Victor Vasnetsov (1884 - 1926)



Victor Vasnetsov was born in a remote village of Vyatka suburb in 1848. His father Mikhail Vasilievich Vasnetsov, a village priest, was a well-educated man who was interested in natural science, astronomy and painting. Victor’s grandfather was an icon painter. Two of his three grandsons, Victor and Apollinaryi, became famous artists as well.

Since he was ten years of age, Victor studied in a seminary in Vyatka, each summer moving with his family to the rich merchants’ village of Ryabovo. During his seminary years, the young artist worked for a local icon shopkeeper. He also helped an exiled Polish artist, Michał Elwiro Andriolli, to paint frescoes for Vyatka's Alexander Nevsky cathedral.

Having graduated from the seminary, Victor decided to move to Saint Petersburg to study art. He auctioned a couple of his paintings in order to raise money for the trip to the former Russian capital.

In August 1867 Victor entered the Imperial Academy of Arts. Three years later, the Peredvizhniki movement of realism artists rebelled against the Academism.

Vasnetsov became a close friend with the movement leader Ivan Kramskoi. Later, Victor also became a very close friend to his fellow student Ilya Yefimovich Repin. Victor Vasnetsov, whose name is associated with historical and mythological paintings, initially avoided these subjects at all costs. The talented artist was awarded a silver medal for his graphic composition of Christ and Pontius Pilate in Front Of the People.

In the early 1870s he painted a lot of engravings depicting contemporary life. Two of them (Provincial Bookseller from 1870 and A Boy with a Bottle of Vodka from 1872) won him a bronze medal at the World Fair in London (1874). At that time he also started producing genre paintings in oil. Such pieces as Peasant Singers (1873) and Moving House (1876) were warmly accepted by democratic circles of Russian society.

In 1876 Repin invited Vasnetsov to join the Peredvizhniki colony in Paris. While living in France, Victor studied classical and contemporary paintings. Under the influence of the French art and culture, Victor painted Acrobats (1877), produced several dozen of prints, and exhibited some of his works at the Salon. It was in Paris when the Russian artist became fascinated with fairy-tale subjects and started to work on his first masterpiece of that genre called Ivan Tsarevich and a Grey Wolf. Vasnetsov was also a model for Sadko’s figure in Repin's painting Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom. Almost a decade later the artist returned back to Moscow.

In the late 1870s Vasnetsov concentrated his attention on illustrating Russian fairy tales and myths, presenting some of his best known paintings such as: Knight at the Crossroads (1878), Prince Igor's Battlefield (1878), Three Queens of the Underground Kingdom (1879-1881), The Flying Carpet (1880), and Alyonushka (1881).

All of these paintings were not appreciated at the time they appeared. Many radical critics dismissed them as undermining the realist principles of the Peredvizhniki. Even such prominent connoisseurs as Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov refused to buy them. The vogue for Vasnetsov's paintings would spread in the 1880s, when he turned to religious subjects and executed a series of icons for Abramtsevo estate of his patron Savva Mamontov.

In 1884-1889 Victor was commissioned to paint frescos in the St Vladimir's Cathedral of Kiev. This was a challenging work which ran contrary to both Russian and Western traditions of religious paintings. The influential art critic Vladimir Stasov labelled them a sacrilegious play with religious feelings of the Russian people. Another popular critic, Dmitry Filosofov, referred to these frescoes as "the first bridge over 200 year-old gulf that used to separate different classes of Russian society".

While living in Ukraine, Vasnetsov made friends with Mikhail Vrubel, who was also involved in the cathedral's decoration. It was in Kiev when Vasnetsov finally finished his now famous masterpiece called Ivan Tsarevich and a Grey Wolf and started his even more famous painting, the Bogatyrs (The Knights).

In 1885 the painter travelled to Italy. The same year he worked on stage design and costumes for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera, The Snow Maiden.

The following two decades were very productive for the famous Russian artist, but most of his later paintings were perceived as being of secondary importance. In 1897 he collaborated with his brother Apollinary on the theatrical design of another Rimsky-Korsakov premiere, Sadko. Victor Vasnetsov was commissioned in the 1910s to design a new uniform for the Russian military — the so-called bogatyrka, a Russian army headwear.

At the turn of the century, Vasnetsov elaborated his hallmark "fairy-tale" style of Russian Revivalist architecture. His first acclaimed design was a church in Abramtsevo (1882), executed jointly with Vasily Polenov. In 1894, the artist designed his own mansion in Moscow. Finally, in 1904, Vasnetsov designed the best known of his "fairy-tale" buildings — the Tretyakov Gallery.

Between 1906 and 1911, Vasnetsov worked on the design of the mosaics for Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Warsaw. In 1912, Vasnetsov was given a noble title by Czar Nicholas II.

Even prior to the Russian Revolution, Vasnetsov allocated a significant portion of his income to the State Historical Museum, so that a large part of the museum's collection was acquired on Vasnetsov's money. After the October Revolution he advocated removing some of the religious paintings (notably those by Alexander Ivanov) from churches to the Tretyakov Gallery.

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