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Dimitri Kirsanoff - not only a famous film maker, a professional cellist,
but also a talented painter.

A virtual exhibition of some of his paintings.

Dimitri painting, watched by his two nephews, Serge and Jean Jacques Kaplan.
Breton heath, close to Portivy, the small fishing harbour. 1937.

Painting was an activity where the creative artist and the feeling man could meet in front of the blank canvas, facing the subject that would eventually inhabit it. For Dimitri Kirsanoff was also a talented painter. He drew and painted in charcoal, pastel, water colour and oil; his works are like so many revealing and moving “stills” which accompany his progress through the various stages of his life.

A painting now unfortunately unavailable, dating from wartime, 1941/1942, shows the “Albi Pig Market”- a small, crowded, dark painting, it stands out from the rest of his works - a comment in itself and a rare glimpse of the man’s state of mind at the time.

Usually, Dimitri Kirsanoff’s painter’s eye eagerly responds to the brightness in things and creatures, and his brush gently transfers the palpitation of light and life to the lines and volumes; he knows how to capture the shapes and to give them artistic life with his precise and tender brushstroke; colour always, (with the one exception mentioned before), rich and varied and texture always economical serve his desire to show the poetry inherent in reality.

In Brittany, a place and a mood particularly close to his heart, before and also after the War he paints vibrant seascapes.

In Paris, after the war, he paints the silence and bareness of winter in the inner courtyard of the council house where they live; but he can also capture the snowy roofs of the goods station across the boulevard, flushed by wintry sunlight. In his still lifes everyday objects become visual expressions of poetry: an enamelled tub, an earthenware jug on a kitchen towel, and the apple, out of Cézanne…

What about the painting of Market day, Place Gambetta - Carmaux, 1946? Nothing to say … just look, and enter its reality; now you are there, walk about, open to all that is represented in shapes and colours, and opening to all that is suggested, sensations, sounds, movements … find yourself in that place on that day; live that moment, among these people…

When looking at the portraits you can catch the moment of life, suspended in time, and you can feel the emotion – he paints his nephew Jean-Jacques, a young man painting - Montpellier 1952 (he was only a little boy through the war; he will eventually become a painter too). He paints his brother Nicolas , a man reading the newspaper - Carmaux 1946… He went through the war, a wounded man - The War is past. Life is now…

Dimitri’s own life was ended too soon by a heart attack on February 11th, 1957.

These lines are an attempt at drawing a “portrait” of ‘l’oncle’ by his niece who deeply loved and admired him, to present the virtual exhibition of some of his paintings. When your eye touching the reality pictured wakes it up to life you meet a gifted sensitive artist. It is deeply gratifying to realise that your gaze thus also encounters a wonderful man of radiant warmth and generosity.

Francine Kaplan-Ryan - April 2015 - Banyuls-sur-mer - France

The wind in the pine trees. Provence, 1982. By Jean Jacques Kaplan.

Jean-Jacques, the younger nephew of Dimitri, was born in 1935. As a young child he seemed to view the world around him from a place apart; his sensitive observant ’take’ on reality remained mainly untouched by formal study and theory and he was mainly self-taught; although he made a living mainly as a dental surgeon in France and in several places in the sun, he considered himself first and foremost as an artist. He is now retired and lives in the South of France. Jean-Jacques loved and admired his uncle and sought advice and guidance from him.

Jean-Jacques painting. Montpellier, 1952. By Dimitri Kirsanoff

During one of his visits to his brother Nicolas and family in Montpellier, Dimitri painted his nephew ‘at work’; both were working on the small inner terrace of the Kaplan rented flat, which housed both the dental surgery and the private dwelling. Although it was a very restricted space it benefited from the prevailing Mediterranean light of the south of France. Uncle and nephew emulated each other putting on canvas the vibrating colours and sensuous shapes that appealed to both their painterly temperaments. In its vivid rendering of the blend of relaxation and concentration of the young artist, Dimitri displays his remarkable sense of balance, mastering line, volume and colour to create his unique atmosphere of 'poetic realism’ as effectively in the fixed image of painting as he had strikingly achieved in the moving images.

