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Niko Pirosmani

Nov - 7 - 2012
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Short Biographical Information.

Niko Pirosmani is what Georgians are proud about, he was self educated artist, who invented new painting technique not only thanks to his great talent but also out of poverty. He is one of the outstanding primitivism painters in the World. But as it usually happenes to greatests – he lived and died in poverty, never recognized by his countrymen while he was alive.

Land of birth, Family and Childhood.

Niko Pirosmani (Pirosmanashvili) was from the east part of Georgia — Kakheti, where live the most even-tempered and calm Georgians. They grow grapes and Kakheti is considered to be the motherland of the best Georgian wine .

Niko Pirosmani was born in 1862, possibly in May 5. His parents – Aslan Pirosmanashvili and Tekle Toklikishvili were farmers. They had couple of cows and oxes, the little vineyard, and were not poor and nor rich. His father was big fairy-tale admirer, and both they worked hard were devoted to the family and were happy together. They had three children, two daughters – Mariam and Pepe and the youngest Niko.

But in 1870 his father caught cold and died, so their short term family happiness ended there. That happiness and love to his relatives is obvious from his pictures – on painting “Rtveli – Picking Grapes “, you see a woman and a man, possibly that is how his parents were – working all the time, or painting “Mother and Son” could be only inspired with his sweet dream about mother, and similar “Father and Son”. Child on both of these pictures is obviously the same. But with the death of his father that idle and happy life ends and in his paintings start to penetrate more dark and gloomy colors, children are sad, and women pictured on them is bent under the pressure of hard work. On the picture “Georgian Women With Children ” a woman holds on a heavy jar of water on her back, little girl and boy, who stops on each step and looks behind, women tries to hold him and keep his pace. Niko was nice boy, he worked from early childhood to help his mother as much as he could.

Niko painted his sister Mariam, her husband bought her an umbrella and nice hat – “A Woman With Flower and An Umbrella “. When he was 8 Mariam’s husband took him to Tbilisi to ease his mother’s life and keep company for his sister, he had good life there with Mariam, but soon she got seek during epidemic of cholera in Tbilisi and died. Her husband didn’t care much about child and he gave him to Kalantarov’s family to live with them and serve them at the table.

In that family Niko was loved and treated well. His duties were to boil ‘samovar’ (a big pot to boil the water), bring water and wash the dishes. Niko learned to read and write in that home, he was smart boy, he loved to read books and paint, he painted all the walls in his room. Already from his childhood he didn’t care about material things, he was all in the creative work. They loved him in that family, he was devoted and honest, and they would trust him everything. Also he had very good gift of declamation, and often diverted children from the neighborhood with fairy tales, painting in the same time on the walls what he was telling.

Later he lived in another family, working there as a servant as well. He was treated well there too. When he became young man he fall in love with his land-lady – Elizabeth (she was widow). Possibly she was fond of him too, but she kept that secret, that was not satisfactory for Niko, he wanted to marry her. According memoirs of Solomon – Elizabeth’s son Niko wrote her letter asking to marry him – “I’m well aware that there is a big gap between us and our positions, but I know that you are prominent and educated woman and I hope you won’t pay that much attention and will accept my proposal. I assure you – my love to you is the most sincere and dearest.” But soon everybody get to know about their love affair and he had to leave Elizabeth’s house. After that he started independent life.

Margarita, where the legend comes from.

One of Pirosmani’s pictures presents a young woman, and is signed — “Actress Margarita “. She was an inspiration for many romantic legends and poems.

It is known that Margarita was french dancer. She came to Georgia in 1905 and met Niko Pirosmani. He was so charmed with her beauty, that gave her literally the sea of flowers. This story became widely known during his life and it reached the writer Shalva Dadiani. In 1922 some Simon Papiashvili wrote about him: “He has no family. One french woman loved him, I guess, whole year…” Niko’s sister — Pepe wrote to Dadiani: “He never had family, but I know for sure he had a lover.”

Who was that woman, whom Niko loved and whom he made immortal on his canvas? There is almost nothing known about this.

An admirer of the painter’s talent, K. Zdanevich described this story in his book with following words: “Niko didn’t know what is love before he met singer-dancer in cafe-shaitan. In Mushtaid Garden, on lightened stage, accompanied with sounds of mazurka beautiful and alluring madam Margarita appeared before of amazed public, she was dancing and singing charming and cheerful Paris songs… Niko couldn’t stop gazing at her, he was captivated.”

Niko’s happiness didn’t have any boundaries, all he spared during his whole life he spent for her, for the woman he loved. But Margarita got to know one day that he wasn’t count and he wasn’t rich and he was just common person who gave her all he had… and once Niko found out that Margarita left for Paris.

Konstantin Paustovskii described the story of that love in his book: “The carts were full of flowers up till edges, with drops of water, seemed like the early-dew sprinkled them with billions of rainbow drops.

The carts stopped at Margarita’s house. Carters talked awhile with each other in low voices, and then started to unload the carts and throw flowers on the ground in front of gates, covering stones in pavement and road. Yes, these were thousands of flowers that Niko got for his beloved woman.”

After these events, that he had bad luck in trade, and that he lost all his sparing, and lost his workshop, Pirosmani never reestablished it. From now he started to wonder around, visit “dukhans” — old Tbilisi restaurants — trying to find place and paint there.

People from different levels of society used to come to that “dukhans”, used to spend there a lot of time eating, chatting and having also business discussions.

Niko watched these people, their habits, behavior and painted all that he had seen, he painted his country’s life, it’s history, it’s beauty. Then he put his artworks in dukhans and people saw them and used to discuss them. They liked his works: “Tamar” (the famous queen in 12th century), “Rustaveli” (old writer), “Giorgi Saakadze” (historic figure), “Erekle the Second” (legendary king) and many other. Niko was happy that he had chance to let out his passion of creativity on the canvas which people could see. But these people, who saw his works in “dukhans” couldn’t properly value his artworks and he was known as homeless and drinker. Some merchants took advantage of him, others were nice and kind.

Ilia Zdanevich visited Pirosmani in 1913 and Niko shortly described his life: “I am poor… My clients are not educated”. He didn’t have place to live, and had found place to stay in dark and damp vine store, but he was too proud to ask “dukhan” owner to give him place better. Zdanevich noticed in his notes that these owners frequently disturbed Niko from his work and didn’t leave him alone.


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