Some of the most famous painters originate from Georgia. With the country being in the crossroads between Asia and Europe, it’s beyond doubt that ethnic diversity has had a significant influence on Georgian art. Georgian’s painters range from the highly-educated to the self-taught who made some of the most iconic paintings synonymous with millions of art fanatics, and with most works being done during the Soviet period. Let’s look at the best artists who made a massive impact on Georgian art heritage.
1. Niko Pirosmani
Niko Pirosmani was Georgia’s most talented painter in the 19th and 20th centuries, but unfortunately, his works were largely underestimated during his lifetime.
Niko was born into poverty in 1862, in Mirzaani village, Kakheti region. He loved painting like a child would do, with most works illustrating Georgian’s festive affairs, merchants, peasants, and noblemen. Admirers, including Picasso, used words like flawless simplicity, elegance, natural happiness, and sincerity to describe Pirosmani’s artistic works.
Niko’s works rose to prominence after his death in 1952. The sad truth is that Niko wasn’t aware of his impeccable talent, but his paintings are among the most expensive and recognized worldwide today. The Nikos Pirosmanashvil Museum, opened in 1982, houses Nikala’s masterpieces and individual items. You can also view the paintings in the Signagi National Museum.
2. Lado Gudiashvili
Lado Gudiashvili is another outstanding personality who earned himself a permanent position in Georgia’s artistic heritage during the Soviet period. Born in 1896 to David Gudiashvili and Elizabeth Itonishvili, Lado had a keen interest in painting from his tender age. Young Lado and other Georgian painters traveled to Paris in 1919 under the sponsorship of Dmitri Shevardnadze, the director of the National Gallery.
Before moving to Paris, Lado featured a combination of poetic mystery and dramatic grotesque in his artworks. His paints became warmer upon his return to Georgia in 1826, with the traditional Persian and Caucasian art culture becoming more prominent. Plays, ballets, and operas inspired several of Lado’s paintings as his perception of the world as a theatre grew on. Gudiashvili also incorporated mythology in his works, with an ideal illustration being the “Goddess of Earth” painting.
Lado is responsible for the fresco paintings in Kashveti church, Tbilisi, with the one of Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus being the most iconic. Its earthly appearance and unconventional colors distinguish it from most Saint Mary frescos.
Gudiashvili also worked as a set and theatre decorator and book illustrator. His artworks are stored in museums and private exhibitions in Georgia and foreign countries.
3. David Kakabadze
David Kakabadze was known as a man of many hats due to his roles as a painter, film director, stage designer, theorist, art researcher, and inventor. Born into a low-income family in 1889, David was a multitalented artist whose abilities were noticed and education sponsored by local philanthropists. While undertaking a natural sciences course at St Petersburg University, he also attended painting classes and researched on Georgian Art. Kaka’s discovery of the glassless stereo cinema adds him to the list of known pioneers of three-dimensional cinema.
In 1919, Kakabadze departed to France, where he actively participated in exhibitions. He was drawn to subjectless painting and occasionally used stained glass, clear glass, and metals, instead of paint. Kakabadze’s attention shifted to cubism-the first abstract style of day’s art pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. In the mid-1920s, Kakabadze concentrated on abstract sculpturing and painting.
David returned to Georgia in 1927, a time during the Soviet period when abstract art was illegal. In his homeland, the modern painter was allowed to do only realistic works, making him fall into oblivion gradually. He taught at Tbilisi Academy of Arts from 1929 to 1948 when he was dismissed. During his teaching years, he had authored and designed several films as well as opera and theatrical performances. David died in 1952.
4. Elene Akhvlediani
Elene Akhvlediani is a top contributor to the Georgian art heritage and one of the most recognized female painters in Georgia’s history. Born in 1898 in Telavi, the Georgian painter is famous for her mesmerizing depiction of Georgian towns. So remarkable were Elene’s representations that Georgian architects relied on them to reconstruct an old section of Tbilisi town.
