Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926) Automatic translate
Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, a talented painter, decorator, illustrator and architect, became the founder of our special “Russian style”, created at the junction of the historical genre and romantic trends, inspired by folklore and symbolism. Vasnetsov had a huge impact on the evolution of Russian fine art in the era of the transition from wanderer to modernity.
Viktor Vasnetsov was born on May 15, 1848 in the village of Lopyal, Vyatka province. The father of the future artist - Mikhail Vasnievich Vasnetsov was a hereditary priest. Two years after the birth of Victor, the priest received a parish in the village of Ryabovo, located in the same county. It was there, in the future, that the childhood of the painter passed. The family of the village priest lived, like the rest of the peasants, poorly and simply. Victor had five brothers, since their mother died very early, all together helped his father manage the household.
Being a well-educated person, Father Mikhail strove to give all his children a versatile education. He taught them literacy and arithmetic, and also tried to develop in them an inquiring mind and observation. The Vasnetsovs loved to read scientific journals, engage in wood carvings, and paint with watercolors.
The harsh nature, a separate way of life, folk beliefs, ancient customs, tales and village songs of the harsh Vyatka region formed both the life and the artistic worldview of the future artist. Victor and his brother Apollinarius (also engaged in painting) absorbed this fabulous atmosphere of “the traditions of the old days,” which later became the main feature of their work.
According to the established family tradition, all the sons in the Vasnetsov family had to continue the work of their ancestors and become priests. Therefore, in 1858, Mikhail Vasilievich sent his eldest son Victor to a religious school, which he graduated in 1862, then moving to the class of the Vyatka Theological Seminary.
There, in addition to scripture, he also studied iconography. Lessons in church painting were taught to seminarians by the artist N. A. Chernyshev, who had an icon painting workshop in Vyatka. Vasnetsov spent a lot of time with his teacher, visited the city museum and did many sketches. Later, in the house of Chernyshev, he met with the exiled Polish artist Elviro Andriolli, who became a real friend and mentor to young Victor. Under his leadership, Vasnetsov wrote his first works. He was also his official assistant, participating in the painting of the temple built in Vyatka. Andriolli told the young man about the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, from which many famous Russian painters came out. Vasnetsov, who dreamed of painting, decided to try his luck and pass the entrance exams to this educational institution.
Vasnetsov had no funds to travel to the capital, and then Andriolli, using the help of his fellow countryman, Professor Krasinsky, arranged a lottery for wealthy citizens, during which two amateur works of young talent were sold. Thus, having received a little money, the young man left the penultimate course at the seminary and, with the blessing of Mikhail Vasilievich and the rector, left for Petersburg.
Arrival in Petersburg
In 1867, Vasnetsov successfully passed the entrance exams at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, but because of doubts about his own abilities, he did not even recognize the result. Confident of failure, Victor wandered around the city in search of work and housing. He decided at all costs to stay in St. Petersburg in order to try to enter the academy next year.
Having accidentally met the brother of his benefactor Professor Krasinsky, the young man with his support received the position of a draftsman in the capital’s cartographic institution. At the same time, he began attending the School of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists at the Exchange. It was there that he met the young teacher I.N. Kramskoy and his comrades - students of the Academy - the painter I. E. Repin and the sculptor M. M. Antokolsky.
In the summer of next year, Vasnetsov, feeling confident in his own skills, again went to take entrance exams at the Academy of Arts. Imagine his surprise when he was informed that he was enrolled in students of the institution last year! For his first year of study, Viktor received a well-deserved award - a silver medal. The young man became close friends with young talented artists V.D. Polenov, A.I. Kuindzhi, V.I. Surikov and others. He successfully coped with all the tasks and was noted for his student work by the famous professor P.P. Chistyakov. Already during his studies, Vasnetsov had good orders from publishers to carry out drawings for various works: everyday stories, alphabets and fairy tales.
Fate forced Victor to leave the academy for a while. In 1870, the artist’s father passed away, and he had to leave for Ryabovo to take care of his brothers. Victor returned to the capital not alone, but with his younger brother - Apollinaris.
These changes meant that now student Vasnetsov had to work even harder to somehow provide for his brother. Because of this, he began to attend classes at the Academy irregularly, and soon completely abandoned lectures and lessons. As a result, Victor didn’t even take final exams and in 1874 received a clerical certificate stating that he “was among the students of the Academy”.
Having been engaged in book graphics professionally since 1868, Viktor Vasnetsov achieved great success in this area by 1875. He decided to join the newly created “Traveling Art Exhibition Partnership” to try his hand at critical realism. This society consisted of masters who, carried away by people’s ideas, sought to show in their works the hard life of poor peasants and townspeople, as well as the main social problems of the country.