Winter in the City Paris, 1953

From the kitchen window of his flat on a Paris Boulevard (Porte de Vincennes) Dimitri looks down at the snow-clad inner courtyard and vests it with gentle, melancholy beauty.

The other side of the Boulevard Davout… Porte de Vincennes, Paris

The date could be 1949, if so maybe the other winter scene (inner courtyard, across the same boulevard) could be dated from the same year (not 1953). The poetical aura only hinted at in the other painting is manifest here in the sunlight flushing the whole prosaic industrial scenery of warehouses, sheds and leantos with exquisite rosy hues.

Francine reading. Carmaux, 1946.

Dimitri’s niece pursuing her favourite activity. The youngest of Dimitri’s brother Nicolas’s three children was an avid reader from her earliest days.

Big brother and little sister work and play. Montpellier, 1952.

Serge is playing the guitar, Francine doing her homework. The most striking feature about this intimate family portrait is the sense of warm intimacy wrapping the whole scene. Both characters are turning their backs to the painter and to the viewer; a choice made by the artist who outlines the two youthful figures with his characteristic skill at drawing. The same stroke both precise and sensuous defines every item depicted, the lamp, the visible part of the guitar, the legs of the table. A similar blend of precision and tenderness is noticeable in his use of light and colour. Notice the gorgeous guitar tenderly tucked under the boy’s arm. As for colour, the use of contrasting warm pinks and browns for things, and cold blues for people, create a stunning impression of unity, or rather ‘connexion’; there is the logical association with the light from the little lamp “obviously" illuminating the whole scene? Really? Look at it again: the unity, the connexion which is so obvious, perceived and felt by all (including the characters portrayed…) comes from you, from your feeling which is a response to the irresistible touch of the artist: a loving touch. Dimitri Kirsanoff was a man of Love...

Dimitri's brother Nicolas Kaplan reading the newspaper. Carmaux, 1946.

What poise and peace in the pose, and what feast of colours in this portrait! The bright blue shirt, the crimson tie are a statement: peace and joy; and the colourful bouquet just above the bent face is a cheerful wink. At the end of his workday, as a practicing dental surgeon once again, Nicolas doesn’t have to hide to read the newspaper in the born again afterwar France, his beloved adoptive country. Or maybe it is the Sunday News...

Breton landscape. Early 1930’s.

Medieval… Mystical: it is such a little painting, small in size, muted in tones. And yet it offers so much... You can hear its music - a muted sound, linear, without modulation, without ‘accents’, without reverberation. The music of this little painting is medieval… if any sound came out of these huddled houses, one would almost call them ‘huts’, it would be the unison humming of prayer intoned in the kitchen. But one doesn’t expect the sound of life to resonate here. There is such silence here, such stillness; where is life? No smoke comes out, no chimney would let it out anyway… Where is time here? Where is movement? It is as it ever was, as it has always been; man’s place in nature… uncertain, half-fearful, half-trustful. And the river? It is there to be crossed by someone from the village; and here is the mystical touch: for medieval times were the times when mystical journeys were envisioned, the only ‘assurance’ against the uncertainties of mortal man's journey . Out of such a house in such a humble village young Perceval (Parsifal) would step and cross the river to start on his quest for the Holy Grail. And so this modest painting, "A little breton landscape” can be seen as a poetical invitation to muse over time and space, and gently, on one’s own mortality ...

The Red Box - still life. Paris, 1933

This is a fascinating painting: the red box simply jumps at you! - but then, is it a box, a case, a casket? Its name depends on what is inside. If there is something inside… what does the imposing ‘lock’ lock in? It is revealing and it is mysterious at the same time. Same applies to the small bowl: familiar and unusual, in size, shape and especially in colour; and texture what is it made of? Glass, ceramic, metal? Ah! here at the front at least is a very ordinary, very obvious object: a packet of cigarettes - un paquet de Gauloises bleues - a most common, most recognizable thing - a typical French thing, almost the symbol of the common French man - a smoking Frenchman, naturally. And what about the material they are resting on? - elusive colour, colours rather, changing, like silk, is it silk? There is Mystery lurking here: what is this packet doing here? For what scenario is this very silent set prepared? What has it witnessed? What might it witness? This is Mystery painted as a still life: attractive, striking even, silent or dumb (deliberately) - waiting… Mystery and poetry, and a touch of mischievousness - the artist is playing with us too, teasing us under the appearance of elegant, refined even, stillness. Remember, Dimitri Kirsanoff is a film maker too, inventing stories and giving them life through motion picture - but only in black and white…

