Gevorg Bashinjaghyan was one of the first Armenian painters who received professional education. He studied in the Petersburg Imperial Academy of Fine Arts and was influenced by the Russian academic school. He was greatly impressed by Aivazovsky's seascapes. They often met in the capital and talked about art, the older artist giving him valuable advice.
In 1880, like an adventuresome youth of a storybook, Bashinjaghyan roamed trough Transcaucasus. In his wanderings he got lost in the dark woods; spent a night on the shore of the lake Sevan fascinated by its captivating metamorphoses; rejoiced at the sight of Ararat ("Nature's majestic temple", as the traveler Lynch called it) viewed from the St. Gevorg monastery in Moughni; saw and pained Ani. And wherever his path took him, he was never oblivious of the Armenian peasant's life, his everyday toil. He made travel notes and revealed his love for Nature through finely excuted canvases.
These landscapes were presented to the public's judgment in his first exhibition. When in 1883 it was opened in Tiflis - then a famous cultural center - he had already received the silver prize of Petersburg Fine Arts` Academy for his "Birch Grove". This landscape was a kind of a prelude to be followed by as serious yet more freely painted canvases. Here is already apparent the brushstroke of a reserved artist who with a few birches created the image of a golden autumn. The "Birch Grove" is refined and has a clear composition speaking of the painter's high sense of tone. The outlines of the trees over the line of the horizon, the strictly narrowed background of the painting, - from where someone is to emerge but never appears, - are endowed with a sadness that was to be the artist's for the rest of his life. The natives of Tiflis and foreign visitors of the exhibition were thus first introduced to the artistic realization of the Caucasus nature. The magazine "Mshak" not only commented that "Bashinjaghyan has devoted his brush to the beauty of this native country - its mountains, valleys, its heart - rending ruins", but noted also that his paintings "give rize to memories".
Thus, even in the early years of his artistic activity Bashinjaghyan through his painting expressed more than mere images of objects could convey. To put it more accurately, contained within the rectangle of his canvases one finds not only a beloved part of his native land, but also his emotions.
In his early works ("Birch Grove", "Snow-melting in Caucasus") Bashinjaghyan accentuated the foreground of the painting, that was the "anatomically" exact and refined part of the landscape with carefully drawn, like objects in a still-life, well-defined by color and tone trees; he stressed peculiar qualities of objects while trying to be accurate in rendering actual forms. His later pictures, on the contrary, accentuate the background (middle part) of the picture ("Rural Landscape"), or else are equally refined on the whole. If the backgrounds (the "skies") of "Snow-melting in Caucasus" or "Khachatour Abovyan's House in Kanaker" have a scholarly way of treating perspectives, - assuming that objects tend to appear smaller as they recede, - and without artistically enriching the scene serve as a mere background for the trees and the house, then the "skies" in the "Night in Ortachala" and "Rainy Day in Sevan" are performed in a very emotional and artistic way. In this respect they remind paintings of famous European landscapists.
Bashinjaghyan's painting is simple in structure. This is evident both in his first works and later ones,- in "Ararat" (1912) and even in "The Repenting Judah", done in 1913. Each of his paintings have their "soil" and "trees", Sometimes even their "home" and always their "sky". Bashinjaghyan achieved "individualization" of a landscape especially in the condensed night scenes. The night scenes of Sevan, Darial ravine, Ortachala and other Caucasian spots breathe with a primordial purity of Nature. These paintings are endowed with a sense of mystery and romantic mood, as though kings, mysterious travellers and thieves had been in his dark woods. But the most dear quality of these canvases is that somehow they imply the existence of peasants and mountaineers whom the artist always had before his mental vision.
Here are some lines from his travel-notes that deal with his impressions of the Ararat valley:"…Rows of haystack … a poor peasant is sleeping with his yapenji under his head and his khourjin at his side.. two others lead their cattle off the main track… they approach the shrine, take off their hats and cross themselves fervently".
Bashinjaghyan used to speak about his time and his contemporaries in an easy way, though the latter seldom appears in his painting. Moreover, his was a way of translating the thoughts and moods of the Armenian intellectuals of the last century that harmonized with the literary Armenian of the last quarter of the XIX c. in its spirit, in the precisely treated reality, structural logics of images and the way of expressing the beauty of Nature. He sough to reproduce the beauty of the Ani cathedral or its citadel, Kasakh and Akhuryan rivers, Ararat or Aragats mountains. Bashinjaghyan was also anxious, that his pictures awoke in the onlooker the emotions as he had while painting it. He believed, that "a painter is to treat Nature not in a stiff indifferent manner as a camera does, but in thoughtful, subtle way". Color as a specific medium did not interest the artist, though some of his canvases are executed in a rich color-scale. What he had to say through his painting, including, as he put it, "the poetry of Nature", he expressed by means of tones and subtle gradation of tints. It should be said that in general his landscapes are wholly conceived. They portray Nature in every season and with great artistry.
Bashinjaghyan visited Europe twice.
Already in 1884 he had become familiar with the masterpieces of Rome, Florence, Venice and other cities, that undoubtedly had an enriching effect on his art. The years 1899-1901, spent in Paris, helped him to overcome the domination of dark brown tones and work with a more spontaneous inspiration peculiar to artists who paint landscapes from memory.
Meanwhile, memories of his motherland kept tolling in him. The "Rainy Day in Sevan", painted in 1899, is a masterpiece. It depicts the lake Sevan with sea-gulls and sailing-ships. The island and the slightly outlined St. Karapet monastery stand in the background. The waters of Sevan bathe in unreal dark green, emerald and violet. Striking with the transparency of water-color the painting was the result of Bashinjaghyan's sensitivity and experience, his true love for Armenia. The "Rainy Day in Sevan" by rights represented a certain level in the Armenian Fine Arts of the last century.