The noble intentions and advanced views of the Partnership were warmly supported by the Russian intelligentsia. The association included Kramskoy, Repin, Polenov, Kuindzhi, Surikov and many other famous artists. Victor Mikhailovich, who had felt from his childhood what peasant labor was, after moving to Petersburg every day he watched the life of poor citizens. He wrote a number of works in tune with the themes of the work of the Wanderers. These are such works as the “Book Store” (1876, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), “Beggar Singers (Bogomolets)” (1873, the Kirov Regional Art Museum named after V.M. and A.M. Vasnetsov) and “C apartment to apartment ”(1876, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). These multi-figured compositions perfectly convey all the bitterness and instructive truth of life, and the folk portraits presented in them demonstrate the high artistic level of the master. But the painter acutely felt a lack of knowledge, and immediately responded to Repin’s invitation to come to Paris. Repin himself, being a brilliant graduate of the Academy of Arts, traveled to Europe at the expense of the educational institution.
And so, in March 1876, Vasnetsov, who simultaneously received an order for an illustration to the book by E. N. Vodovozova, “The Life of European Peoples,” set off for France.
Arriving in Paris almost without money, but supported by fellow artists, Viktor Mikhailovich began to study the Louvre collection meticulously and follow the impressionist discoveries of young French painters.
The influence of the Impressionists is clearly felt in the picture he created in France, “Acrobats on a Holiday in the Environs of Paris” (1877, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The elongated plastic dancer on the left side of the picture seemed to have come off the works of the ballet series by Edgar Degas. In the spring of 1877 Vasnetsov exhibited this work at the annual Paris Salon, not having achieved much success. After returning to Russia a year later, the artist presented Acrobatov at the next exhibition of the Wanderers. Emperor Alexander III, having seen this picture, acquired it for his collection. In November of the same year, the painter married a fellow countrywoman, a native of the Vyatka province, Alexandra Vladimirovna Ryazantseva. After graduating from female medical courses in the capital’s medical and surgical academy, a modest educated girl devoted herself completely to her family. And in 1878, Vasnetsov was officially admitted to the ranks of the Association of Wanderers. Then, after Repin and Polenov, Vasnetsov, together with his wife and brother, moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Countless temples and the patriarchal spirit of this ancient city, its diverse huts, palaces and mansions amazed the painter to the core. He enthusiastically sketched the Kremlin, various Moscow monasteries and churches.
Soon, the artist received an order from the ethnographer V. A. Dashkov, the former director of the Moscow Public and Rumyantsev Museum, to create a series of portraits of famous Russian figures from preserved historical engravings. Among the images written by the master were such historical figures as Patriarch Germogen II, teacher of Peter I N. M. Zotov, Prince D. M. Pozharsky and F. Ya. Lefort. Thanks to this work, Viktor Mikhailovich was more and more immersed in the atmosphere of tradition and antiquity. He got the opportunity to touch the historical relics, plunge into the unusual atmosphere of past centuries.
An important role in Vasnetsov’s life was played by the famous Moscow philanthropist and industrialist S. I. Mamontov, a talented and educated person who was fond of art and history. In "Abramtsevo" - Mamontov’s estate near Moscow, artists, scientists and writers often gathered, often discussing various historical events, reading ancient manuscripts recently found by archaeologists. All this prompted Vasnetsov, who had fallen in love with a seminar lecture “The Word about Igor’s Campaign,” to write a series of historical epic paintings. The very first work of the cycle was the picture "After the Battle of Igor Svyatoslavich with the Polovtsy" (1880, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).
On the canvas we see the bodies of Russian heroes struck by enemy spears and arrows, lying under a dull sky on a green grass carpet. And over them, as if fighting for the souls of the fallen righteous, long-winged vultures, which are a symbol of devilry, fight. The faces of the dead heroes are calm and severe. The center of the whole composition was a young prince pierced by an arrow in the chest. The motive of courage and heroism in the fight against the conquerors was created by several alarming red accents. It should be noted that the painter performed all the historical details of the work - weapons, armor, and other things of the knights reliably and accurately, thanks to painstaking study of the exposition of the Historical Museum. Ornaments displayed on the canvas, such as embroidery on the prince’s white shirt or a decorative warrior cape to his right, convey the atmosphere of epic tales. The evening landscape with a dull setting sun and dark, as if grave shadows, pressing from the horizon, is harmonious with the tragic events of the picture. The feeling of heroism, greatness of Russian soldiers and deadly longing is enhanced by the display of a wide plan, where among the dense greenery of the grass the master displayed drooping daisies, drooping field bells and crumpled cornflowers. It is they who give a romantic lyrical note to the whole work.