Elene studied in Tbilisi Academy of Arts and left for Paris in 1922. In Paris that Elene actively took part in exhibitions and personal shows that helped showcase her talent to the Parish and international art community. Paris had a significant influence on Elene’s works, with geometric objects, hard lines, and pure colors depicting post-modernism arts.
Upon returning to Tbilisi, Elene Akhvlediani continued painting besides doing some artworks for Korte Marjanishvili and designing books. She established her studio in 1939, attracting art fanatics and staging concerts, personal and group exhibitions, and cultural events.
Today, the studio is Elene’s house-museum and home to more than 2900 items related to her art and life. In 1971, she became the first painter to be awarded the coveted Shota Rustaveli State Prize, Georgia’s highest award for art and literature. Elene Akhvlediani departed unexpectedly in 1975.
5. Petre Otskheli
Petre Otskheli, a Georgian modernist costume and set designer, is unquestionably an art icon whose works heavily impacted the country’s theatre stage production.
Otskheli studied in a Kutuaisi school and Tbilisi Academy of Art in the 1920s. Mesmerized by the painter’s talent and vision, Kote Marjanishvli, a prominent Georgian director, invited Petre into his theatre in 1928.
Petre’s active years coincided with the birth of modernist art. He tapped into the abstract-constructivist forms to create a metaphysical atmosphere on stage. He could make admirers almost hear his paintings’ characters speak, visualize their movement, and even feel the depth of their voices. Petre created this kind of engagement between his paintings and viewers, using gestures, facial expressions, and posture.
Any strong-willed artist was a threat to communists during the Soviet period, and unfortunately, Petre Otskheli was not left out by the regime’s targeted elimination. He was arrested together with his friend in Moscow in 1937 and shot on charges of treason.
6. Gigo Gabashvili
Gigo was a painter and educator, and he’s famous for his vivid portraits of peasants, townsmen, and nobles. Born in 1862 in Tbilisi, Gigo is regarded as one of the pioneers of realism, with the artworks covering all sorts of subjects and themes. Although most of Gigo’s paintings were not known worldwide, he still boasts some of the most valuable artworks sold in an auction. His famous “ Bazaar in Smarkland” painting, commissioned by Sir Richard Crown, was auctioned for close to $1.4 million in 2006.
Gigo didn’t dwell on painting only. He was a great photographer whose nude photos of women remained hidden to the world as the practice was unacceptable during his lifetime. Gabashvili’s collection of photos was revealed to the public in 2012 and is preserved in the Museum of Georgia. He died in 1936 in Thkihdizri.
7. Simon (Soliko) Virsaladze
Simon Virsaladze, born in 1909, was a leading Georgian opera, ballet, play, and film designer during the Soviet period. His ballet design skills accounted for much of his prominence, and It’s no surprise that he was the chief designer of Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow(1964-death) and the Zachary Paliashvili Theater for Opera and Ballet in Tbilisi (1932-1936)
Virsaladze’s designs are praised for their massive scale, style, tastefulness, and sensitivity to the period. He was a master of balancing refinement, color variety, and moderation, and this helped him design alluring Georgian National Ballet’s dancing costumes.
Simon also partnered with worldwide known ballet dancers and choreographers, including Yuri Grigorivich and Vakhatang Chabukiani, and is the designer behind some of the most popular ballets.
8. Merab Abramishvili
Born in 1957 in Tbilisi, Merab Abrahamishvili had unique visual aesthetics and language that earned him a top position in Georgia’s art Heritage. Merab attended art classes at Alexander Badzeladze’s studio from 1972 to 1976, before graduating from Tbilisi Academy of Arts in 1981.
Merab’s aesthetics were inspired by medieval Georgian frescos and was known as the Garden architect, with most of his artworks’ themes depicting the pleasures of living in the Garden of Aden and the horrors of losing it. His mythical and ethereal images combined with his modesty catapulted his fame beyond the Soviet borders. Today, his artworks are a treasure in the National Gallery of Art and Art Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi, and foreign museums and private art collections.
