Armenian national costume in the works of Hovsep Pushman
by Ani Margaryan
This work (Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966, Armenian-American artist), ”Armenian Girl,” early 20th c., oil on board, signed upper right corner, titled verso, presented in a period beech frame, H.- 11 in., W.- 8 1/2 in.; framed H.- 13 in., W.- 10 5/8 in., D.- 7/8 in., private collection, sold in the year 2020, November (the first picture)) is incredibly significant from the perspective of the traditional Armenian garments depictions in the history of Armenian oil painting in the early 1900s, and secondly, not less important in terms of visualization of Armenian themes in the works of Diaspora artists, particularly in the United States.
The female figure in her confident posture is executed wearing the striped gown and accessories typical presumably for the Kharbert or Shatakh regions. Still, the headgear/headdress bears a strong resemblance to one that adorns the head of Vardges Surenyants’s representation of an Armenian woman from Karin-Erzrum (the second picture).
It’s noteworthy that this painting is not the sole rendering of Armenian women and Armenian national costume within Pushman’s legacy. The most celebrated one among those works is “L’Esperance” and shows the author’s niece, Dora, at the age of 14, draped in traditional Armenian attire with a flower in her hand, symbolizing hope for the future (see the third picture). On November 27, 1917, Hovsep Pushman’s wife led a delegation of Armenians to the White House to meet Wilson. The youngest member of the group, Miss Alidz Kurkjian, presented the painting to Wilson. She gave a short speech expressing the Armenian people’s appreciation for the United States’ efforts to help them in their time of need.
Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966) was a well-known and demanded American artist of Armenian background.
The most distinctive feature of his artistic style and unique signature was contemplative and aesthetic still life works, involving Oriental, mainly Chinese porcelain jars, vessels, manuscripts, statues and figurines of Buddha, Tang dynasty female dancers, horse riders, monks, God of War, and other Chinese deities, fused with Western and Armenian antiquities, represented against the background inspired by ancient Chinese murals, silk paintings, scroll paintings and Oriental wallpapers.
It is worth mentioning that Hovsep Pushman has traveled to China, has been fond of Chinese literature and philosophy, and was also known as an exquisite connoisseur and collector of Chinese antiquities. Moreover, he has composed poems of his own, mirroring the selection of subject matter for his paintings and the hidden messages behind them. The mentioned circumstances have shaped the formal peculiarities of his art, which is often perceived as the visualization of an ode to the remote magics of Asia. Due to the unusual juxtapositions of Asian and Western antiquities within the compositional space, they emit their multilayered content, nourishing the audience’s imagination.
Pushman’s artistic legacy is a specific phase of Chinese motifs and Chinese-culture-related mysticism’s evolution in American art history.