But contemporary critics of the artist condemned this work. She caused an ambiguous reaction among the audience, who expected from the new Moscow painter very different, ideological and moral works on peasant plots. Only a few, including a good friend of Vasnetsov Repin and a professor at the Chistyakov Academy, appreciated the grandiose and original spirit in the canvas, capable of stirring up the Russian soul and making it empathize and feel proud.
Fairy tales and epics
Not too positive reaction to the work “After the Battle of Igor Svyatoslavich and the Polovtsy” could not force the master to abandon the idea of creating a series of historical epic paintings. More and more on the artist’s work was a fascination with archaeological discoveries, antiquity and national folklore. The work “Carpet-plane” (1880, Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum), created for the study of S. I. Mamontov, was written on a fairy-tale topic, and supported gifted individuals in every way possible.
In the work, the motifs of Russian and Arabian tales are wonderfully intertwined. On a bright oriental carpet covered with old Russian patterns, Ivan Tsarevich proudly sweeps over dense forests, swamps and rivers, illuminating his way with a giant lantern. This is an image of a steam locomotive invented by foreigners and used to illuminate and pave the way for a Russian person along the usual off-road. Such a comparison is not accidental: at that time Mamontov himself supervised the construction and operation of the northern and southern lines of the Russian railways.
The painter was able to reliably convey the texture of a luxurious, silk-lined Tsarevich costume, a pile of patterned carpet and thick glass of a burning lantern, behind which with an attentive look you can see not a flame, but a Firebird, flapping its golden wings.
In the summer, the Vasnetsovs rented the Akhtyrka estate, located not far from Abramtsevo, so they spent a lot of time with the Mamontov family. Brothers-artists often walked in the woods, where the eldest reflected on the plot of the Russian fairy tale about “Sister Alyonushka and brother Ivanushka”. There they constantly worked in the open air. The nature near Moscow made a romantic and fabulous impression on Viktor Mikhailovich, here he saw not only a magnificent landscape for his future work, but also her heroine herself.
It was like this: once on a forest path an artist met a heartbroken local girl whose eyes were so dreary that Vasnetsov immediately realized that in front of him was “the same” Alyonushka.
The master made several sketches of a small, barefoot peasant woman who was squeezing into a ball. The work itself, called "Alyonushka" (1881, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), Vasnetsov created already in the Moscow workshop. A fair-haired girl sitting on a stone by the pond thought about her bitter fate. The pale gray sky, flying aspens, prickly “paws” of Christmas trees and the dark surface of the pond with yellow leaves floating on it perfectly convey its depressed state.
The thick surface of the pool does not reflect the yearning heroine, but as if pulling her into herself. Grass arrows “sticking” predatory from the water, as if ready to pierce her body and arms. The master did not just write a lyrical artistic image from a fairy tale about his sister Alyonushka and her brother Ivanushka, he unusually soulfully displayed on the canvas the suffering soul of the Russian people. And again, presented at the Ninth Traveling Exhibition, the picture made an ambiguous impression. Visitors to the exhibition unanimously expressed their admiration for the amazing gift of the artist, but critics, including the famous art connoisseur and philanthropist P. M. Tretyakov, made rather caustic remarks.
Constantly visiting Mamontov on his estate, Vasnetsov soon became interested in architectural work. The philanthropist decided to build a house church on the territory of his park and invited his fellow artists to develop a project for her. Polenov recommended to Savva Ivanovich to take the Novgorod Cathedral of the Savior Nereditsky as a standard. Vasnetsov, having entered into competition with his colleague, created his sketch of the temple in the spirit of Moscow architecture. It was this architectural development that most pleased Mamontov and his family.
Soon, the artist, with the support of the inhabitants, guests and patrons of Abramtsevo, built a single-domed Church of the Savior Not Made by Hands in the estate (1881 -). The appearance of a small white-stone structure associated with the belfry, several architectural schools connected at once. Decorated with majolica, like Yaroslavl temples, and a carved patterned cornice under the roof arch, like most Vladimir cathedrals, the church has oval windows in the spirit of Moscow architecture.
Icons and an iconostasis were also created by Mamontov’s friends: painters Polenov, Repin and, naturally, the author of the project. In addition to the temple, Vasnetsov built in Abramtsevo an unusual park gazebo in the form of a real “hut on chicken legs”, which led the children of the estate owner to indescribable delight.
