Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Birth of Sarkis Katchadourian (August 9, 1886)

From July 27 to August 4, 2016, an exhibition at the National Gallery of Armenia, in Yerevan, commemorated the 130th anniversary of the birth of painter Sarkis Katchadourian. His name is barely known in the homeland, although he is buried there. New York Armenians of a certain age may remember his wife, Vava Sarkis Katchadourian (née Sarian, 1895-1984), also a painter.
Sarkis Katchadourian was born in Malatia (Western Armenia) on December 8, 1886. After his elementary studies in his hometown, he went to Erzerum, where he studied at the Sanasarian School. Here he developed his interests in the arts, which would lead him to go to Europe and pursue his artistic studies in such prestigious institutions like the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome (1908-1911) and the National School of Decorative Arts of Paris (1912-1914).
At the age of 28, he returned to Erzerum. But soon World War I would start, followed by the catastrophe of the Armenian Genocide. The young painter managed to survive and find refuge in the Caucasus. He lived in Tiflis until 1921. He was a witness of the tragedy of his people, becoming the “singer of Armenian grief” in his paintings, as Hovhannes Toumanian called him. He entered the Society of Armenian Artists of Tiflis in 1917.
Katchadourian moved to Yerevan in 1921. The newly established Soviet regime commissioned the design of the first stamps of Soviet Armenia to him. His works reflected life and nature of Armenia, the refugees, national feasts. He also excelled in portraiture. His paintings tended to combined classical principles, especially from Italian art, with the aesthetics of impressionism.
However, the painter could not fit into the political environment and soon left Armenia. He settled in Vienna (Austria), where he became a member of the Society of Artists of Vienna. After moving to Paris, he was the founding secretary of the Society of Armenian Artists “Ani.” He would have exhibitions in France, Italy, Great Britain, Egypt, Turkey, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Katchadourian became particularly famous after 1931, when he was selected by the government of Iran to restore the frescoes of the mosques and churches of the former capital of the Safavid dynasty, Ispahan. The artist achieved his mission after a detailed study, with amazing results. In 1934 he founded the museum of Armenian art in New Julfa, the Armenian suburb of Ispahan. He produced copies of his work in Ispahan, which were exhibited in Paris (1932 and 1934) and other European cities, as well as in New York (1932).
In 1937 Katchadourian went to India to study the famous temple caves of Ajanda (fifth-sixth centuries A.D.), and worked for the next four years to copy the frescoes that remained unknown and inaccessible to art scholars both there and in the island of Ceylon (nowadays Sri-Lanka). The exhibition of his work in Paris, New York, and other cities in 1942 opened a new page in the study of ancient Asiatic art. 
Sarkis and Vava Katchadourian moved from Paris to New York in 1940. He illustrated Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation of poet Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (1946), with six pictures and 101 drawings. He passed away in Paris on March 4, 1947, after complications from a hernia surgery. In 1971 a cultural agreement was signed between France and Armenia. On the occasion, a series of 37 Indian and Sri Lankan copies by Katchadourian, acquired by the Guimet Museum of Paris, was donated to the National Gallery of Armenia and exhibited in the same year in Yerevan. Through the efforts of his widow, Sarkis Katchadourian’s ashes were moved to Armenia and reburied in Yerevan on December 28, 1977.