This is the only affordable book on Russia's great 19th Century forest painter - the "Tsar of the Forests" - currently available. It's a great bargain at £9.95 so snap it up quickly, as these Parkstone books have a habit of disappearing quickly (previous volumes on Russian artists were on Repin and Serov). The good thing about this book is that it exists and that it includes dozens of superb paintings in full colour (and many more graphic works in black & white) in a well-made, properly-stitched 200-page large (285x240cm) hardback. For all this it is undoubtedly worth 5 stars. The text, unfortunately, isn't up to the same standard, not because its quality is poor, but because rather little is about Shishkin himself, and more about 19th Century Russian painting in general. Also, most if not all of the illustrations are also in the 1984 Pan/Aurora Shishkin book, a superb volume despite only being available in paperback (I've had mine rebound in hardcover) so this isn't essential if you have that one. But if you were lucky enough, like me, to see the magnificent Shiskin paintings in the "Russian Landscape" exhibition at the National Gallery in 2004 you won't need any further recommendation to buy this book anyway.
As a frequent painter of woodland subjects myself, I simply had to pre-order this book; Shishkin isn't at all well-known in the west and I only had random illustrations of his work in reference books (chiefly the old Pan/Aurora book on The Itinerants from 1982) so the prospect of a whole volume of his work was irresistible.
The text is an exercise in academic padding; there are two chapters that deal in very general terms with Russian Landscape painting and the role of the Itinerants, with only brief mentions of Shishkin; the biographical chapter is short and not particularly detailed. The remainder of the text consists of literary texts and poems. The real reason to buy this book then, is for the illustrations; there are over 80 colour plates, including details of some works together with a good selection of his graphic work in black and white. The quality of the reproductions is perhaps a little contentious; I haven`t seen the artist`s work at first hand but there is undoubtedly to my eye a rather honeyed, brown/yellowish cast to some of the illustrations. The photographs are certainly in focus to the point where the weave of the canvas and brushwork can be seen, but there is also a persistent texture present in most of the images, as if they have been photographed using coarse-grain film. It is apparent in the black and white work and archive photographs as well.
On balance, I was pleased to get such a good, solid hardback with a wealth of visual material on this artist; the quality is quite acceptable and I`m pretty critical about my art books. At the current asking price - under a tenner - it`s a bargain and a really useful addition to the library, certainly worth taking a chance on given the modest outlay.
Russian art is rarely seen outside Russia and unless you are planning to visit Moscow or St. Petersburg, then this is a rare opportunity to see one of Russia's greatest landscape artists. The Parkstone series of books of Russian painters continues with this volume on Ivan Shishkin and anyone who is interested in Russian art should buy it immediately. The price on Amazon, as I write, is a paltry £6.97. Given the overall quality of the printing, which is far better than some would have you believe - I speak as someone who is a regular visitor to Russia and I have seen these paintings many times - and the fact that the book includes a selection of graphic works and photographs that you won't see outside Russia - and even in Russia they're not easily accesible - this book is a bargain. Given also that it is one of the very few books about Shishkin available in English, you should buy it immediately. Parkstone books almost always sell out quickly and then prices escalate to ridiculous levels, as has happened with the volumes on Serov and Repin. If there's a criticism to be made then it would be that the essays, which are translated from the original Russian, tend to be a bit lacking in depth. But that's nit-picking really. For less than the price of a ticket into the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow or the Russian museum in St Petersburg, where most of Shishkin's pictures can be seen, this book is a bargain and I recommend - nay urge - anyone with an interest in Russian art, or landscape artists in general, to buy this book before it sells out.