Above The Eternal Peace. Levitan’s Philosophy

Isaak Levitan. Above The Eternal Peace. 152 x 207.5 cm.
Isaak Levitan. Above The Eternal Peace. 152 x 207.5 cm. 1894. State Tretyakov’s Gallery, Moscow.

Isaak Levitan (1860-1900) considered that the painting “Above The Eternal Peace” reflects his essence, his state of mind.

But this work of his is less widely known as “Golden autumn” or “March”. Nothing strange since the last two are included into russian high school course. But the painting with sepulchral crosses didn’t match school program.

It is time now to take a closer look of this Levitan’s masterpiece.

Where “Above The Eternal Peace” was drawn

Lake Udomlia in Tver’s province.

My attitude to this place is very special. My whole family spends summer vacation in this land.

The nature here is exactly like this. Spacious, impregnated with oxygen and grass smell. It rings in the ears of stillness here. And you are so satiated with this space that it becomes very difficult to recognize your apartment after returning home. Since you need to squeeze yourself back between the walls covered with wallpaper.

The landscape with the lake looks different. Here is Levitan’s sketch painted in the open air.

Isaak Levitan. Sketch to painting “Above The Eternal Peace”.
Isaak Levitan. Sketch to painting “Above The Eternal Peace”. 1892. Tretyakov’s Gallery.

This sketch as if reflects painter’s emotions. Extra tender, prone to depression, supersensitive. You see it in gloomy tints of green and leaden-coloured.

But the painting itself was being created in studio. Levitan has left place to emotions but added meditations.

The sense of “Above The Eternal Peace” painting

Russian painters in XIX century shared frequently with painting projects corresponding with friends and Maecenas. Levitan was not an exclusion. That is why the sense of “Above The Eternal Peace” painting is known direct from his own words.

The artist creats the painting as if from the height of bird’s flight. We are looking at the cemetery from above. And it embodies eternal rest of those people who have left life already.

The nature is opposed to this eternal peace. It embodies eternity in its turn. Moreover, eternity which is frightening, which will swallow up all with no regret.

The nature is majestic and eternal compared to a human being who is weak and short-lived. Boundless space and giant clouds are contrasting the small church with the little burning light.

Isaak Levitan. Above The Eternal Peace (fragment).
Isaak Levitan. Above The Eternal Peace (fragment). 1894. Tretyakov’s Gallery, Moscow.

The small church is not made up. The painter imprinted it in Pless and transferred it to Udomlia lake land. You may see it closer in this sketch.

Isaak Levitan. Wooden church in Pless in last rays of sun.
Isaak Levitan. Wooden church in Pless in last rays of sun. 1888. Private collection.

Seems to me this realism adds weight to the meaning of Levitan’s words. Not abstract generalized church but very real one.

The eternity has not spared it either. It has burned down in 3 years after painter’s death in 1903.

Isaak Levitan. Inside Peter and Paul church.
Isaak Levitan. Inside Peter and Paul church. 1888. Tretyakov’s Gallery, Moscow.

There was nothing strange in such Levitan’s thinking. The death was persistently standing behind his back. The painter suffered heart disease.

But do not be surprised if the painting calls different emotions in you, other than Levitan’s.

It was quite fashionable at the end of XIX century to muse on ideas like “people are grains of sand that have no any important meaning in a huge world”.

The philosophy is different in our times. The human beings are going out to outer space and to the web. Robotic vacuum cleaners are furrowing our appartments.

The modern man is decisively against being a grave of sand. That’s why “Above The Eternal Peace” may inspire you and even calm you down. And you will not feel any fear at all.

What is the pictorial virtue of the painting

Levitan is recognizable by very refined forms. The thin trunks of the trees give away the painter faultlessly.

Isaak Levitan. The spring – high water.
Isaak Levitan. The spring – high water. 1897. Tretyakov’s Gallery, Moscow.

There are no taken a close-up of trees in “Above The Eternal Peace” painting. But delicate forms are present. This is a narrow light cloud across the storm-clouds. And scarcely seen branching of the islet. And thin light path leading to the little church.

The principal “hero” of the painting is space. The water and the sky of close shades are divided by the narrow line of horizon.

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The horizon performs double function here. It is so narrow that the effect of a single space is created. But it is sufficiently well seen at the same time for the spectator to be “drawn into” the depth of painting. Both effects are creating the natural allegory of eternity.

The unfriendliness of this eternity Levitan transmitted with help of cold shades. This coldness may beeasily seen if to compare it with more “warm” master’s painting.

Isaak Levitan. The evening bell-ringing.
Isaak Levitan. The evening bell-ringing. 1892. Tretyakov’s Gallery, Moscow.

“Above The Eternal Peace” and Tretyakov

Levitan was very glad that Tretyakov was the one who has purchased “Above The Eternal Peace”.

Not because he paid well. But because Tretyakov was the first one who recognized Levitan’s talent and started to buy his paintings. That’s why it was not surprising that the painter wanted Tretyakov to have his exemplary masterpiece.

Tretyakov has acquired also the sketch to this painting, the one with gloomy green meadow and leaden-coloured lake. This was the last painting he has purchased in his life.


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Translated by Leonid Bokarius

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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