9. Irakli Parjiani
Irakli Parjiani was born in 1950 to a well-off family in Mestia, Georgia’s mountainous region distinguished for its unique fresco painting and religious art. Religious motifs were prominent in Irakli’s artworks, a quality unconventional for painters during the Soviet period. Whereas most of Georgia’s paintings incorporated a vibrant scheme of colors, Irakli’s works were primarily based on white-the color representing innocence.
Parjiani discovered oil pastels in Georgia and started incorporating them in his paintings in the 80s. He used the new painting method in his illustrations for Mark’s Gospel. He illustrated Luke’s Gospel with herbal paints, with his style having a close resemblance to fresco painting. Irakli died in 1991, and in spite of his short life, left a solid painting legacy.
10. Avto Varazi
Avto Varazi’s application of a variety of painting techniques and systems earned him a special spot in Georgia’s 20th-century art. Varazi was born in 1926 and graduated from Georgia Technical University in 1948. He was among the first artists to apply the collage technique.
Avto was largely a contemporary artist and had a knack of expressing reality in the simplest way possible. The first solo exhibition for his artworks took place in 1977 in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Varazi’s paintings are distributed across several museums and private collections in Georgia, other European nations and the US. The Bull’s Head is kept in the Museum of Modern Arts(MoMA), NY, while The Octopus remains in a private collection in Greece. Avto’s artworks have been offered for auction severally, with the record price of $5000 being realized in 2016.
11. Vera Pagava
Although Vera Pagava served as a nurse in a military hospital during World War II, it’s her unique artwork that brought her to the limelight and earned her a position in Georgian art heritage. Born in 1907 in Tbilisi to a lawyer and educator, Vera and her family moved to Germany in 1920 before settling in France, where she enrolled in formal art classes.
To Vera, painting is a way of expressing one’s inner world to the outside world. She worked with a range of mediums in her art career, including watercolors, stained glass, drawings, oil paintings, and gouache on paper.
Pagava experimented with still lives, abstract motives, an ethereal depiction of the reality, and portrayals of nature, with most of her artworks being distinguished by their feminine softness. Vera eliminated figurative forms from her works towards the end of the 1950s and embraced geometric forms comprising irregular and rounded edges. Her hate for categorization drove her into abstraction, which she combined with geometric forms in her works.
12. Eteri Chkadua
Eteri Chkadua is among the most popular active Georgian Painters. Born in Georgia and now working and living in the US, Eteri depicts passion and thirst for life in her paintings. She started painting at a tender age when she was five years old and enrolled in the Tbilisi Academy of Arts at the young age of 16.
Chkadua is a magic realist who portrays alter egos, most of herself, using veiled portraits that are both seductress and heroine. Her canvases are luminous, featuring a variety of shades, including pale yellows, greenish browns, and sepia.
Eteri is preoccupied with expressions and ensures that faces in the paintings portray a particular emotion, ranging from amusement to dead seriousness. Most of the faces in her artworks are Georgian, and the more complex they become as she continues painting. It’s not surprising that she produces about four paintings in a year.
13. Rusudan Petviashvili
Adding to the list of outstanding and active female Georgian painters is Rudusan Petviashvili. Born in 1968 in Tbilisi, Rudusan started painting in her parent’s apartment when at the age of 2. When six years old only, the Georgian painter staged her first personal exhibition consisting of about 100 artworks. She also held two solo exhibitions in Moscow at the age of 8.
Rudusan is known for her unique one-touch technique-drawing without taking the brush off the sheet. She has also illustrated several books and religious manuscripts. Her paintings have been exhibited in several nations, with some being among private collections of notable public figures, including Margaret Thatcher and George Bush.
Georgia accounts for some of the greatest painters in history, with a large number of artworks being produced during the Soviet period when modernism was taking shape. Unlike the rest of the painters in this list, Niko Pirosmani landed a top position at Georgia’s cultural heritage without any formal training or education. Notably, the list of worldwide-known female Georgian painters is also growing.