Arles

Niko Pirosmani, Bridge with Donkey, date unknown, oil on wax cloth, 36 5⁄8 × 46 1⁄2".

Niko Pirosmani

Fondation Vincent Van Gogh

If the extraordinary paintings of the Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) are still too little known, it may be in part because, since his death, Pirosmani’s hard-to-classify art has almost never been for sale. Many of his existing paintings are concentrated in the collection of the Georgian National Museum, far from the art world in America. Sometimes referred to as the “Douanier Rousseau of the East,” Pirosmani, too, was self-taught. But there the similarities end. Pirosmani’s paintings can hardly be characterized as fantastic or dreamlike; if anything, they are transcendental. Partly inspired by local icons and with a good dose of whimsy, his works challenge the viewer to recognize the holy in the ordinary rituals of the hardworking people of Georgia and its capital city, Tiflis (today Tbilisi), where the artist lived. In works such as Bridge with Donkey, date unknown, we recognize

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