The artistic legacy of any great master cannot be divorced from the achievements of his predecessors. Gaining integrity with the passage of time such legacy asserts its place in history. The very essence of the artist as a human being and creator and the consistency of his aim in art are becoming absolutely clear in the process. This is so because art is, first and most, the embodiment of a man's spiritual world, of his feelings and aspirations. Love of life and patriotism were the two most important features that determined the essence of Martiros Saryan's nature.
These traits inspired him to paint to the very last days of his life, were the source of his energy and creativity. The pantheistic reverence to nature became part of him since his very youth. And he always followed his guiding principle for understanding life; never does anything in defiance of nature. Saryan presented a perfect combination of a down-to-earth man and of an intellectual. Blessed with natural wisdom the artist was always a reserved man of few words. Often contemplating nature or life he would repeat one and the same idea, each time, however, expressing it in a different way. A few days before his death he said: "Life is an island. People emerge from the sea, pass through that island and go back into the sea again. By getting to know nature we sing praise to the wonder of life and to its beauty." When a young man, he made the following entry in his diary: "Nature creates man to see and to admire itself with his help. Man is nature and nature is man. Death is non-existent."
Saryan lived a long life; he lived to come to recognition, to see his fame and the creation of a museum devoted to his art and named after him to which he donated a collection of his works. He was natural and unaffected in everything he did throughout his life, complete absence of affectation being an indestructible part of his nature. To him happiness was not limited to the satisfaction of his own aspirations. Fame, as Saryan saw it, was an award for the ability to see and glorify the "wonder of life, its astounding mysteries". To him this wonder was embodied in his Motherland with which he had bonds as a tree has with the ground it grows from. Saryan was a great citizen. The desire to serve the lofty ideals of art was organically blended in him with a boundless and tender love for his native country. As all true artists who answer the call of the epoch they live in and identify them with, Saryan was ready at any moment to sacrifice himself for the good of his Motherland. Saryan's appeal for those who knew him lay in the never dimming lucidity of his mind, his fine sense of humor, and the purity of his modesty. To his contemporaries he was and still is a model of a perfect human being, spiritually healthy and intellectually wise. The sublime genius of Saryan left his posterity an art that had expressed the artist's inner self with consummate fulfillment. In 1901 Martiros Saryan, a twenty-year-old student of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, decided to use the money he had received from his elder brother Ovanes to visit Armenia, the land of his ancestors. The impressions he got there were so strong that he visited Armenia many a time in the years that followed. But what was it that drew young Saryan to Armenia? The route traveled by a genuine artist is in no small measure determined by impressions gained in his or her childhood. Saryan was born in Novy Nakhichevan, an Armenian town in the vicinity of Rostov-on-the-Don. He spent his childhood and adolescence on an isolated farmstead owned by his father. Like many other Armenian families the Saryans had moved from Ani to the Crimea and then during the reign of Catherine II they trekked to the banks of the Don to make a new home there. The life of the large family headed by Sarkis Saryan was patriarchal, well regulated and simple. In Armenia Saryan regained the world of his childhood. With his own eyes he saw there what he "had dreamt of as a child". It's striking fairy-like nature, mountains, ancient architectural monuments, the magic play of the light of scorching sunrays, the peculiar man-to-earth bonds characteristic of the peoples of the Orient. All these left an indelible trace in his soul. "The variety of nature's sounds, the outlines of rocks dipped into the evening dusk and looking as if they were man-made and built by an unknown architect - all that put us into a romantic frame of mind. Nature can attract a man into its fold as a mother pressing her child against her bosom," Saryan wrote at the time.