But the mind of Viktor Mikhailovich was constantly busy with the idea of a historical-epic cycle of paintings. The work “The Knight at the Crossroads” (1882, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), the artist conceived many years ago. The creation of this large-scale work required Vasnetsov to carefully study not only the entire exposition of the Armory of the Moscow Kremlin, but also old books from the public library.
The canvas “The Knight at the Crossroads” is not only an attempt to portray an epic hero, but also the creation of a true Russian national character in all its beauty and strength. The painter’s warrior sits on a tired hero’s horse. He looks with sadness at the “boulder” boulder, the ancient Slavic inscription on it reads: “if you go straight, you will never be on foot or on horseback.”The continuation of the famous phrase from Russian legends - “you go to the right to be married” and “to the left - rich” are not visible to the viewer: their master hid them under the moss covering the lower part of the stone. The lone knight wearily lowered his spear and, foreseeing the inevitable, looks around the bones and skulls of dead soldiers lying on the battlefield. For him, the temptations of other roads are closed, there is only one direct path ahead - to perish, defending the Homeland. The psychological, philosophical meanings of the work amazed contemporaries.
Love of history
At the same time, in 1882, Vasnetsov, enthusiastically studying domestic history and folklore, received a new order for the development and construction of a picturesque frieze for the building of the Moscow Historical Museum. The construction manager and chairman of the Moscow Archaeological Society, A. S. Uvarov, proposed that the painter display the characteristic occupations of a primitive man in a sketch. Vasnetsov immediately sought advice from anthropologists and ethnographers. Soon a stone age ax and a real mammoth tusk appeared in his workshop. As models of primitive people, the artist was posed by his young colleagues V. A. Serov and K. A. Korovin, who also often visited Mamontov.
The master conditionally divided the composition of the frieze into two parts. The first - "Stone Age" (1882, State Historical Museum, Moscow) - shows the parking of people of the Paleolithic era. We see a cave at the entrance of which teenagers are sitting, scraping stone knives, mammoth tusks and arrowheads. In the center of the group is a shaggy gray-haired tribal elder who makes fire by striking pieces of silicon. Another teenager, standing on the left, pulled on a bowstring, hoping to shoot a bird flying by. To the right stands the heroic muscular figure of the chief hunter in a cloak of mammoth skin, in one hand he holds a spear, in the other - a stone ax.
The warlike and intense gaze of the leader suggests that he is concerned about the protection of the tribe from the encroachment of strangers. An incredibly reliable interpretation of all images allows Vasnetsov to convince the viewer of the reality of the moment. The color of this work is based on a delicate combination of close ocher, brown, bluish-gray and greenish colors. The monochrome structure of the work “enlivens” the bright almost black accents precisely distributed on the plane. The frieze created by the artist made an indelible impression not only on his friends, painters, but also on P. P. Chistyakov, professor at the Petersburg Academy of Arts, and professor at St. Petersburg and Kiev universities, restorer and art historian A.V. Prakhov, who carefully watched his work.
The latter invited Vasnetsov to participate in the painting of the church interior of the new St. Vladimir Cathedral, which was being built in Kiev, but he refused. But the master presented to everyone for display the next epic-fairy-tale work “Three Princesses of the Underworld” (1884, State Museum of Russian Art, Kiev). The plot of this painting was based on the tale of Ivanushka, who descended the kingdom of the dead (underground) in search of her mother. There, the hero met three beautiful girls who embodied the wealth of the earth’s interior, hidden from people: Gold, Gemstone and Copper. The artist replaced the traditional image of the girl-Copper with the Coal, which represents the energy of movement and heat.
These fabulous princesses and brought into the light of God from the dungeon Ivan. The arrogant girl-Gold, as it should, is depicted in a shiny brocade dress and a kokoshnik trimmed with pink pearls. Girl - A gem stands in a burgundy sundress, embroidered with sapphires, emeralds and jasper. Her hair and breasts are heavy massive jewelry. Unlike her sisters, the girl - Coal is presented in a strict black dress and straight-haired. She does not have a snow-white silk scarf in her hands, like the other princesses, because she is by no means a lady, but a simple worker, a bluish tongue of flame curls over her head.
A slightly dull rocky landscape is painted flat, as if it is a scenery, a theatrical backdrop. Against his background, portrait female images look especially expressive and psychological.
The standard of temple murals
It was typical for the artist to create monumental and large-scale works, perhaps, therefore, after a while he wrote a letter to Prahov, offering his services in painting the new Kiev church of St. Prince Vladimir.
