7 Most Famous Paintings of Russian Artists

Valentin Serov. Girl with peaches.

These paintings are known to every Russian person since childhood. They are an integral part of Russian culture. And if you are interested in it, it is important to know these pictures.

1. The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Bryullov (1833)

Karl Bryullov. Last day of Pompeii.
Karl Bryullov. Last day of Pompeii. 1833. The State Russian Museum, Saint-Petersburg.

The Russians know about the tragedy of Pompey primarily thanks to Karl Bryullov (1799-1852).

Once he made a splash in both Italy and Russia with his masterpiece. And all because he found an amazing balance between truth and fiction.

Bryullov depicted a real street. And even part of the heroes are real people. Bryullov saw their remains during excavations.

But the artist showed this catastrophe very … beautiful. Of course, it was not such in reality.

It turns out that the viewer sympathizes with these people. But not terrified of the terrible details. Unfortunate heroes of Bryullov are divinely beautiful even a moment before death.

“Last day of Pompeii” no one could surpass in popularity. The artist was immensely admired: after all, he divided the history of Russian painting into “before and after.” Since 1833, the whole world has started talking about Russian art.

2. The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky (1850)

Ivan Aivazovsky. Ninth Wave.
Ivan Aivazovsky. Ninth Wave. 1850. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Karl Bryullov said that he felt the salt on his lips when he looked at Ivan Aivazovsky’s “Ninth Wave”. Very realistic. But not everything is so simple.

Wave aprons DO NOT form on the high seas! Bends at the waves are formed only near the shore. Therefore, surfers on the high seas have nothing to do.

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) went to this trick to make the riot of nature … more spectacular. After all, like Bryullov, he was a romantic and praised the greatness of nature.

The Ninth Wave had every chance of becoming a masterpiece. Aivazovsky was the only Russian marine painter at that time. He worked incredibly masterfully. He also showed the sentimental tragedy of sailors.

Art Quiz

3. The Appearance of Christ to the People by Alexander Ivanov (1857)

Alexander Ivanov. The appearance of Christ to the People.
Alexander Ivanov. The appearance of Christ to the People. 1837-1857. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Alexander Ivanov (1806-1858) really wanted to outshine Karl with his “Last Day of Pompeii”. He took the canvas 2 times wider. And he worked 4 times longer (20 years against Bryullov’s five years).

But something went wrong. Nobody applauded Ivanov (although he hoped for it). The triumph did not take place.

The audience did not appreciate the series of 35 characters in multi-colored tunics.

In addition, the picture is difficult to “read”: after all, each of these characters has their own reaction to the first appearance of Christ!

Someone is happy. Someone doubts that this is the “Lamb of God.” And someone is angry, as a new competitor has been sought.

There is no spectacular riot of nature in Ivanov’s painting, as in artworks of Bryullov and Aivazovsky.

And there is no reason for sympathy for the tragic fate of the main characters.

The audience got used to special effects: they were not impressed. Well, in our time, Hollywood blockbusters are also more popular than author’s movie.

But in fact, Ivanov carried out a revolution alone in Russian painting. The transition from theatrical and pompous stories to the experiences of ordinary people.

And Russian realists (Repin, Kramskoy, Savrasov and others) became what we know them only thanks to Ivanov’s picturesque exploits.

4. The Rooks Have Come Back by Alexey Savrasov (1871).

Alexey Savrasov. Rooks Have Come Back.
Alexey Savrasov. Rooks Have Come Back. 1871. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Alexey Savrasov (1830-1897), like Alexander Ivanov, made a revolution. But more highly specialized: in the field of landscape.

The Rooks Have Come Back – this is the first mood landscape in the history of Russian painting.

The picture has one paradox.

On the one hand, the landscape … is boring and monochrome. What else can we expect from the end of March, and even in a well-groomed Russian outback?

Slush and gray color is a common thing for this time of year in Russia.

But in a magical way, all this seems sweet and sincere. The secret is to quietly direct the viewer to pleasant emotions.

After all, the artist chose a very interesting moment: it’s still cold, but warmth is about to come. We like this feeling of imminent change for the better.

