CULTURE
The secret behind Pirosmani’s “Arsenal Hill”
11 June, 2015
On June 1, “Arsenal Hill at Night”, a painting by a famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani, was purchased at Christie’s auction house for 1.5 million USD by former Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili. The masterpiece, valued for its style and color palette, will be donated to Georgia’s Art Museum. 

“If we take a look at the photos and recall the way Tbilisi’s landscape and layout were in the past, as well as the position of the moon and Mtkvari River’s water level, we will see that Pirosmani’s painting is in no
way a realistic depiction.”


When Georgian Journal decided to show our readers how Arsenal Hill looks today so that they could compare the two images, we have made a stunning discovery that made our initial objective take a back seat: there is simply no way Arsenal Hill could have looked like the way it was painted by Pirosmani. There is no doubt that the artist used his rich imagination to augment the painting. In order to find out why he did so, we have invited art expert Gogi Kharebava and photographer Irakli Gedenidze to share their viewpoints on the matter.

Irakli Gedenidze:
– The painting depicts Arsenal Hill with a church on top of it and a small settlement at its foot, with a full moon hovering above it all. Judging by the angle, the moon is located in the north, which never occurs in nature. If we take a look at the photos and recall the way Tbilisi’s landscape and layout were in the past, as well as the position of the moon and Mtkvari River’s water level, we will see that Pirosmani’s painting is in no way a realistic depiction. Back then, Mtkvari did not have any hydropower plants built on it, so its water level depicted in the picture couldn’t have possibly been real. For all intents and purposes, Pirosmani was guided by his own imagination rather than realism when painting “Arsenal Hill at Night”; perhaps this is how the hill looked for the[frequently drunk] painter of countless inns and watering holes.

Gogi Kharebava:
– No matter what, this is one of Pirosmani’s best works. It is incredibly poetic; few can properly do nocturne paintings, and his can be listed among the most skillfully created. 
As for lack of realism in his painting, did you really expect that Niko would’ve sat in front of Arsenal Hill with a brush? What makes a good painter is an ability to transfer products of his imagination to the canvas. A realistic depiction of the Arsenal Hill would have never been able to match the one created by Pirosmani’s imagination in impressiveness.
A photograph, no matter how masterfully done, only shows a copy, a duplicate. A painter, however, is free to paint things the way he sees them, and this is where his genius truly shines.

Author: Eka Gadakhabadze

“Arsenal Hill at Night” by Niko Pirosmani
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Arsenal Hill as it looks today (photo by Irakli Gedenidze)
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