The first paintings by the artist, at the Foot of the Ararat Mount, King and Daughter, at a Springhead are considered masterpieces. On the Slopes of Aragats Mount, In the Akhurian Gorge, the Sun's Charms, Fairies' Lake and others were inspired by his impressions of Armenia. The artist named the series Fairy-tales and Dreams. Done mostly in watercolor, these sheets are taken by us to be original interpretations of what the artist saw and as his poetic dialogues with nature. A delicate singing sense of the rhythmic patterns of his lines, a fairy-tale quality of his brushwork, an immaculate colorist taste and inner purity give those small-size pictures a unique charm of their own. The works presenting a specific Oriental environment bear certain elements of the symbolic art widespread at the time in Russia and Europe. The painter's idiom and especially the mysterious color palette of these sheets show that the new artist fell within the modern tradition. At the same time these works took on pantheism traditional for Armenian art, expressed the poetical attitude to nature characteristic of folk art as well as the artist's selfless love of his native land. In those years he wrote in his diary: "My native Armenia became for me the most important milestone and fulcrum in my advance along the thorny path of life. I chose that path myself and no other way looked more appealing to me than it." His search for his own identity and highly personal idiom in art was marked by a profound singleness of purpose. We should note here that the works by young Saryan are for the first time presented with relatively great fullness in this album. We are not aware of the whereabouts of the best pieces done by Saryan at the time and known to us from the publications of the beginning of this century; some of them have, undoubtedly, been irretrievably lost. The reproductions making up the album permit us to trace step by step the arduous, but invariably original pursuit of the objectives set forth by the painter for his art. In the tempera canvases of the Blue Rose period (Saryan was one of the founders of that group of Russian artists) nature is still shown as virginally chaste and pure. People, plants, animals and even wild beasts live peacefully in a single family. Nature is so mysterious, and so much beyond comprehension that the artist's attitude to it is like that of a child listening to a wonderful fairy-tale about the abode of the blessed and happy. We see here a fantastic one-eyed creature (Poet, At the Sea, Sphinx, Comet). This fanciful image, as Saryan subsequently acknowledged, presents the artist himself us a thinker perceiving in his own way the unfathomable depths of the Universe. The new Fairy-tales series comprised Comet, Panthers, In the Shade, Under the Trees, and poet, at a Well on a Sultry Day, On the Seashore. Sphinx, though independent in its subject and formulation, was still not quite free in form from the overall Blue Rose philosophical concept. The light color dabs, as if it were, trepidation on the canvas and evoke in us a festive feeling of delight and joy. At the same time something new appeared in those pieces. It was the light: the hot dazzling light of the South that is irradiating from the depth of these canvases and captivates the onlookers by its remarkable force, expressiveness and really magic charm. That light was the most powerful and telling impression gained by the artist while observing Armenia's scenery. Though quite real in terms of physics, it was-seen by young Saryan as something transgressing reality, being beyond it. However, it was that light that became the hallmark of Saryan's art, and it was upon it that he built the temple of his Naturphilosophy, the poetry of the perpetuity of life and nature. Seeking solutions to the light presentation problems Saryan was, at the same time, eager to crystallize a style all to his own. To arrive at a sharply individual idiom was a matter of paramount importance to the artist, and he went about in his search for it trying to strike a harmony between intuition and consciousness. So it was not by chance that upon seeing in Shchukin's and Morozov's collections the works of French contemporary artists, and especially those of the Fauves, he wrote: "Coming to know the French artists lent me wings and convinced me that the path I chose was right." It follows that Saryan knew very well what he aspired for at the time. An article written by him in 1906 also reveals his desire to find an idiom and style of his own, "...In architecture our people has achieved a quite remarkable and distinct originality. Among the ancient monuments we come across creations permeated with the Armenian spirit, or, to use an architectural term, of a purely Armenian style. I refer to it with a feeling of the greatest pride." Already in those days Saryan saw in style the display of spirit, and he was only twenty years old. The works painted in 1909 Self-portrait, Hyenas, To a Springhead, and Scorching Heat. Running Dog, In a Grove on the Sambeq Mount- show that Saryan already found himself in art. Even traces of past symbolism are absent in these paintings. The artist displayed great sensibility to living reality and followed it, but his rendering of it was generalized in the extreme. The formulation is two-dimensional and the objects are painted almost as outlines. The compositions are effected through an even distribution of large masses of color. The precise patterns of contrasting-harmonious pigment combinations form spatial areas flooded with inner light. The synthesized color patches are not only sonorous and constructive in a linear sense, but