19th Century Russian Art


[ Russian History ]


Three artists of the 19th century, Konstantin Makovsky, Vasily Surikov, and Ilya Repin, drew inspiration from Russia's rich past, especially some of its more colorful epochs, and were enormously popular in their own day.

Makovsky (1839-1915) was both a member of and a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy where he came "to specialize in...elaborate historical tableau..." that he "adapted to Russian subjects...." (Nash 18) His hallmarks were painstaking and accurate recreations of historical events with detailed depictions of costumes and setting, intended to bring his subject to life. (18) Art historians comment on his vivid "flair for decoration" and "robust" style. (18) According to Dr. Nash, Makovsky's works reflect the tendency in late 19th century Russian art to romanticize national identity through colorful and dramatic portrayals of historical subjects. (21) Although he took certain liberties in his depiction, for example of costume, his 19th century audience was "seduced by Makovsky's cornucopia of rich visual sensations." (21)

Three of his most famous canvases address the topic of Tsar Alexis' selection of a bride (The Choosing of a Bride [ 1885,]) The Russian Bride's Attire (1889,) and The Boyar Wedding (1883.) According to legend, Alexis chose Eufemia Vsevolodskaia, but political shenanigans by Boris Morozov, led to a series of fainting spells by Eufemia and her subsequent exile (along with her father) to Siberia. Maria Miloslavskaia emerged as the lucky winner; coincidentally (?) Maria's younger sister, Anna, married the ubiquitous Boris Morozov, who thus enhanced his influence with the young Tsar. For our purposes in Russian History, I have not placed the paintings in historical order . On the left, below, the boyars celebrate the wedding.

left graphic, The Choosing of the Bride (Nash 20) right graphic, The Russian Bride's Attire (19)

In the graphic to your right above, young Alexei designates his choice. In the graphic left, below; Maria Miloslavskaia has her hair brushed while chatting with her sister Anna, at her feet. The Russian Bride's Attire was much admired by San Francisco millionaire, M. H. de Young who purchased the painting and hung it in his San Francisco home on California Street for many years. It is worth looking at the detail in the latter to understand more fully Makovsky's attention to detail, as seen in his depiction of the young boy at the left of the painting and of Maria and Anna in the center of the painting. (See below)

< http://www.artnet.com/ag/artistdetails.asp?aid=11008 > < http://histclo.hispeed.art/ind/art-mak.html >

Ilya Repin (1844-1930) demonstrated an artistic aptitude as a boy and received early training in his Ukrainian homeland as an icon painter. He entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1863, his arrival in the capital coinciding with an exciting, vibrant time in the reign of Alexander II (the Tsar-Liberator freed the serfs in 1861) and a certain rebellious spirit among the Russian intelligentsia. While Repin was especially gifted in portraiture and was not as engrossed in romantic pictorial recreations of historical subjects as Makovsky, he nevertheless achieved considerable fame for several of his canvases that dramatize moments in Russian history.


One of his paintings, Krestny Khod (Religious Procession) in Kursk Gubernia, presents a dramatic, vivid, picture of a group of diverse participants in a parade following an icon famous for its miraculous properties.

< http://www.abcgallery.com/R/repin/repin8.html >

Two of Repin's most famous paintings are powerful emotional renderings of characters or events in Russian history. One is his dramatic Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan (1885); the other is Tsarevna Sophia Alexeevna in the Novodevichy Convent (1879.) Both should be familiar. For the painting of Ivan killing Ivan, Repin chose two friends to act as his models; this was his custom in his various historical paintings. When Repin displayed the Ivan picture at the Thirteenth Exhibition of the Society of the Traveling Exhibitions, he received both priase and criticism. One of Repin's friends wrote, "'What is expressed and emphatically accentuated is the incidental character of the murder! ....the father cries out in horror, dashes to his son and has seized him! ....he raises him upon his knees...but blood flows in a gush between the finger slits.... the father stains the upper half of his face with blood.... How it is painted, God how it is painted!'" (Bogulawski 1-2) It is impossible not to be struck by the intensity of this painting.

