrandt jealous. Free brushwork, spontaneity, symphonism of brushstrokes, a fine feeling for color, and lyrical dramatism-these are just a few of his painterly talents.

Peter Rubens is, perhaps, Glazunov's closest prototype in terms of character. They say that public admiration was the key to Rubens' creativity. He had stands built in his spacious atelier so that admirers could see him at work-if they were prepared to pay for the pleasure, of course. The painter would come out into the center of the room to the sounds of solemn orchestral music, bow to the audience, and set brush to canvas with a Rabelaisian vehemence. He enjoyed being in the spotlight enormously.

With his needs for court ambience and imperial patronage remaining unsatisfied, Glazunov turned his art into a show for the entire nation to follow. In the 1960s, he took up a tone of wrathful flattery. His denunciation of corrupt political leaders, his compassion for miserable prostitutes, and even his Stalin, represented in a casket sitting near the Brandenburg Gates in the picture "Mysteries of the 20th Century"-all these images are full of pathetic flattery to Russia's greatness.

While censuring the materialistic values of the West's consumer society and promoting Russian religious realism among his students, he makes his own works in the style of pop art. His large-scale paintings-"Crucified Russia," "Satan's Calling," and "The Market of Our Democracy"-are variations on the discoveries made by the American designers Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol in a pictorial collage aesthetics.

One of Glazunov's recent pictures, which condemns the values of modern democracies, has a frame coated with dollar bills. Warhol wouldn't have come up with something as daring as that. This is yet another manifestation of Glazunov's resourcefulness.

And his latest PR stunt is the creation of the world's largest oil painting. Entitled "The Great China," it is devoted to the 50th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Glazunov has hit his target all right-the picture, as big as a palatial wall, created quite a stir at the Chinese Embassy this past summer, and a special building has now been erected outside Beijing to accommodate it. The price of the Russian painter's "gift to China" remains undisclosed.

The gallery in downtown Moscow is obviously a result of this same strategy.

Treated by the Soviet Culture Ministry as an outcast, Glazunov is now enjoying the favors of post-Soviet authorities. His mansion, providing as much as 2,500 square meters of exhibition space, has cost the city an estimated 100 million dollars. On display here are almost 500 original paintings, now offered by the artist as a gift to the Muscovites. An impressive gesture of generosity, isn't it?

Well, it seems that Glazunov has managed to become the court artist of a non-existent empire.

Among his role models, he mentions Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Paul Veronese, Sandro Botticelli, Diego Velazquez, and Rembrandt... The only court painter on this list is Velazquez, who worked at the Court of Spanish King Philipp IV. Interestingly, his outstanding artistic talent earned him grandeeship in his young years, but the calling was too much of a burden to the low-born Velazquez throughout his life at the Court, as he didn't think painting was a noble enough occupation to match his rank.

In all later works by Glazunov, we can also feel a blase artist's weariness with his gift and a hunger for political power.

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