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Irena Popiashvili

Niko Pirosmani, Sona Playing a Concertina, 1913, oil on cardboard, 39 1/8 x 27 1/8".

IRENA POPIASHVILI

OUR UNDERSTANDING of twentieth-century Georgian art is still dominated by one artist: Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918), a self-taught painter who was discovered in the early 1900s and whose reputation was revived and cemented by the Soviets in the ’60s. They cast him as a heroic plebeian artist who died poor and was ignored by the public, and this myth has not been revised since. More than one hundred of his paintings were recently displayed at the National Gallery in Tbilisi in an exhibition on the occasion of the artist’s 150th birthday. The show was advertised with posters of his most clichéd images, those emphasizing folksy familiarity, for example Portrait of the Actress Margarita, and Girl with a Balloon. This is the official version of Pirosmani constructed for the general public.

But another side of the artist is on view in eastern Georgia. In the Kakheti region,

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