Vasily Surikov. “Self Portrait”
HOW THE FLY HELPED HIM MAKE A CAREER
In 1897 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was exiled to the Siberian village of Shushenskoye. The leader of the proletariat was a connoisseur of painting, and while he was passing through Krasnoyarsk, he could not resist looking at the house in which Vasily Ivanovich Surikov was born. He looked at it and said: “Yes! Great people are not particularly shy about choosing a place for their birth!”
A beautiful phrase. But Vasily Ivanovich himself in his homeland seemed to be happy with everything. He came from an old Siberian Cossack family: one of his ancestors came to Siberia with Yermak’s army. As his granddaughter Natalya Konchalovskaya wrote, he was very fond of Siberian nature: since childhood he was addicted to hunting and fishing, spent all his free time on the banks of the Yenisei, loved to swim. He was a fighter. But he also loved to read and listen to adult stories. One day, the godmother told the story of the noblewoman Feodosia Prokopievna Morozova, naturally, not suspecting that it would eventually become one of the most famous paintings in the history of Russian painting …
However, Vasily began to draw even then. At first, when he was four years old, he would just scratch simple images on the furniture with a nail: fish or houses. Then I started doing pencil sketches. He was very lucky: in his school there was a good art teacher, Nikolai Grebnev, a graduate of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He noticed talent in the boy, began to show him albums with reproductions of great paintings, and helped him paint Siberian landscapes. Perhaps, if it were not for Grebnev, there would have been neither “The Capture of the Snowy City”, nor “The Crossing of the Suvorov Alps” …
“Suvorov Crossing the Alps”
One of the most powerful shocks for the young Vasya Surikov was the spectacle of public executions: in the middle of the 19th century they were carried out in Krasnoyarsk, either in the squares or outside the city. First, in front of the boy, they shot three men accused of arson, then a political prisoner, a Pole Flerkovsky. “During an officer’s roll call, he stabbed him with a knife. It was military time. He was sentenced. The boys ran after the car. They took him away from the city. He came out pale. They all yelled, “Do the same thing I did!” I fixed my shirt. He to die – and straightens his shirt. The ground swam right under my feet, as if a volley had been fired, ”Surikov told Maximilian Voloshin. And, of course, these gloomy episodes could not but be reflected in the most dramatic paintings by him – “The Morning of the Streltsy Execution” and “Boyar Morozova”.
And when Vasily was 20 years old, he worked as a scribe in the governor’s office, terribly longing for this boring job. Once, for fun, I drew a fly on a piece of paper and put it on the boss’s table. The picture turned out to be convincing: the governor tried several times to remove the insect from the sheet. And when he finally realized that he was dealing with an image, he became interested, summoned a young man to himself … And decided to help him get to St. Petersburg so that he could get a full education. I personally found a patron who was also impressed by Surikov’s works. And in 1868, Vasily went to the capital of the empire, to enter first the drawing school, and then the Academy of Arts. The journey of thousands of miles took two whole months. But the young man managed to see half of Russia.
“The Taking of Snowtown”
“MORNINGS…” HE WROTE “ALMOST UNDER THE SOFA”
Surprisingly, Vasily Ivanovich achieved the status of a classic only at the end of his life, in the 20th century; then he had enthusiastic fans from the Jack of Diamonds association, who began to praise him. And in the 19th century, when the best canvases of him were written, he was often criticized. Art critic Galina Elshevskaya said about him: “It was a commonplace to believe that he did not study well at the Academy and did not know the law of perspective at all.” Now we understand that it is Surikov’s compositions that are perhaps the most interesting: the space of his paintings is amazingly arranged. This really isn’t very similar to the work of other Wanderers, more like movie stills.
“The morning of the Streltsy execution” appeared to him like a scene from a movie: he was walking along Red Square, and suddenly the canvas simply “shone” before his inner gaze. Feeling a shudder of inspiration, Surikov rushed home and urgently began to draw sketches. The work on this giant canvas with multiple figures took him several years. He read everything he could about the Petrine era and became very moved by the image itself. “When I wrote Streltsov, I saw the most terrible dreams: every night I saw executions in a dream. Smells of blood everywhere. I was afraid of the night. Wake up and rejoice. Look at the photo. Thank God, there is no such horror in it. All I thought was not to disturb the viewer. And long after a day’s work in the painting, I dreamed of executed archers. They walked up to me with burning candles and bowed, and in a dream I smelled of blood “… Ilya Repin, a good friend of Surikov, insisted that at least one executed person should be depicted on the canvas, and Surikov even painted the figures of several archers killed, but then obliterated by horror.
“The Morning of Streltsy’s Execution”
The critic Nikolai Alexandrov, who talked with the artist during the creation of the canvas, later wrote: “Surikov, as we had to see, painted this colossal picture almost under the sofa. In a small room with low windows, the image was located almost diagonally across the room; and when he painted one part of the picture, he did not see the other, and to see the picture as a whole, he had to look at it from the side from another dark room. As a result, he was unable to achieve aerial perspective, avoid variegation in places, write freely on those parts of the image that were poorly lit, etc. However, Alexandrov himself called “Tomorrow …” a deeply artistic work.
Well, and then there was Boyar Morozova. Many people know the story of her creation, but it is not a sin to repeat it. According to the artist himself, “he once saw a raven in the snow… A raven sits in the snow and pushes its wing away, sits like a black spot on white. So I couldn’t forget this crow for many years. He closes his eyes – a raven sits in the snow. Then wrote Boyar Morozova. However, the face of the noblewoman was not given to her for a long time: she first painted the crowd, and then she worked long and painfully on the portrait of the heroine. She later said that the main sources of inspiration (besides the raven) were Nastasya Filippovna from The Idiot and her own aunt Avdotya Vasilievna, who began to “lean towards the Old Believers”. But all the same, the work did not go well until Surikov met a woman from the Urals, a teacher (that is, a laywoman admitted to reading sacred texts). In two hours he painted a portrait of her in the garden, and the picture suddenly turned out…
Vasily Ivanovich lived a long life. Direct descendants of him include Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky. By the way, with his grandfather (and his son-in-law) his, the artist Pyotr Konchalovsky, he made a very close friendship. Before his eyes, he died in 1916 from severe pneumonia. As Natalya Konchalovskaya wrote, at his last moment Vasily Ivanovich opened his eyes and found Pyotr Petrovich with them. He shook her hand. And “quietly but firmly” he said, “I’m fading.”