La petite église (The little church) - early 1930’s

This small country church was painted on a wintry day, poorly lit by the miserly sun of the Paris region. Such simple church building could be found in any of the small towns around the capital, which are not reached by the bright city lights of the Ville Lumiere as it is called. Here is no glitter, no glamour - just simplicity, humility - silence; but there is hope too and tenderness in the graceful upward thrust of the delicate bare branches in the group of trees in the foreground… waiting for Spring and for the dance of life to start again. Isn’t it what the spire of the church in the background also suggest, the same hope for the same thing?

Place Gambetta - Carmaux - market day. 1946

This brilliant lively scene was painted by Dimitri during his 1946 visit to his brother Nicolas and family in Carmaux where life had resumed a normal course for them all. At the end of the war, for them, and for many others, one could say that the ‘return to normal’ was more like a return to life, a ‘rebirth’... For the little mining town where Nicolas had put on his white coat again to look after people’s teeth, back to normal meant the miners going down to mine the coal and the Carmaux population finding and reviving its usual and traditional ways of living the life. Market day was one of the main bones in the body of a week, maybe its very backbone. And market day happened on that Place Gambetta, just under our windows: we lived at nr 14 Place Gambetta. And Place Gambetta, as you can see here, was were things were happening, everything good, lively, exciting, delicious was happening there! Note the three figures standing together, left: they are the two boys, Serge and Jean Jacques, plus one of their pals…

Still life with apples. Montpellier, 1952.

Technically it is a STILL LIFE… in French Nature Morte… Yet, what sense of LIFE in it! That is the miracle of POETRY - the ability to reveal the poetry of what is seen as non-poetical was Dimitri Kirsanoff’s artistic ‘mark’. Is there anything less poetical than the plainest of wash-tubs sitting behind the bars of a chair? Yet how appealing the shining blue ‘lining’ is, responding to another shade of blue in another utterly unpoetical object, a plain little bowl - ah, but this one has a nice shining white ‘lining’ to show too! What about the ‘botijo’, the Spanish earthenware jug - feel its weight, its smooth rounded volume? And notice: here is its handle, and here its spouts! As for the apples, they have had the great, the immense Cezanne for a godfather...

Le Lac d’Enghien (Enghien lake, near Paris) with the famous Casino in the distance.

Painted in the early 1930's.

Galway Harbour (Ireland), 1983. By Serge Kaplan.

Serge Kaplan (1932-2004) was the eldest nephew of Dimitri. At a very early stage he showed a remarkable awareness of the circumstances he was living through, whatever they might be. Although Paris born and city reared he had decided he would be a seaman. He went through the ordeal of the Nazi Occupation of France fully aware of the death threat over his head. Fulfilling his childish vow he became a captain in the French Merchant Service, choosing the severe atmosphere of oil tankers in preference to passenger ship conviviality. He retired in 1986.

He kept playing the guitar, an instrument his mother, herself a gifted pianist, had introduced to him after the war and which he had kept practicing all through his working years, his guitar always with him at sea and on land. He also took on a new activity: painting. He painted this beautiful seascape during one of his many visits to his sister Francine Kaplan-Ryan and her Irish husband, who lived in the city and port of Galway. Since this was painted, the harbour has been changed beyond recognition and the painting is thus a very precious document from a past era, more attuned to the romantic view favoured by the lovers of the Emerald Island...

The ‘portraits' of these paintings were executed with consummate artistry by Said Aouad, Mosaik-photo.com, Port-Vendres, France.

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