Thursday, October 1, 2015

Birth of Arshag Fetvadjian (October 1, 1866)

Arshag Fetvadjian was one of the most versatile Armenian artists in modern times. Besides paintings, frescoes, and graphic works, he made designs for theatrical performances, dance halls, paper money, and stamps. He also worked on architectural projects and redecorated churches. He also wrote articles on issues of Armenian architecture, European painting, theater, and culture in general.

Fetvadjian was born on October 1, 1866, in the port of Trebizond. He completed his studies at the local Armenian school, and then he entered the newly opened Imperial School of Fine Arts in Constantinople (1882). He was one of its first graduates in 1887. From 1887 to 1891 he studied at the San Luca Accademia of Rome with the famous Italian painter, Cesare Maccari. In his last year of study, he participated in the national exhibition of Italian painters at the Palazzo d’Arte of Rome.

He moved to Vienna in 1891, where he worked as an independent artist for four years. In 1895 he moved to St. Petersburg, where he became a member of the Society of Russian Watercolor Painters. He was gradually accepted as the premier Armenian painter in watercolor. He participated in collective exhibitions in Russia, as well as in individual exhibitions in the Caucasus (Batum, Tilis, Pyatigors, and Baku) between 1899 and 1902.

Between 1900 and 1920, Fetvadjian traveled annually to Eastern Armenia and painted pictures of churches and castles, fortress walls and civic buildings, as well as portraits of Armenian women in traditional costume. The results of his hard work were 30 large-scale watercolors, depicting Ani and its surrounding monuments, and 1500 pencil drawings of decorations of churches and khachkars. This documentation was very important, as little had been photographed at the time, and many of those monuments do not exist anymore. The same happened with many samples of national costumes worn by Armenian women.

Fetvadjian returned to Vienna in 1906 and published 15 color postcards with pictures of Ani and 10 postcards of his most celebrated oil paintings. He showed his pictures of Ani for the first time in his individual exhibition of 1908 in Tiflis. He was commissioned to decorate the Kamoyants Surp Kevork church of Tiflis, which had been restored from 1900-1908 (it would be destroyed by the Soviet Georgian government in the 1930s), and several other churches.

He made his final visit to Ani in 1917, accompanying Russian scholar Nikolai Marr and a group of Armenian scholars. In 1918 he was in Etchmiadzin painting Armenian refugee women.

The government of the Republic of Armenia commissioned Fetvadjian to design the stamps and the banknotes of the new country. His designs used national symbols, like Ararat, a village woman, etcetera. In 1919 he was authorized to print the stamps in France and the banknotes in Great Britain. However, they reached the country in November 1920, when the Soviet regime was about to be established, and were never put into circulation.

In 1920-1921 Fetvadjian offered exhibitions of his works in Paris and London, which earned the appreciation of the French and British press. In 1922 he settled in the United States, hoping to obtain financial help to publish his works. He gave exhibitions at Columbia University, Chicago University, and Princeton University. An ad-hoc committee was formed to raise funds, however, was dissolved after a year, due to the indifference and cold treatment by the Armenian community.

Manuel Der Manuelian, a consul of the Republic of Armenia in the United States, who lived in Boston, helped Fetvadjian move to Boston, where he lived modestly for the rest of his life. He continued his participation in various exhibitions in Boston and New York. He was commissioned to carve a table and altar for St. Illuminator’s Cathedral of New York, along with an altar painting representing the Virgin and the Child that has remained there until this day.

In 1947 Fetvadjian was invited by the government of Soviet Armenia to return to Armenia. However, amid preparations, the artist passed away in Medford, Massachusetts, on October 7, 1947. His ashes, together with his paintings and archives, were taken to the homeland, where his ashes were buried in Yerevan. His paintings are displayed in the permanent exhibition of the National Gallery of Armenia, and other paintings are in various European and American museums and private collections.