Niko Pirosmani, also known as Nikala (1862-1918), was a well-known Georgian painter. He is a source of great pride for Georgians. Pirosmani was born in Kakheti in the village of Mirzaani and was raised in a lower-class family. Niko’s parents were peasants, who had a small farm with a couple of animals. From early childhood, he showed an interest in painting, and later on, without any formal art education, he became a self-taught artist. After the death of his parents, he moved to Tbilisi. He opened a painting workshop with George Zaziashvili, although it closed shortly afterward. Pirosmani worked in several trades, as a servant, railway conductor, and a shepherd. He received private orders for his paintings, mostly from shopkeepers. With the help of these orders, he was able to survive. During this time, he lived in a tiny, narrow room under the stairs of a small house. There was a bed, a box which served as a shelf, and painting materials. Niko died in poverty and the location of his grave is unknown.

If you are interested in exploring the life and art of this painter, the National Gallery of Georgia in Tbilisi features a permanent exhibition dedicated to him;

Address:  11, Rustaveli Avenue.
Hours: Every day except Monday, 10 a.m – 8 p.m.
Tickets: 7 gel for adults, 1 gel for students, and 0.50 tetri for schoolchildren and retirees.

You can also arrange a tour of the museum with a guide. The price varies from 10 to 200 gel, depending on the tour length and language. After the exhibition, you can visit the museum store and purchase souvenirs, books, exhibition catalogs, jewellery, and so on.

Art

“If I had at least 100 hundred manat (old georgian currency), I would buy nice clothes, would rent a room and paint endlessly” – Niko Pirosmani

Sadly, fame and global recognition only came to Niko after his death. The first exhibition of his art was held in 1918, but it wasn’t until around 1950 that interest in his work really started to grow. Since then he has gained international recognition, and exhibitions of his work have been held in Kiev, Warsaw, Paris, Vienna, Tokyo and Vilnius. Niko even inspired a portrait sketch by Pablo Picasso. Georgians are so proud of him that they erected a monument to him, named a street after him, and depicted him on the Georgian one lari bill. Later, two of his paintings, “Kalo” and “Fisher”, were featured on the 5 lari bill.

Niko’s paintings mostly constitute his life and reality as a painter. They are realistic and easy to understand. He did not pay attention to details, and his figures don’t show any facial expressions. Pirosmani’s themes give a certain outline of the artist’s social environment. He painted workmen, shopkeepers and groups of noblemen. Niko was attracted to animals and rural beauty, and rarely painted city views and we can also find many animal paintings in his art. Without a doubt, Pirosmani found some symbolic-moral opinions in animal images. Historical themes and personas were also an inspiration for Pirosmani.

A love story

There is a love story associated with Niko, which is almost like a fairy tale and is romantic and tragic at the same time.

One of Pirosmani’s paintings represents a young lady and is called “Margarita”.  This painting caught the attention of the public and rumors spread.

According to the story, “In March 1909, there were posters in Ortachala Garden proclaiming, “New play ‘Belle Vue’. Only 7 performances by the beautiful Marguerite de Sèvres in Tiflis.”

Niko saw Margarita in Mushtaidi Park, singing and dancing in a café. He was attracted to her from the first time he set eyes on her.

He was so madly in love with her that he sold everything he had, and bought thousands of roses for her. Relatives say that the painter was only truly happy when he was with Margarita. After a while, Niko received a farewell letter from Margarita and she disappeared forever. She knew that the painter could not offer more than roses. This love story became an inspiration for many. In 1984, a famous song, “A Million Scarlet Roses” was composed, which was sung by Alla Pugacheva. The lyrics are based on this love story.