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PRINT March 1979

Mikhail Vrubel: Madness and Art

MIKHAIL ALEKSANDROVICH VRUBEL (1856–1910) was one of the first modern Russian artists—modern in the sense that he broke away from academic traditions, expressing his own artistic vision in a unique vocabulary. Although Vrubel is sometimes considered a Symbolist, his art is rather difficult to categorize. He perhaps tried to be different from everybody else. It is quite clear that, unlike the Peredvizhniki, those realist painters who dominated Russian artistic life during the 1870s and 1880s, Vrubel was not interested in making art that told a story easily understandable by many people. Vrubel’s concern—his “mania,” as he called it—was technique. Over and over again, he experimented with the expressive potential of color and line. A painting to him was a decorative surface, and he explored formal means for covering that surface with carpet- and mosaiclike patterns. If the impact of Vrubel’s

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