Kolas who is looking at us…
To the 140th anniversary of the birth of Jakub Kolas
In the spiritual life of the Belarusian people, Jakub Kolas, according to Nil Hilievich, ‘... is an unusual, unique and... infinite phenomenon. The phenomenon cannot be grasped even by the broadest look. It is impossible to penetrate its depths even with the most insightful look. It is not surprise that the personality of the writer invariably attracted painters, sculptors and graphic artists. The wisdom and spiritual experience of the whole people were concentrated in the personality of the poet.
The funds of the National Art Museum have 9 canvases depicting the people’s poet. There are no lifetime portraits in the collection, but there is a work made shortly after the death of the poet by the master who was personally knew Kolas. We are talking about Valiantsin Volkau, the People’s Artist of Belarus.
A working group was established to organize the Jakub Kolas Literary Museum in 1957. Its director Daniil Mitskievich turned to the oldest artists with a request to paint portraits for the exposition. Valiantsin Volkau was one of the first who responded to this request. A version of this portrait was donated to the museum by the artist’s son and daughter in 1971. It is kept in the funds of the Art Museum.
The work was based on photos of the last years of the writer’s life. Valiantsin Volkau also relied on his own memories. The artist turns to the image most familiar to him: Kolas as a mature, focused and harsh writer and scientist in the first half of the 1950s. A strict black suit, a frozen pose and sober colors. The artist emphasizes the writer’s public significance as much as possible. This is a serious, authority person with a rich life experience before us.
A certain attempt to move away from the image of the elder classic can be seen in the portrait by Mikhail Savitski, the People’s Artist of Belarus. We see the romantic image of Jakub Kolas. The portrait was based on the photos of the mid-1920s. At that moment, the writer was in the prime of life and creativity. Two of his iconic poems ‘New Land’ and ‘Symon the Musician’ had been published. Jakub Kolas was awarded the title of People’s Poet of Belarus in 1926. The artist managed not only to accurately depicted some external features, but also to reveal the inner world of the writer – a thoughtful, reasonable and wise person.
The name of Jakub Kolas is always pronounced with the name of Janka Kupala. Kolas always spoke of his friend and like-minded person with warmth and respect. But, he noted that they ‘are not mating with him as critics say’. At the same time, he said that maybe it is not bad that they are perceived somewhere as one creature glued from two halves, because, ‘by bringing together everything that was written by one and the other, a more complete image of our land is presented’.
The significance of famous writers for Belarus is emphasized by Mikhail Savitski in his painting ‘Sowers’. The author presents the images of Janka Kupala and Jakub Kolas as saints, the greatest prophets of our land, sowers of the Belarusian language and literature. Some passages from their works look like prayer texts. They are written in a book and a scroll the writers hold in their hands. Mikhail Savitski focuses on poem ‘On the New Land’ among the literary heritage of Kolas. One of the central images in the poet’s creativity is the image of the road.
The famous writers are on one more work ‘Word about Belarus’ by Uladzimir Stelmashonak from the collection of the National Art Museum. The color of the painting recreates embroidered towels and home-woven carpets. Jakub Kolas in a suit and a tie. He holds editions of his most famous poems ‘New Land’ and ‘Symon the Musician’. He is depicted against some lines from the poems ‘To My People’, ‘To the Peoples of the USSR’ and ‘I Greet You with a Song’.
The most expressive and laconic ‘Portrait of Jakub Kolas’ is made by Uladzimir Stelmashonak. While working on this work, the artist used the traditions of Orthodox painting. Actually, he created the icon of the people’s poet. The huge figure of Kolas, the neutral background and the certain graphics of the image make the poet look like an iconographic biblical prophet walking on his native land. A wide hat on the back of the head looks like a nimbus, a peasant’s shirt, in which the hero is dressed, is similar to a chiton, and the peasant’s russet overcoat is like a himation. The motif of the wheel is often repeated in the painting. This is a symbol of Heaven, God’s Abode. The iconographic style is also emphasized by the use of oil and tempera paints, which were mainly used to paint icons.
The interest of Belarusian artists in the life and work of Jakub Kolas has always been very high, but, of course, it especially increased during the jubilee years. The republican exhibition ‘Songs of the Belarusian Land’ was organized for the 100th anniversary of Janka Kupala and Jakub Kolas in 1982. There artist Aliaksandr Ksiandzou presented his work ‘My Native Corner...’. The singer’s most famous lines from the beginning of the poem ‘New Land’ were chosen as the title. Jakub Kolas’s native place is Stoŭbcy Region. Akinčycy, Albuts, Lastok and Smolnia are the places dear to the poet’s heart. This is also his native home, which is always waiting for him. The artist used the photos of Kolas from the 1920s to paint the picture. The writer appears as a rather thin young man.
The personality of the writer continues to inspire artists even in the 21st century. Uladzimir Kozhukh, the honored art worker of the Republic of Belarus, created the triptych ‘Jakub Kolas’ in 2007. The writer appears here in an unusual image, not at all the way we are used to seeing him on the pages of textbooks. This is not a serious, important representative of Belarusian culture, not a public figure, not a scientist, but above all – a creator whom we caught at the moment of inspiration, reflection and creation of new literary lines.
The artist is attracted by the writer’s inner concentration on the art of creation. Due to the imagination of Uladzimir Kozhukh, we can feel the charm of the living classic.
The image of the literary classic is always an honorable and attractive task, but at the same time it is quite difficult. Portraits of Jakub Kolas from the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus are not only classic images of the writer, but also it is an unusual look at the people’s poet. This is an unexpected psychological solution of the portrait, which gives us the opportunity to look at the classic from a different angle, to feel the living pulse of his nature.
Read more about the image of Jakub Kolas, the national poet of Belarus, in the paintings from the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus in the November issue of Rodnaje slova magazine.