Richard Karlovich Zommer (Munich 1866 - Russia 1939)

Praying Nomads

signed in Cyrillic (lower right)
watercolour on paper laid down on board
30.5 x 85 cm (12 x 33⅜ in)


In this extensive desert landscape two travellers have paused on their journey in order to pray. They have lain down a rug and are in different stages of prayer; they create a sense of quiet and solitude, made all the more poignant by the vast empty landscape around them. Their two horses and a heavily laden donkey stand by watching, as they recuperate from their difficult journey. Richard Karlovich Zommer has conveyed the intense heat of the day, by allowing the white of the paper to shine through the picture, giving the scene a bright glare. The horse nearest us is clearly suffering in the heat; its mane looks sodden and its flank glistens with sweat. Zommer has provided a wide panoramic view, giving a sense of the vastness of the desert and the length of the nomad’s journey. This feeling is intensified by the arid and featureless nature of the landscape.

Zommer depicted many similar desert landscapes in his career and in Prayers in the Mountains (Private Collection) he even repeats the same motif of the two nomads, as in the present work. In both pictures the intense colour of this pair’s clothing stands out against the dusty barren landscapes. Although the subjects are very similar there is an interesting compositional difference between the two works. In Praying Nomads Zommer conveys the vastness of the desert through the width of the work, creating a panoramic effect, whereas in Prayers in the Mountains, a similar effect of distance is achieved by giving the picture more depth and a sense of recession through the undulating hills.

Zommer was clearly fascinated by the theme of people travelling through these extensive landscapes, and he returned to the subject frequently. Another example is Caravan of Three, (Private Collection) which again emphasises the insignificance of man in these surroundings. Another feature which stands out in both this and Praying Nomads is Zommer’s ability to give a sense of the stifling atmosphere of the desert. In both works the distant mountains are shrouded in a haze, giving a sense of the humid and dusty air.

Zommer was born in Munich in 1866 but from 1884 he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, where he had considerable success, receiving several awards for his work. Zommer’s most prolific period relates to the last decade of the nineteenth century, which he spent in Asia, where he was sent in an archaeological expedition and worked as an ethnologist.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Zommer went to Georgia, where he led an active life, travelling extensively. He walked almost the entirety of the Caucasus Mountains and produced a number of works during this period that provide a fascinating insight into the Caucasus from an ethnographic point of view, as well as glimpses of everyday occurrences and situations. His charming works characteristically display his love for truth and simplicity, and are executed using deep strong colours. Each is particular in its composition, and each tells a story.

Zommer was a member of many art groups, and exhibited at various exhibitions in St. Petersburg between 1916 and 1920. He was one of the founders of the Society for Encouraging the Caucasian Decorative Arts in Tbilisi, and took part in various exhibitions organised by the Caucasian Painters Society, between 1916 and 1920 in Tbilissi, in Baku in 1907 and in Taschkent in 1915. He was the teacher of Lado Gudiashvili (1896-1980), who he also exhibited with.

Unfortunately little else is known about Zommer. During the 1930s, Georgian intellectuals and artists suffered under the Stalinist regime, and in 1939 Zommer was forced to leave Georgia. After this period his exact whereabouts are unknown, this can in part be explained by the fact that all ethnic Germans were relocated to Siberia and Kazakhstan before World War II.

What is clear however is that Zommer had a remarkable and dynamic life. Always on the move, he explored man and his character, creating pictures in his individual and unique way, and played an important role in the history of twentieth century Georgian painting.