Niko Pirosmani

The Georgian painter Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) perceived art as a vast continent. He himself was an outsider, a wanderer, a man who consciously chose a nomadic lifestyle. From early on as an orphan, his life was marked by setbacks and by an inability to assimilate into the conventional social and cultural fabric, leading him, from 1900 onwards, to rely solely on his talents as a painter to earn a living. Only one tenth of his total output has survived. He died a few days before Georgia’s first, short-lived period of independence and was buried in an unknown location. His artistic legacy is incontestable.

Pirosmani was finally recognised late in his lifetime as one of the great Georgian artists of his day, thanks to Mikhail Le Dentu, who first discovered his paintings in 1912 in a cabaret and several Tbilisi taverns, and the brothers Ilia and Kirill Zdanevich.

Works by Pirosmani, including Woman with a Mug of Beer, were presented in 1913 in Moscow at the Target exhibition organised by the group The Donkey’s Tail, alongside those of Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov and Kazimir Malevich. In 1914 a plan to mount an exhibition of Pirosmani paintings, backed primarily by Ilia Zdanevich, had to be abandoned because of the war.

Admired by the Georgian artists of his time, Pirosmani became a true national symbol – an accolade marked in 1929 by the presentation of one hundred of his paintings at Georgia’s national museum. It was only from the late 1960s, however, that his works began to be shown internationally, notably in 1969 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In 1999 the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes staged a major retrospective, which was accompanied by an in-depth catalogue. In 1995 Bice Curiger organised the exhibition Signs and Wonders at the Kunsthaus Zürich, in which thirty paintings by Niko Pirosmani appeared alongside works by living artists.