light emitting too. The contrasting color combinations in these works are still evoking memories of the Fauves' manner, but the distinctions are already quite pronounced here. To Saryan a color contrast was a means of asserting the power of light. Light to him was the be-all and end-all of painting. It is the intensity of light that determines the tightness of the drawing and the form of the object and, most important, the sonority of color. Saryan felt that the brighter the light, the more expressively it "sings". That was the concept of Saryan's realism and the most involved problem he so brilliantly solved working at it with the painstaking patience and faith of a peasant. The special expressiveness of Saryan's idiom, his ability to present a sharp color analysis of a specific form fall not only within the most modern painting trends, but are the products of the concentrated direct impressions he gained after visiting his native land and of the influences of the ancient traditions of its national art. Having arrived at a painting manner of his own, Saryan, "in search of new impressions", as he himself put it, set out more than once to parts that were akin to his painter's soul. He visited Constantinople in 1910, stayed in Egypt in 1911, went to Northeast Armenia in 1912, traveled in Persia in 1913 and visited the South of Armenia in 1914. World War I prevented the artist from going to India and Japan. New masterpieces, such as the famous 1910 series, came out in rapid succession off his easel. In Armenia, as in the countries of the Near East for that matter, it was not the events of local life that were of interest to Saryan. He was rather attracted by the age-long simplicity of the mode of life there with its distinctive man-to-earth bonds embodying the ideas of eternal beauty and immortality. Since the very beginning of his creativity the world dear and close to the artist was perceived by him as presenting the same sight as many centuries before in the distant past. To translate his impressions into images he used a "voice" coming from his soul in a clear and terse idiom that might have been used by his ancestors and thus achieving an expressiveness "of the poetic phrase, of the aphoristic Oriental verbal formulas, of ornamented, but at the same time unordinary simple two-line verses". Saryan was an artist raised by his schooling in the European painting tradition. His quest for his own idiom coincided in time with an active revival of and an over-all interest in ancient traditions in artistic circles. Against this background and in this sense his paintings hold a unique and distinctive place in the Oriental art of his time. Compared with European art that way back in the 19th century often turned to the Orient, Saryan's paintings, the way we see it, were like a spurt of new life, fresh and invigorating. That, probably, was the reason why Voloshin called Saryan a "European in Asia and an Asian in Europe". But the Saryan phenomenon is no more than just one of the characteristic features of the centuries old culture of a Christian country in the Orient - Armenia. Egyptian masks and objects of Oriental culture appeared in Saryan's canvases in the second decade of the century. This subject matter novelty was linked with the immortality ideal - the basis of Ancient Egypt's art - that was in tune with Saryan's spirit. It was not by chance that as early as in 1906 he wrote an impassioned article on Ancient Egyptian art. Two years later in one of his canvases he painted a sphinx in the image of a woman. And the Persian Woman piece transformed, as if it were, the beauty of an Oriental woman's face into a mask. The strict, generalization-rich forms of the masks were very close to the artist's perception. These attributes of ancient art are looking at us from the centuries old past and are seen by us as living symbols of the mysterious, the incomprehensible and the perennial. Placed close to everyday objects, and, subsequently, near man (Portrait of the Poet Charents, My Family, Sell-portrait with a Mask) they make all the compositional elements look equally important. The pantheist Saryan identified art with nature. So, every object in the visible world is generalized by the artist's will to the greatest degree possible, without, however, ever losing its "immortal" form. A date palm has spread its branches far apart against the unfathomable depths of the sky in a distant desert. The power of the scorching sunlight is overwhelming and makes embodies it as such in men, animals, the walls of houses. The color patterns in Saryan's pictures are never repeated. In Night Landscape a most refine harmony of four basic colors conveys the poetic charm of a quiet moon night in the East. Kalaqi Flowers is a still life whose transparent colors resound like exultant church bells. All the works of that period seem to bring to the onlookers the living breathe and aroma of the primordial beauty of the "land of men". While the captivating duet of light and color evokes in us unforgettable emotions of the full-blooded joy of life with its moments of elation and light, dreaming