But first, in May 1885, the master went through Warsaw and Vienna straight to Italy, in order to see firsthand the works of famous Renaissance masters. Returning to the end of the summer in Kiev, the artist immediately set about creating preliminary sketches. He had to completely complete the central nave, along with the altar apse, dome and other wall fragments with a total area of about three thousand square meters. Later, M.V. Nesterov, A.S. Mamontov, M.A. Vrubel, the Svedomsky brothers and other painters joined Vasnetsov. But it was precisely the style of Viktor Mikhailovich that became decisive in the murals of the cathedral.
The painter created the images of “Our Lady with the Baby”, located in the apse above the altar, the multi-figure composition “The Last Judgment”, made over the entrance to the church’s choirs, and the main “thematic” frescoes - “The Baptism of Prince Vladimir” (1885-1896, the State Russian Museum art, Kiev) and “Baptism of Rus” (1885, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). To create them, the artist re-read The Tale of Bygone Years several times, absorbing all the described features of the Korsun churches.
After all, Prince Vladimir was baptized in one of the Crimean cities subjugated to him - Korsuni, immediately after he was suddenly struck by blindness. Vasnetsov was able to perfectly reflect the psychological characteristics of the heroes, creating an exciting impression of the miraculous healing of the prince who exclaims in ecstatic prayer: “Now I have seen the true God!” In the very dome of the church, the painter placed a half-length image of the "Almighty Christ" (1885, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The open gospel is in his left hand, and his right hand is raised for blessing. Behind the calm and divine face of Christ, a dark starry sky, covered with a light haze of clouds.
It should be noted that the temple paintings of Vasnetsov’s brush have a certain flatness in the execution of backgrounds. The author used this technique to harmonize volumetric figures with wall planes. As already noted, all the murals of the temple were painted at different times by different artists. To create a complete and holistic image of the temple, each fresco is framed by a decorative frame designed by Vasnetsov, which is a carefully thought-out and fantastic decoration in its expression.
At Vasnetsov himself, plots having canonical images were created in a strict academic manner, but the images of Russian saints are close to folk art. In the sketch “The Only Begotten Son of the Word of God” (1885-1896, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), we see art nouveau features manifested in the winged heavenly forces and the truly mystical figure of the Lord.
For all the grandiose work of painting the Cathedral of St. Prince Vladimir, Vasnetsov took about ten years. A significant part of this time, the artist lived in Kiev alone, without friends and family, although sometimes his younger brother Apollinaria helped him. The painter constantly attracted many of his friends to work - Serov, Polenov.
The indisputable success of Vasnetsov’s temple murals made a splash. The press of the late 19th century devoted numerous studies and articles to the frescoes. The images and plots of the icons and murals of the Vladimir Cathedral gained extraordinary popularity, later, they were repeated many times in many churches under construction in Russia. But a little later, at the beginning of the 20th century, when discoveries and studies devoted to the original Old Russian icon were published, very negative reviews began to sound in relation to Christian paintings of Vasnetsov. But, despite this, the creation of a large painting ensemble, embodied in the amazing integrity of the impression made by the decoration of Vladimir Cathedral, is still of great importance for Russian art.
Immersion in a fairy tale
Returning to Moscow in 1891, Vasnetsov bought a small plot of land on Meshchanskaya Street (in the 3rd Troitsky Lane) and began building his own house. The master designed the sketch of the house himself, but he hired a professional architect to bring this varied palace-tower to life. During this period, the artist again returned to creating his epic fairy-tale paintings.
The plot of the work “Ivan Tsarevich on the Gray Wolf” (1889, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) took Vasnetsov from the 18th century popular book telling about Ivan the Tsarevich, his bride Elena the Beautiful and the gray wolf. The artist depicted the moment of the flight of the narrowed astride a faithful animal, which rises through an arrow through gloomy swamps and a dense forest.
Awareness of the possible chase gives the heroes determination, but the difficult journey has already left its mark on the tired faces of lovers. Ivan Tsarevich, in an embroidered brocade caftan and black mittens, clings to Elena the Beautiful, dressed in a delicate blue silk dress. All details indicate the speed of movement of the wolf. In the distance, through the thick trunks of trees, you can see the blue sky. And next to the main characters of his painting, the artist depicted white flowers of a wild apple tree, which became a symbol of the location of magical nature to young lovers.
The painter presented this work at the Seventeenth Traveling Exhibition, held in St. Petersburg and, finally, received rave reviews from both colleagues and critics. Now, the fame of Viktor Mikhailovich as a talented artist has reached its climax. Vasnetsov was awarded the title of professor of painting, becoming a full member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.
