Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Death of Gregorio Sciltian (April 1, 1985)

As it has frequently happened with painters born in Russia, Italian Armenian painter Gregorio Sciltian (Grigor Shiltian) has been sometimes considered an “artist of Russian birth.”

He was born on August 20, 1900 in Nakhichevan-on-Don, the Armenian suburb of Rostov-on-Don (today within the town) that was the birthplace of many important Armenian figures from the last  two centuries such as Mikayel Nalbandian or Simon Vratzian. His father was a lawyer, and his mother, the offspring of a family of prosperous Armenian industrialists.

After studying at a Russian gymnasium in Moscow, Sciltian returned to Rostov and later left for St. Petersburg, where he studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts. After the October Revolution, he fled to Georgia with the aim of going to Europe. However, he was unable to get a visa and temporarily settled in Tiflis. Here he was in contact with various Russian avant-garde painters and writers.

In 1919 he finally left Georgia and, after a short sojourn in Crimea, in 1920 he moved to Constantinople and then to Vienna, where he studied the works of the Italian Renaissance in the Academy and the Museum of Fine Arts. He married Elena Boberman in 1923 and moved to Italy, settling in Rome. He participated in the Biennale of Rome in 1925 and the Biennale of Venice in 1926. 

Afterwards, he moved to Paris, where he lived, worked, and exhibited from 1927 to 1932. He returned to Italy in 1933 and established himself in Milan from 1934 to 1941. After living six years in the area of the Garda Lake, he returned to Milan in 1947. He participated in many exhibitions in Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, and England, and founded a group called “Modern Painters of Reality” with Italian artists Pietro Annigoni, Antonio Bueno, and others in 1947. From the 1950s he also worked on costumes and set designs, and illustrated books. He published five books in Italian, including “My Adventure” (1963) and “The Reality of Sciltian” (1968).

A French critic, Waldemar George, published a work in Italian about him, “Sciltian: The Magic of Reality” (1950). Interestingly, the same critic would publish a book in French on Soviet Armenian painter Yervand Kochar in the early 1970s. 

Sciltian is well known for his portraiture and his trompe-l'oeil compositions. He represented the long-standing tradition of illusionistic painting that dates back to the Middle Ages. However, he added a measure of metaphysics, which links his compositions to the Italian branch of magic realism.
He passed away in Rome on April 1, 1985, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery of the Italian capital. The inscription on the tombstone is an aphorism by him: “The only true and supreme purpose of the art of painting has been and will always be that of obtaining the illusion of reality.”