Different art schools flourishing in Paris in the beginning of our century enlarged and enriched his views. Together with Arsen Shabayan, Edgar Shahin and well-know Russian painters Bashinjaghyan Exhibited his works in several Salon d'Arts.
Today, after the passage of several decades, the originality of Bashinjaghyan's art strikes with a new force. As the book of impressions of the 1958 one-man show in Riga testifies, his art is dear for a great many fans of different tastes. For Bashinjaghyan has his own theme, mood, his unique world.
In his long artistic life Bashinjaghyan painted Sevan and the island many a times. All of them have similar structures unlike his series Of "Ararat"-s, which in this respect have slight differences. His small-sized pieces suggest subtle moods, and the best of them are very spontaneous and breathe with unusual sadness. As he confessed once, he did not like stormy nature, for "instead of filling with admiration, it makes one restless". Yet some of his "tranquil" scenes have this very effect.
As an example of this may serve the painting "Darial Gorge by Night" drawn, probably, in 1899 in Paris. It depicts the lone night traveller amidst the mysterious land of Caucasus. Bashinjaghyan adored calm, serene Nature. "He is a master of peaceful and soft and desolate landscape, - writes Shirvanzadeh - and we should not expect him to devote his brush to storms, people and animals… In fact, his brushstroke in unsurpassed in Caucasus". His canvases have a peculiar quality of vitality, an amazing moderateness that is achieved by spotting a deserted land with birds, lights by night and smoke by day and queerly moving clouds.
The expressiveness of his scenes is the more accentuated by the absence of human figures. And several of his canvases strike both by their deep feelings and structural solutions. A fine of this is the "Reflection", where the reflection of the moonlight on the sea is indeed a unique blend of real and intangible beauty.
Bashinjaghyan was also a very interesting writer. His stories go deep into everyday matters creating lively images.
A considerable part of Bashinjaghyan's painting is kept in private collections and different museums all over the Soviet Union. The art Gallery of Armenia exhibits a valuable selection of his canvases. There they acquire a new charm and help to determine his place among other well-known Armenian artists.
Some of his paintings are unique not only in the Armenian Fine Arts, but in the more wide panorama of artistic achievements of the end of the XIX c.and the beginning of the XX c. With a special inspiration is drawn the "Kazbek" (1895). It is executed on a somewhat unusual harmony of blue, silver, ultramarine, pale rose and a deeper brown. Finely outlined volumes shape out the grandious Kazbek, its peak awash with sunlight and majestic in the blue of the sky. Cold and warm tones, light and shade as well as calm and tense forms produce a lively pictorial atmosphere. However, in his later work Bashinjaghyan did not develop further this principle of painting. In the "Rural Landscape" the land reminds that of Caucasus. The coloring of this canvas is made of almost contradicting colors where the ultramarine and azure domineer over the whole scene. It is evident that Bashinjaghyan, who was an ardent admirer of classic art, in treatment of colors in this painting has not followed those of classic landscapes.
The brown, as such, is completely absent in the large-sized "Lake Sevan by Night". It is one of the artist's interesting programme painting. Though the part of the canvas depicting the lake is devoid of the psychological emphasis and transparency of colors, as that of the sky, the scene on the whole is delicately executed and has its own mood. It also represents, in view of professional tasks, a phaze of the painter's endeavors where from starts the uniqueness of the Bashinjaghyan artist.
Unlike Aivazovsky's stormy and heroic motifs, the art of Bashinjaghyan is endowed with a serene and mysterious atmosphere. He writing, too, like his painting, serve his artistic credo of giving things their names without changing natural volumes.
In his lifetime the artist travelled all over his native land. He was the first Armenian artist who painted from nature the sacred mountain Ararat. In his series of paintings depicting Ararat, the most valuable is the one done in 1912.
Speaking of the Ararat valley, Bashinjaghyan notes: "It is a vast valley that seems to beginning and end, embracing numerous villages and settlements, and the smoke coming out of its chimneys reminds of the existence of human race".
The above mentioned painting depicts the ploughed land with the two peaks of Ararat vibrating in the twilight. Brooding over this scene, there inevitably arises the image of the Armenian peasant whose life and fate were so closely connected with that sunny valley and the symbolic mountain. One is reminded also of the unfortunate period of the Armenian life that had begun by 1912, and which could not escape reflection in the artist's whole being.
Painted in the second decade of the XX c., "Ararat" embodies artistic principles that were adopted by Bashinjaghyan in the end of the XIX c. academic school and the new artistic trends were strange to him.
Unlike some foreign artists, he did not accept these newborn principles. This fact by no means belittles the value of his work, but helps to affirm his place in the art of the late XIX c. and the beginning of the XX c.
It was through his art that the artistic society of Petersburg, Paris, Moscow, Tiflis, Baku and other cities came to appreciate the nature of Armenia and Georgia.
His was an altogether new way of artistic endeavor in the Armenian reality. Invisible threads connected him with the nature and history of Armenia. His artistic credo was patriotism. He depicted the ruins of the ancient capital of the Bagratids with a deep reverence, painted his beloved land with filial devotadness, but he also announced to his fellow-artists that "Art has no Motherland". His academic education and European artistism harmonized with his appreciation of Sayat-Nova's and Roustaveli's poetry. Into the Armenian Fine Arts he came at a time, when not few artists were fascinated by new artistic trends. Yet he never advocated aesthetic conceptions of any of these schools in the Caucasus. Having in him the professional skill of a true artist that was brought up by the experience of European masters, he played a great role in the development of the art his contemporary Armenia.