The artist continued to create paintings on historical and national-folklore subjects, tirelessly creating in the studio of his new Moscow house. “Sirin and Alkonost. A Song of Joy and Sorrow ”(1896, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) shows us the image of the human soul, in which good and evil, the careless joy of life and the inevitability of death coexist together. The birds of paradise, Sirin and Alkonost, have beautiful female faces and bird bodies, with huge wings and clawed predatory legs. Their images were first found even on ancient Slavic embroideries, metal and wooden ornaments, dated X - XII centuries and in the carved masonry ornament of St. George Cathedral, which was built in Yuryev-Polsky in the XIII century. This fabulous bird is not the embodiment of good or evil, it’s just a dreaming soul,still remembering paradise, but forever banished from it.
Vasnetsov also had scenographic experience. For the first time, the artist tried his hand at the theater during the opening of the Mamontov Private Opera in 1884. The master painted a watercolor sketch of an underwater tower from the opera The Mermaid by A. S. Dargomyzhsky. The remaining sets for this production were made by I.I. Levitan. Then, in 1885, Viktor Mikhailovich brilliantly designed the opera "The Snow Maiden" by N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, staged in the same, which became famous Moscow theater.
In the future, it was the image created by Vasnetsov that was recognized as the standard for this performance throughout the world. Viktor Mikhailovich managed not only to convey the realism and drama of all the fabulous images, but also to create a unique atmosphere of the legend and the real Russian spirit. The inconsistency inherent in the Russian national character has always interested the artist.
A vivid example of psychological expressiveness can be considered a portrait of “Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich the Terrible” (1897, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), executed in a bright decorative manner. The artist gave his face to the king extreme expressiveness. This man is certainly smart, insidious, cunning, but nevertheless he is the anointed of God on the Russian throne, which is emphasized by the tops of churches - the view from the window of his chamber.
The king stands on the steps of his palace, covered with a red carpet. His foot is about to step on the double-headed eagle embroidered on the carpet. The portrait of Ivan the Terrible, a painter who carefully studied historical relics for his works, did not write from ancient parsons and icons depicting the Russian monarch, but from the image created by F. I. Chaliapin in the opera Pskovityanka by N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, over the scenery to which Vasnetsov worked with Korovin.
In 1899, the artist, based on his own decorative designs, paints a picture “The Snow Maiden” (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). On a snow-white glade of a cold dark forest in a painted brocade coat there is a confused girl - the daughter of Santa Claus and Spring-Red, walking into the world of people. This fabulous work has become one of the most recognizable in the entire work of the painter.
The greatness of the Russian spirit
Perhaps the most important work of Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov is the large-scale painting “The Heroes” (1881-1898, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). Almost thirty years have passed from the idea of this plot in the form of a pencil sketch and its finished embodiment on a huge canvas. Even after the acquisition of the work by the famous philanthropist P. M. Tretyakov, who placed it in a public gallery, the painter continued to make his corrections for some time.
It is known that the figures of the three main epic defenders of Russia - Ilya Muromets, Alesha Popovich and Dobryni Nikitich, the master created from sitters, fully dressed in real clothing from ancient Russian knights, borrowed from the storerooms of the Historical Museum.
The hero Ilya from the city of Murom was painted in the estate of Abramtsevo, for this image the overweight Vladimir peasant posed for the artist. The second warrior, Dobrynya Nikitich, became a combination of portrait images of V.D. Polenov, the father of the artist Mikhail and his own self-portrait. The background of the work: high hills covered with dense forests under a gloomy cloudy sky, dense grasses and young fir trees, covered with a pile of gray stones, are a collective image of the Moscow region landscapes with northern Vyatka latitudes and Ukrainian steppes.
The canvas clearly shows that the horse of each powerful hero is similar in character to the owner. Thus, the powerful black sheep of the fearless warrior Ilya Muromets squint with his bloodshot eye, the white horse of the courteous and cunning Dobrynia sensitively sniffs the wind, while the stunted horse of the distant Alyosha Popovich, who carries a gusli with him, pricks his ears and nibbles the grass. All this makes a general solemn impression of a magnanimous and fearless force, capable of independently and voluntarily protecting their native land from the encroachment of any enemies.
Vasnetsov devoted all the last years of the outgoing 19th century to easel painting, again turning his attention to book illustrations and architecture. The artist, once again, demonstrated the versatility of his talent by creating a project for the Russian Pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris. According to the master’s project, the pavilion was made in the style of a prince’s tower or palace. The ancient Russian architectural motifs found by the painter were subsequently repeated by him when creating the facade for the Tretyakov Gallery.