sorrow. Pure color, free from any half tones, assumes absolute value in the paintings done in the decade that followed 1910. In an idiom he himself had found and obedient to him alone Saryan composed his epic legends about eternity. The transparent light coming from his canvases is full of promise of happiness. In and through it Saryan came by "that power of charm that was achieved in various ways at all times" in art. The individuality of Saryan as an artist was being formed in the Russian cultural environment closely linked with world cultural traditions. The patriotic, progressive spirit of Russian art oriented the artist's vision towards his Motherland, to the roots of national culture, lending wings to the cherished dreams of his childhood impressions. Great in this was the role of his teachers and especially that of Valentin Serov who nurtured Saryan's natural gifts and, at a later stage, helped him to gain recognition as a painter. Saryan also proved himself capable of discerning, analyzing and assimilating creatively what was healthy in modern French pictorial art. However, throughout his entire life in art he always obeyed the calling of his own inner voice and remained loyal to his national roots, and his artistic temperament. The Saryan phenomenon in art was brought about by the general upsurge of Armenian culture at the beginning of the 20th century. For a people with centuries old traditions that had lived through an upswing of its national self-awareness at the boundary between the 19th and 20th centuries such an art revival was a historically determined imperative. Social and political changes, and the Revolution of 1905 in particular, were likewise conducive to such a rise. David of Sasun, an epic about a group of Armenian freedom-fighting warriors of the 7th-10th centuries, was recorded and published at that time. Poetry and theatrical art saw a Golden Age revival. Toramanian substantiated in scientific terms the originality of Armenian architecture and traced its distinctively national roots. Komitas presented Armenian music to the world in all its charm and beauty. As one of the galaxy of these prominent culture and art figures, Saryan asserted national concepts in painting. The first Armenian artist to get his art education in Europe, he succeeded in discovering ways of reviving the nationally derived style and advancing Armenian painting to a modern level. That was a mission only a genius could cope with and its fulfillment brought Saryan the fame of the founder of the revived national school. In 1915 Saryan returned to his native land. His objectives on that visit, however, were different from the pursuits during the artist's previous stays in Armenia. He had shut down his studio and defying the danger of epidemic diseases went to Echmiadzin to help those who had fled Western Armenia to save their lives during he notorious carnage there. The subsequent five years of Saryan's patriotic activities bear proof of the remarkable public spirit of that outstanding artist. An ineradicable ability to enjoy life, their buoyancy and cheerfulness became the time-steeled and most prominent national traits of the Armenian people. And it was these national traits that inspired Martiros Saryan and conditioned the basic make-up of his art. Many a time was the sky overcast over the heavy stretches of the path the people of Armenia traveled in its history; it so happened that the Armenians were deprived of everything, even of their native land, but they never lost their faith in life and in a brighter future. Way back in 1906 Saryan wrote: "A spark of flame gleams in the depths of the people's soul, no matter how oppressed and deprived of civil rights it is, and that spark is capable of flashing out and lighting up everything around, provided that people is given freedom." The dawn the people dreamt of for ages was not late in coming. In 1920 Eastern Armenia became a socialist republic. And it was only in the order of things that immediately after the event Saryan settled in Yerevan for good. After a terrible tempest nature "heals" its wounds and welcomes the spring sun. Not unlike this light of remarkable intensity began to shine anew in Saryan's canvases painted during the period. Sunrise over his native land became the dawn of his creativity. The synthetic, monumental quality and the epic spirit of Saryan's new canvases were his answer to the impelling demands of the time. In Armenia, My Courtyard, Silence at Noon, Aragats Mount, To a Springhead, the Gegham Mount and other pictures, eternal peace and the magic harmony of color, light and air embody the aggregate of the artist's impressions of his native land. One takes a good look at these canvases and sees, as if were, the image of a centuries old dream of the people come true and turned into a real and tactile substance. These landscapes are taken to be not just landscapes as such, but portraits of Armenia, each of them presenting in a concentrated form the most distinctive features of that mountainous country. In them the artist gave up tempera in favor of oil painting but remained loyal to