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 Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin  (1842 - 1904)

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Lived/Active: Russian Federation/Germany      Known for: portrait, figure, landscape and genre painting

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from Auction House Records.
THE TAJ MAHAL, EVENING
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Sotheby's London, New Bond Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

It is hard to exaggerate the sensation caused by Vereschagin's international exhibitions during his lifetime.  'He is undoubtedly the most original artist of all that Russia has produced' wrote Ivan Turgenev at the time of his extraordinarily successful Paris exhibition of Balkan and Indian paintings.  'No man has ever painted like Vereschagin', declared the art critic of the Viennese newspaper Fremdenblatt, 'He is essentially new –modern, in the profoundest sense of the word. He is of our century, however Russian in manner and subject. No earlier period could have produced him...'  This level of interest was matched in locations worldwide: the Prince of Wales personally invited Vereschagin to exhibit his Indian series in London in 1879; his 1881 Vienna exhibition attracted an unprecedented 110,000 visitors and even more flocked to see his work in Berlin.  When he died during the Russo-Japanese War, 'the whole world shook with the tragic news' noted one Russian newspaper.  'His painting created a tremendous impression... there was a special power in Vereschagin's art... in the consciousness of the viewer that in those powerful paintings beats the pulse of a passionate heart'. 

As Emile Cardon rightly noted in the Paris newspaper Soleil, what makes Vereschagin's oeuvre so fascinating, is that 'his work is his biography.  He has lived every one of his pictures, and he has often had to study at almost the cost of his life.'

His depiction of the Melnichnaya tower of Vologda's Spaso-Prilutsky monastery forms part of a series of sketches of Russia's ancient cities and their inhabitants which Vereschagin began in the 1880s after a period of extensive travel abroad.  He visited Yaroslav, Rostov, Kostroma and Makarev where, in addition to his painting in situ, the artist collected local artefacts and costumes which he would later exhibit alongside his paintings.  Although he was never an ardent or idealistic Slavophile, Vereschagin did publish several articles at this time calling for the preservation of Russia's ancient architecture. The art historian Mikhail Semevsky recalled the enthusiasm with which Vereschagin worked on this series, and his great affection for the ancient monuments: 'His easel, canvas and paints would appear in museums, places of worship, monasteries, on the street or in a church portico in sight of some distinctive entrance.... He works with remarkable speed, sketching everything he considers worth recording with astonishing accuracy'.  Characterized by well-defined under-drawing and a delicate, simple palette in harmony with the landscape, these sketches differ dramatically from the richly-worked treatment of his earlier oeuvre.  Executed predominantly in halftones and with a lightly-loaded brush, these mature studies underpin Vereschagin's respect for the purity and simplicity of life in provincial Russia.  They complement perfectly his cycle of portraits of the local inhabitants, which imbues the weather-worn faces of 'unremarkable people', as the artist described them, with great substance and inner worth.

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