At the same time, Moscow and Petersburg were preparing for the celebration of the centenary of the birth of the great Russian poet - A.S. Pushkin. In honor of this celebration, it was planned to release a mass of gift editions of the works of Alexander Sergeyevich.
Vasnetsov received an order for registration of the publication “Songs about the Prophetic Oleg”. He was to develop illustrations and ornament for the text.
The works “Meeting Oleg with the Magician” (1899, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) and “Farewell to Oleg and the Horse” (1899, the State Literary Museum, Moscow) are graphic compositions made in the form of ancient Russian book miniatures. The gracefully bowed heads of long-maned horses, the vivid colorfulness and mystical images of the characters create an atmosphere of epic poetry that is in perfect harmony with the stately lines of Pushkin.
The artist also performed, emphasizing the decorative capital letters and endings, thus giving the whole work the style of a handwritten medieval book. This only emphasizes the fact that Vasnetsov’s fabulous nature was not only the plot of the canvas. Almost everything looks magical in his work. Even his separately painted landscapes.
The painting “Northern Land” (1899, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), in which we see a gloomy, mossy coniferous forest and a blue winding river, as if covered with a thin layer of ice, shows us the atmosphere of ancient northern tales. The uneven horizon, the high angle of the image and the great realism of writing create a true and capacious image of the endless native land. However, the anthropomorphic shape of many trees, the viscosity of the gray-green earth and the general condition of the landscape give the impression of magic and mystery of this harsh nature.
Although, it is known for certain that absolutely all of Vasnetsov’s landscapes have a real open air beginning. Many elements of mystery in landscape backgrounds, signs of the past and archaeologically accurate details were used by many other artists in their genre paintings, but only Vasnetsov’s Russian past is depicted not as reality, but as a real fairy tale.
Ornaments and intonations
In Vasnetsov’s work “Bayan” (1910, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) we see a trident, which is attended by heroes, a gray-haired narrator, a hussler and a young prince. The choice of characters does not happen - it symbolizes the transmission of epic narratives by word of mouth, for centuries, from father to son. The background landscape of the picture is rather arbitrary, but the artist meticulously worked out the armor and vestments of all the warriors, as well as beautiful ornaments on their capes, boots and trousers. In the embroidery of the white shirt of Bayan, we recognize the ancient Slavic motif that Vasnetsov had previously used to create costumes of the Berendeys for the opera Snegurochka. Absolutely everything, and the Bayan’s harp, and the wooden brother, and his glass of wine, and even the gravestone have a variety of patterns and symbols. A magnificent ornament to which the master in each of his easel work,He attached great importance to architectural developments, illustrations, and even church wall paintings, is his peculiar individual “handwriting”, which he sacrificed, perhaps, only in his only work. In 1917, a surprisingly gloomy and at the same time dynamic, powerful painting “Baba Yaga” was written (V.M. Vasnetsov’s House-Museum, Moscow).
On the canvas, amid the predatory intertwining branches and tree trunks in a mortar with a broom, a terribly grinning Baba Yaga rushes along. The witch has an armpit holding a barefoot frightened boy, an owl flies nearby, bulging huge eyes, and bones and skeletons of dead animals are visible below, on a swampy shore.
There are only three bright light spots in the picture - the white shirt of an innocent child, the lilac-pink reflection of distant conflagrations and the voluminous red skirt of a half-naked witch. The color of the skirt is symbolic and it was not by chance chosen. The work was created in the year when the October Revolution took place in the country, most likely it carries in itself the emotional attitude of the artist to these terrible events.
He loved the patriarchal way and life of his country, deeply believing Vasnetsov, did not accept the new socialist system. Workers and peasant women, who actively advocated for the power of the Soviets, laid bare their shoulders and brought elements of the red flag into the costume. This is what the artist displayed in his picture. It is very symbolic that evil spirits seem uncomfortable, only on one knee, sitting on the edge of a stupa, its rapid flight looks very convincing.
Revolutionary and military events took place in the country, but the master continued to create canvases on his favorite epic plots. True, the crimson-red colors in his palette are now much more intense. The artist painted with them a blazing fairy-tale sky and a monster with a flame belched by wickedness, such as in the work “The Fight of Dobryny Nikitich with the seven-headed Serpent Gorynych” (1918, V. Vasnetsov’s House-Museum, Moscow). Vasnetsov does not show the face of a knight, because in a battle with an unknown force he can no longer be fearless and confident. In the upper part of the canvas, we see a gray-green scaly snake with a predatory clenched paw, intertwined with long necks and toothy mouths. The contrast of dark green and some dull red color underlines the atmosphere of tension.