the basics of his technique: the creation of a powerful and warm environmental quality through a contrasting-and-harmonious combination of colors. The artist's faith in life and in the beautiful expressed the unexposed feelings harbored for ages and held in common by the entire nation. A happy period set in for the artist; he could now attain new heights in his art. Europe that throughout its long history had seen many battles was shattered as never before after World War I, which adversely affected the state of the arts there. Saryan, an artist belonging to the same epoch who had seen for himself all the horrors of was and the unequalled tragedy of his native people, remained, however, unshaken in his faith in life. His paintings of the twenties were not only the first steps made by Soviet art, not only did they inaugurate the original Soviet Armenian school of pictorial art; they also served as a priceless contribution to world culture. His canvases were a great success at an international exhibition in Venice (1924). After that in 1926 he visited France for the first time. His stay in Paris lasted for a year and a half but his attachment to his native land was so great that even there he found inspiration to paint Armenian landscapes. In 1928 a fire on board the ship that took him back home destroyed everything- he had painted in Paris. But the master who had survived the tragedy of the war and the Armenian carnage found strength enough to live through that personal loss, too. In the subsequent decades Saryan's art fell in step with the times and the life of the country. Throughout those years the output of that remarkable poet of the palette was enormous. In his canvases the master sang praise to his Motherland and to her men and women of labor, he created splendid theatrical settings, panels, did book illustrations. He did his best stage designs in the thirties and, among them, settings for the operas Brave Nazar and Almost. During the same years with great enthusiasm and passion he produced scores of drawings as illustrations for various editions of Armenian Tales. The compositions of his sheets and his theatrical decor are wise, humorous in their effect, display great national originality in subject and treatment. Saryan always painted flowers both in joyous and in sorrowful moods. Field flowers, the harbingers of the spring revival of nature, have a place of their own in his art. More than pictures of any other genres painted by him, still lifes with flowers lend themselves to the interpretation of being the artist's direct dialogue with nature in which he expressed his unfailing faith in the triumph of the good over the evil. On the Great Victory Day Saryan did his most significant "floral" still life and dedicated it to Armenian soldiers, veterans of the Great Patriotic War. Here, as always, the artist was inspired by the faith shared by the entire nation that it was possible "to overcome death by immortality". A thoughtful viewer of Saryan's art is sure to come to realize what was the most important feature of his paintings. His canvases are void of traces of the artist's personal moods, of his strictly individual sentiments. Saryan's merging with nature was so complete and harmonious, he was so fully integrated with it that it uplifted him over his own self and made his art stand above individual interests and aspirations. And in this sense it is akin to the sustenance-producing work of those who till the land. Take a good look at his portraits: Charents, Tamanian, Toramanian, Kamsaraqan, lgumnov, Lozinsky, Malkhasian, Isahakian. In the images of his heroes, the artist always brings out the characterization of human nature; his sitters look always intense, concentrated and plunged deep in their own thoughts. The highly individual power of Saryan's portraits wins over our hearts and, what is most important; we see that man in them is an integral part of nature. Contemplate the artist's landscapes and still lifes. The rich, highly original color effects of his brushwork always express the "understanding of the essence of life permanently present in the minds of human beings". Nothing in them is governed by reason to the exclusion of the feelings; neither do they paralyze our imagination. We see nature in them in its primordial beauty; listen to its songs of wise tranquility. The soul of the artist, lofty, unblemished and all pervading as it was, opens itself to the world in The Land, in the unfinished Fairy-tale and scores of other fascinating drawings done shortly before his death. As always his last paintings are executed with an indomitable creative vigor and an everlasting faith in the triumph of life. Art that puts across the "feelings of kindness", art born of a profound belief in the bright future awaiting humanity never becomes obsolete. It always rests with man, as a hosanna to light, a hymn to everything that is beautiful on earth. And now that mankind is going through hard and involved times the life-asserting art of Martiros Saryan not only falls in step with the epoch, but is, as if it were, looking at us from the time to come.