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Mikhail Vrubel

1856 - 1910.  Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel was born in the Omsk city (Siberia) into a military lawyer's family and later graduated from the Law Faculty of St. Petersburg University in 1880. Next year he entered the Imperial Academy of Arts, where he studied under direction of Pavel Tchistyakov. Even in his earliest works, he exhibited striking talent for drawing and highly idiosyncratic outlook. Although the young artist still relished academic monumentality, he would later develop a penchant for a fragmental composition and an "unfinished touch".

In 1884, Mikhail was summoned to replace the lost 12th-century murals and mosaics in the St. Cyril's Church of Kiev with the new ones. In order to execute this commission, he went to Venice to study the medieval Christian art. It was here that, in the words of an art historian, "his palette acquired new strong saturated tones resembling the iridescent play of precious stones". Most of his works painted in Venice have been lost, because the artist was more interested in creative process than in promoting his artwork.

In 1886, Vrubel returned to Kiev, where he submitted some monumental designs to the newly-built St Vladimir Cathedral. The jury, however, failed to appreciate the striking novelty of the artist’s work, and it was rejected. At that period, he executed some delightful illustrations for Hamlet and Anna Karenina which had little in common with his later dark meditations on the Demon and Prophet themes.

vrubel1.jpg While in Kiev, Vrubel started painting sketches and watercolours illustrating the Demon, a long Romantic poem by Mikhail Lermontov. The poem described the carnal passion of "an eternal nihilistic spirit" to a Georgian girl Tamara. At that period Vrubel developed a keen interest in Oriental arts, and particularly Persian carpets, and even attempted to imitate their texture in his paintings. In 1890, Vrubel moved to Moscow where he could best follow innovative trends in art. Like other artists associated with the Art Nouveau, he excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such as ceramics and stained glass. The Russian artist also produced architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes. In 1896, he fell in love with the famous opera singer Nadezhda Zabela. A half of a year later they married and settled in Moscow, where Zabela was invited by Mamontov to perform in his private opera theatre. While in Moscow, Vrubel designed stage sets and costumes for his wife, who sang the parts of the Snow Maiden, the Swan Princess, and Princess Volkhova in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas. Falling under the spell of Russian fairy tales, Vrubel executed some of his most acclaimed pieces, including Pan (1899), The Swan Princess (1900), and Lilacs (1900).

In 1901, Vrubel returned to the demonic themes in the large canvas Demon Downcast. In order to astound the public with underlying spiritual message, he repeatedly repainted the demon's ominous face, even after the painting had been exhibited to the overwhelmed audience. At the end he had a severe nervous breakdown, and had to be hospitalized to a mental clinic. Vrubel's mental illness was getting worse and started affecting the artist’s vision which forced him to stop painting. Mikhail Vrubel died in St. Petersburg in 1910.

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