Famine began in the country. Viktor Mikhailovich began to lack not only canvases and paints - there was nothing to heat the house and the workshop with. In Moscow, residents gave away their family valuables and rarities for a piece of bread, but the painter continued to paint.
The canvas “The Frog Princess” (1918, V. Vasnetsov’s House-Museum, Moscow) became another work on a fairy-tale theme, in which despair that gripped the artist was clearly read. The princess, having thrown off frog skin, is dancing frantically, dressed in a green brocade dress, while balalaika players and guslars enthusiastically play their instruments. The young girl is in a painted red tower, everything around is painted with various shades of this color, down to the clothes of musicians. The princess stands with her back to the observer, so that her dance is “directed” towards the open bright space of the terrace. There, in the distance, on the opposite bank of the river, you can see the village and fun festivities by the water. Geese swans flying high in the sky, bowing their long necks in the direction of the girl, fill the atmosphere of unrestrained fun with alarm and drama.
Vasnetsov, who was one of the best religious painters, in 1922, when the leadership of the country of the Soviets began active atheist propaganda, took up the restoration of the Holy Trinity Church on Samotechnaya Street.
The artist still enjoyed recognition. In 1924, his canvases on mythological and fairy-tale stories were selected by the government commission and sent to participate in an exhibition of Russian art in America. The master continued to participate in the life of the motherland, but in his works there was no longer any Russian power, no courage, no dynamism and selflessness.
The figures of the protagonists of the painting “Carpet-Aircraft” (1919-1926, the House-Museum of V. M. Vasnetsov, Moscow) - Ivan Tsarevich and Elena the Beautiful, flying against the background of an alarming scarlet firmament, look absolutely motionless and sad, although, according to the plot of the tale, lovers have just fled from enemies. The idea of escape is also the main one in the work of Sivka-Burka (1917-1926, V.M. Vasnetsov’s House-Museum, Moscow). But for some reason, a magic horse, capable of one jump into the high tower, even though his rider flutters a caftan from a gallop, looks frozen and unnatural.
The same theme of detachment and sadness is felt in the painting “Tsarevna-Nesmeyana” (1916-1926, the V.M. Vasnetsov House Museum, Moscow), and in the painting “The Sleeping Princess” (1900-1926, the House-Museum B M. Vasnetsova, Moscow). The latter depicts a beautiful wooden palace surrounded by a dark forest. And the princess on her snow-white throne, and her servants, and birds, and animals, are immersed in an unbroken dream. The plot of the picture is an alloy of two similar literary works: The Sleeping Beauty by S. Perrot and Tales of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights by A. Pushkin. Vasnetsov’s decorative talent manifested itself unusually vividly, because everything was decorated with patterns and ornaments here: the princess’s luxurious brocade outfit, and the costumes of her servants and buffoons, and black-and-white dresses, and a little sarafan dress for a little barefoot girl who fell asleep right on the steps embracing “Pigeon” a book. "
Even the bed on which the princess spun fateful yarn has a patterned back, richly decorated with carvings with images of deer, lions, griffins and alkonosts. Pillars, walls, platbands, arches and other architectural elements of the palace-tower are decorated with various bright colors and covered with all kinds of patterns. The abundance of symbolic details, such as the fallen spindle or brocade shoe of the young princess, a stake stuck in the ground with a black cloak and a goat’s skull, even a berdysh and the hero’s helmet lying at a distance, as well as poppies that sprouted through the slots of the floorboards, are called to tell us about what preceded the sad event.
Only the painted human faces depicting the bride and groom, as well as decorating the central pillars of the terrace, give hope for the awakening of the princess when, finally, the knight who is dear to her heart arrives here. These ancient Russian ornamental animals and plant motifs, which were previously used by the painter in other works and even in the decoration of temples, are combined here into a single magical symphony of color and expressive elegant rhythms and lines.
The end of the tale
All the work of Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, subject to the law of ancient Russian beauty, became an important stage in the development of the Neo-Russian style in national art, from which our modernism subsequently arose. The painter said: "Everything great in art, which has become universal, has grown on national soil." Vasnetsov’s works had a huge impact on a whole generation of painters, and the epic and fabulous images embodied in his paintings later became the basis of many visual-plastic solutions in our domestic cinema.
The brilliant painter, decorator, illustrator and architect Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov passed away in his house in Moscow on July 23, 1926. He is buried in Vvedensky cemetery, and the works he created became a national treasure, reflecting the heroism and depth of soul of our people.
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