< http://www.rollins.edu/Foreign_Lang/Russian/repin2.jpg > < http://www.abcgallery.com/R/repin/repin22.html >


Repin produced dozens of portraits of his contemporaries, notable among them ones of Leo Tolstoy and other luminaries of the artistic world. Another noteworthy convas is Barge Haulers of the Volga (1870-1873,) which always reminds me of the "Yo, Heave Ho" song

< http://www.abcgallery.com/R/repin/repin71.html >

And the ever-popular The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mahmoud IV (1880-1991.) The Zaporozhian cossacks played an active role, as you know, in the great serf uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries. Cossacks Bogdan Khmnelnitsky and Stenka Razin were important figures in the history of their era, as Russka alludes to several times in the stories of Andrei and Pavlo. The event portrayed in Repin's painting refers to the resistance of the Zaporozhian cossacks to the demands of Sultan Mahmoud that they submit to his (i.e.Ottoman/Islamic) authority. If you want to read the contents of the Sultan's letter to them and/or their reply to him, go to
< http://www.kresy.co.uk/zaporoze.html > Their exchange of insults is quite colorful!



< http://www.abcgallery.com/R/repin/repin75.html >

Surikov's The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak (1895) commemmorates a 16th century victory of the Cossack adventurer, Yermak, as he led his troops triumphantly across the Volga River (1581.) The defeat of the Muslim Khan, coming as it after Ivan IV's conquests of Kazan and Astrakhan opened the Siberian frontier to runaway serfs and subsequent Russification in the coming decades and centuries.

< http://www.abcgallery.com/S/surikovbio.html >

Surikov chose the Cossack Hosts once again in a large canvas, Stepan Rasin [sic], showing the Don Cossack returning from victories against the Crimean Tartars and Ottoman Turks in the 1660's. He later devoted his energies to combatting (or attempting to combat) the inexorable spread of tsarist authority and autocracy into the southern steppe, leading a serf rebellion in 1670-1671. Rival chieftains betrayed him and Stenka was captured and executed in 1671. You will recall that the villagers at Dirty Place (Russka, chapter 7) lived in fear of cossack raids, in particular those that might be led by Stenka Razin.

< http://www.abcgallery.com/S/surikovbio.html >

In 1887, Surikov painted the angry, indeed irate, Boyarynya being taken into exile after the proclamation of the Raskol in 1667. In Boyarynya Morozova, she raises her right hand with the famous two-fingers, identifying herself defiantly as an Old Believer. According to historical accounts, Feodosiya Morozova (née Sokovnina) had secret links with Arch-Priest Avvakum himself. She and her sister were both arrested and sent into Siberian exile. Tsar Alexis intended to make an example of her and execute her for treason, but later commuted the sentence to exile in 1671.

< http://www.abcgallery.com/S/surikovbio.html >

In the painting, Menshikov in Berezova (1883,) Surikov shows the old warrior and pal of Peter the Great in exile in Berezovo where the short-reigned Peter II sent him, after confiscating his estates. Menschikov's crime, in the eyes of the young tsar, was involvement in the torture and murder of his father, the Tsarevich Alexis, as well as hubris in trying to force upon Peter II a marriage with his own daughter Maria. Surikov captures the essence of this once-great and powerful cronie of the Great Tsar and Emperor, Peter I.

< http://www.abcgallery.com/S/surikovbio.html >

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Bobulawski, Alexander. "Ilya Efimovich Repin: Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan: November 16, 1581." Online available.
< http://www.rollins.edu/Foreign_Lang/Russian/repin.html >

Matvaev, Olga and Helen. Olga's Gallery. Online available.
< http://www.abcgallery.com >

Nash, Dr. Steven. "A Russian Masterwork Returns to View." Triptych. September/October, 1991.

Wagner, Christopher. "Russian Boys' Clothing." Historical Boys' Clothing.2001. Online available.
< http://histclo.hispeed.art/ind/art-mak.html >