Vasily Surikov: Painting Russian history

June 20, 2022
The educational website Arzamas on Vasily Surikov, a 19th century artist famous for his paintings that still shape the visualization of Russia’s history today.
“Why we love Surikov” is an article on the Arzamas portal about the work of Russian artist Vasily Ivanovich Surikov (1848-1916).

Surikov is a distinguished artist of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) movement, a community of Russian painters in the second half of the 19th century. In the 1870s and 1880s, historical paintings became the calling card of the Peredvizhniki, and Surikov was no exception. But contemporaries didn’t appreciate his work. In particular, he was criticized for ignorance of the rule of perspective. Art expert Galina Elshevskaya explains that Surikov used this closed form technique not by mistake: “The space in the artist’s paintings will always be closed because this is the space of history. History is something that doesn’t happen to us, and we have no access to it.”

When painting, Surikov studied historical sources in depth. Yet he deliberately made “mistakes” that transcend a realistic depiction of reality. Russian critics of Surikov's time were accustomed to judging a historical work from a position of who was right or wrong. Why does the artist romanticize the noblewoman Morozova or the Streltsy, who were wrong? But there are no good or bad figures in Surikov – only uniquely personal human experiences.

Members of the Knave of Diamonds arts association, a circle of early avant-garde artists in 1911-17, thought highly of him. They believed that Surikov’s historical scenes were accidental, and he had only sought to fill the canvas. And Surikov himself admitted that his paintings were born from impulses: a crow in the snow became Boyarina Morozova; a candle seen in the morning against the backdrop of a white shirt The Morning of the Streltsy Execution and a dreary time spent at the dacha in rainy weather Menshikov in Berezovo.

Digest written by the Russia.Post editorial team. See the original here.
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