Art in 19th Century Russia
Russia in the 19th century was a time of many changes and rapidly becoming a socialist environment - Art in 19th Century Russia introduction. Such changes led to an incredible surge in the appreciation and support of new music and art. These surges did not go by unnoticed of course. The writers, musicians, and artists of this time have become common household names all across the world. As a musician, I was familiar with Borodin, Mussogorsky and Tchaikovsky long before studying Russian history. The same applies to Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy in the world of literature and poetry.
These artists, no matter how they portrayed their message, all had in common that they were empowering the average citizen of Russia. As discussed in class, Tolstoy preached that happiness lies in the life of a common man, while artists like Ilja Repin captured even the most hidden of emotions in his artwork of common folk and historical figures alike, and all the while the “Mighty Five” composers shared the common theme that their music was mostly based on folk tunes.
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There is no doubt that Russia is nearing a time of great change, the revolutionaries are fighting for the peoples’ empowerment and the younger generation is being educated by the philosophies of Karl Marx in Germany to support these ideas. The surge of art and the complete change in style, with respect to the Russian Icons, begins in the 18th century with Peter the Great. During his time as a ruler, he promoted the European style of art and way of life and kick started the Russian Baroque period. The system Peter established highly influenced the education of art in schools and was controlled by the art institutions of St.
Petersburg. This control continued for the next 100 years and it was not until after the time of Nicholas I, when censorship had reached a peak in response to the outcry of educated citizens and the rise of revolutionary groups, where we start to see change. Alexander II was responsible for many reforms in the mid 19th century. He enabled a “sweeping transformation of life brought about by the emancipation of the serfs” as Land of the Firebird describes and additionally began to implement many liberal policies that would reduce censorship in the arts.
In fact, he promoted everyone to attend universities and as a result a massive amounts of students began to discuss more potential for reform. The philosophy of Europe was quickly travelling and becoming a very popular discussion. This is important as it lays a foundation for The Wanderers, the group of art students who revolutionized Russian art. After the assassination of Alexander II, the gap between the Slavophiles and Westernizers was widening.
This is where The Wanderers become very important, their views of the conflict become apparent in their art where you see many paintings glorifying the Slavic days as with Viktor Vasnetsov versus the “realist” and progressive artist Ilya Repin. The Wanderers differed somewhat in their views but the common theme among all of them is they all had their own method of voicing their views of the future of Russia. Vasnetsov was considered a key component for the “Revival Movement” which believed in preserving the Byzantine architecture and art style . His art attempted to recreate the days of Kiev Rus in his art.
Arguably, his most famous painting is Three Bogatyrs. Of Vasnetsov’s work I enjoy this one the most as I feel he did a wonderful job of capturing a historical moment that he was not even alive to see. I find this to be something only a truly great artist would be able to achieve. This of course is not the only painting of Vasnetsov that captures a moment in history, that is the recurring theme of his artwork and I can imagine the Slavophiles of the time found his work to be just what Russia needed. In addition to his historical paintings, he also was known for his religious paintings .
In the mid-late 1880s he was commissioned by St. Vladimirs Cathedral (a large cathedral built in 1852 to commemorate the 900th anniversary of Figure [ 1 ] Three Bogatyrs Figure 1 Three Bogatyrs the baptism of Vladimir the Great of Kiev) to paint murals throughout. As expected, this was an exciting opportunity for Vasnetsov as gave him the opportunity to showcase his artwork comparable to that of the ancient churches of Kiev. He ended up painting many historical figures such as Princess Olga, Prince Vladimir, and many others. Now on, what some may consider, the other end of the spectrum I took an interest in Ilya Repin.
Repin was well known for capturing historical moments of the times as well as the lives of common folk. It is a bit more unclear what Repin’s themes were as he was known to have many. According to , he was often criticized for being inconsistent in his theme and his response was “Maybe they are right, but I love diversity and I can’t run away from myself. ” Personally, I find his themes of the comparison between social classes to be the most interesting. His most famous piece was called Barge Haulers on the Volga. It displays a group of peasants using ropes tied to their bodies to pull a barge on the Volga River.
Firstly, as it can be seen, the painting demonstrates a phenomenal sense of realism and there is a very high level of detail. However more importantly, what makes this painting so interesting is the background of it. Repin did not just paint arbitrary people, each person in the painting has a background and a story of their own. This leads to a deeper connection to them and the troubles they’re facing, causing more sorrow and sympathy for those shown. The reception for the painting was mixed, as some artists thought the piece was made to induce pity for peasants which could have been considered blasphemous at the time.
On the other hand, and the more popular opinion, many people realized that Repin was only trying to show the types of people he would see and not explicitly induce pity through the painting. Overall the work is very critically acclaimed and appreciated. Most of Repin’s work is psychologically engaging, showing the trouble with the current society and from this it is inferred this was his message in his artwork. In the 20th century, the USSR glorified Repin for this reason, as his artwork was considered to support the motifs for the Russian Revolution.