Hence, pleasant sensations with almost no reason. We barely catch this reason.

Since Savrasov created his “Rooks” in 1871, almost all of Russian landscapes have been just that – poetic and lyrical.

5. The Barge Haulers on the Volga by Ilya Repin (1870-1873)

Ilya Repin. Barge Haulers on the Volga.
Ilya Repin. Barge Haulers on the Volga. 1870-1873. State Russian Museum, Saint-Petersburg.

“Barge Haulers on the Volga” is the main masterpiece of Ilya Repin (1844-1930). Although the artist created it when he was not even 30 years old.

The painting became especially popular in Soviet times. After all, such a plot fit the ideology of the oppressed. So the Russians saw this picture both in textbooks and on matchboxes.

Remember, I spoke above about the revolution of Alexander Ivanov? He was the first in Russian painting who depicted ordinary people and endow them with different emotions.

So Repin learned all the lessons of Ivanov. But he brought realism to the absolute.

Real barge haulers posed for the artist. We know their names and fates (these people are lucky: they went down in history).

Their appearance is incredibly believable. It is such clothing that becomes from many years of wearing and walking along the coastal windfall.

In this regard, Ivanov was still a classicist: the tunics of his heroes are too clean, as in a store window.

But not only the ragged look of the poor makes us sympathize with them.

The artist also painted a ship in the distance. Thereby, he tells us: the engines have already been invented, and people are still being brutally exposed. Yes, Russian artists liked to add this “Oh, how bad”.

6. The Girl with Peaches by Valentin Serov (1887).

Valentin Serov. Girl with peaches.
Valentin Serov. Girl with peaches. 1887. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Valentin Serov (1865-1911) was even younger than Repin, when he created The Girl with Peaches, his main masterpiece. He was 22 years old!

Apparently this is a feature of Russian artists – to give out their main creations in their youth.

But a completely different feature is striking in this work. It is created in the style of impressionism. And then, when Russians knew almost nothing about this direction of painting!

But Serov intuitively painted a picture with colored shadows, multi-colored reflexes (colored spots, reflections of some objects on others), visible strokes.

The plot is also in the spirit of Renoir and Monet: as if a girl, blushed in the fresh air, ran into the room and sat down for a moment to eat a peach.

Thanks to this picture, Impressionism timidly “knocked” into Russian painting. And the ubiquitous realism was a little off-set.

7. The Morning in a pine forest by Ivan Shishkin (1889).

Ivan Shishkin. Morning in a pine forest.
Ivan Shishkin. Morning in a pine forest. 1889. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Ivan Shishkin. Morning in a pine forest. 1889. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898) could afford to criticize other artists. So Ilya Repin got criticism from him. He scolded the incorrectly drawn trees in the painting “Barge Haulers on the Volga”.

Repin destroyed his first “Barge Haulers”. And in that picture, which we know, did not depict trees in order not to anger Shishkin.

Yes, Shishkin was a titan of realism. Its naturalness is amazing. Standing in front of his “Bears”, you can easily feel the morning humidity and hear the crackle of twigs.

Emerald moss, gray-blue fog and buffy trunks of old pines create an incredible aura of forest thicket.

Photography cannot do that. Therefore, it makes no sense to say that Shishkin realism is not needed in the era of snapshots. And the constant love of Russians for his “Bears” is a confirmation of this.

Postcryptum. About the history of Russian painting

Parsing these 7 stunning Russian masterpieces, we figured out the history of Russian painting.

At the beginning of the 19th century disasters were depicted, but not Russian: either the misfortunes of the ancient Romans (Bryullov), or the desperate struggle of foreign sailors with the rough sea (Aivazovsky). There are many theatrical passions in all this.

Then Alexander Ivanov created a quiet masterpiece: a lot of people and all with their own emotions. The work turned out to be a kind of mixture of realism and classicism (unrealistic tunics let the artist down).

Then the huge era of realism began in Russian painting (Repin, Savrasov, Shishkin) thanks to Ivanov.

And only Serov made a timid attempt to push realism aside, introducing a little impressionism into Russian art.

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