Martiros Saryan (1880-1972)
“The land is similar to a living being, it has its own soul,
and one would hardly find his own self, his own soul,
without his homeland, without being in close touch with
his native land…”
Martiros Saryan was an Armenian painter, the founder of a modern Armenian national school of painting. He was born into an Armenian family in Nakhichevan-on-Don (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 first visited Armenia, then part of the Russian Empire, in 1901. He was then in his early twenties. The impressions were so favorable that he again visited Armenia the following years. He toured the districts of Aragatz, visited Lori, Shirak, Ani, Etchmiadzin, Haghpat, Sanahin, Yerevan and Sevan. He composed his first landscapes depicting Armenia: Makravank, 1902; Aragats, 1902; Buffalo. Sevan, 1903; Evening in the Garden, 1903; In the Armenian village, 1903, etc., which were highly praised in the Moscow press.
The native land was the place where Saryan found his world of childhood again. He saw in reality all that “he was dreaming in his childhood”. The fairy nature, the mountains, the ancient architectural monuments, the astonishing tricks of the light under the bright sun-shine-all these had to bear a formidable impact upon his soul, as is the case with the Eastern people closely attached to the land.
The acquaintance of the young painter with his native land,-a painter who was still alient to the urban way of life, watching the reality simple-mindedly, getting fascinated by the beauties of nature,-resutled in giving shape to Sarian՚ s creative “self”, and spontaneously gave rise to the series of his own creative works in the form of the so-called “Tales and Dreams”. The pictures of the first cycle of the “Tales” (1904) made in the main in water-colour, are poetic dialogues with nature.
In 1907-1909 Saryan acquainted himself with the contemporary French painters, through the picture-collections of Shchukin and Morozov. The decisive moment came in 1909. He created such works, as “On the Way to the Water-spring”, the “Jackals”, “Hot Weather. The running Dog”, “A Grove in Sambek” and others. In the first self-portrait (done in two variants) we see Saryan at the back-ground of his native mountains, staring at the spectator with a deep, penetrating look.
So, Saryan the painter, having already worked out his own manner of painting, and, as he testified, in striving “to get new impressions” travelled almost every year over the countries most appealing to his heart. In 1910 he is in Constantinople, in 1911-in Egypt, in 1912-in the north-west of Armenia, in 1913-in Persia, in 1914-in the south of Armenia, in the Goghtan region. The I World War prevented him of travelling to India and Japan. And then coming in succession were his famous works- “A Street. Mid-day”, the “Date-Palm”, the “Armenian Girl”, “The Abul Mountain and the Walking Camels”, “Portrait of the Poet Tsaturian”, the “Kalaki Flowers” and many others. The painter, endowed with an inborn wisdom, spoke little, was of a quiet temper. But when he held the brush, he was in his own elements.
Saryan was the first Armenian painter educated in Europe, who was destined to bring to light the ways of renovating the national style of painting. It was a mission destined to a man of genius which would give him some years later the lofty honour of becoming the leader of a rejuvenated school of painting.
In the period of 1915-1920 Saryan painted little, devoting himself thoroughly to his patriotic activities. In 1915e, Saryan hurried to Etchmiadzin to help the Armenian refugees. In 1916 he traveled to Tiflis (now Tbilisi) where he married Lusik Agayan. In 1919, he founded the Armenian Museum and the Society of painters in Rostov.
After the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 he went with his family to live in Russia. In 1921 they moved to Armenia. During the first years of his life in Armenia he participated in founding the museums of history and fine-arts, the arts school, the committee for the preservation of ancient monuments.
Beginning with 1923, Saryan created his famous paintings, which, the following year, were exhibited with great success at the “Biennale” 14th International Exhibition in Venice: among them were the “Mountains”, “Armenia”, “Peace at Noon”, “My Yard”, “Yegisheh Charents՚ Portrait”, “Aragats”, “Yerevan” and many others. In those same years he designed the emblem of Soviet Armenia and the curtain of the first State theatre.
His Homeland became Saryan՚ s principal and permament theme. His link with his homeland grew so strong that late in 1926, after being commissioned to Paris for one and a half years, he continued to glorify the beauty of his homeland like a poet-wanderer. In January, 1928, most of his works exhibited at the “Gerard” picture-gallery were burnt in the fire broken on board the ship bringing his pictures back home. The painter, who had endured the tragedies of the War, found enough strength to bear this personal sorrow, as well.
From 1928 until his death, Saryan lived in Soviet Armenia.
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. He was a member of the USSR Art Academy (1974) and Armenian Academy of Sciences (1956).
Saryan had always painted flowers, both in days of sorrow and in days of joy. On 9, 1945, people kept coming to congratulate their Varpet on the occasion of the Great Victory. The studio of the painter was flooded with flowers. Remembering his son, still serving in the army, Saryan conceived and brought about his still-life of “Flowers” dedicating the bouquet “to the Armenian soldiers who had served in the Great Patriotic War”.
And here are Saryan՚ s last canvases: “The Earth”, the unfinished “Tale” and the scores of wonderful drawings executed some time before his death.
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 (His great-granddaughter Mariam Petrosyan is also a painter, as well as cartoonist and award-winning novelist.)
Saryan was destined to see his glory. People who knew him were surprised at his attitude towards his glory. Sarian՚ s concept of glory was to see and depict the “miracle of life, its beauty”.
He left behind to the coming generations his works of art thoroughly expressing his inner world. After all, art is man himself, the incarnation of his spiritual world, his feelings and tendencies.