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Ivanovich Surikov was born in Krasnoyarsk into a family of Siberian
Cossacks, whose ancestors came to conquer Siberia with Yermak in the
16th century (The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak). The future artist grew
up among brave and solid people, in severe natural conditions. Surikov
said later that Siberia gave him the ideals of historical characters,
spirit, strength and health.
He received his first art lessons from his school teacher,
N.V.Grebnev, who, seeing the talent of the boy, started to work with him
individually. After finishing school in 1868, the young man left for
St. Petersburg on horse-back to join the Academy. He spent a year on his
journey, because on his way he made frequent stops in the ancient towns
through which he passed. In 1869, he entered the Academy of Art, where
he studied excellently.
In 1874, Surikov painted his first historical work The Knyaz's
(Grand Duke's) Court of Law, in 1875 - Apostle Paul explains the
Christian Dogmas to Agripinna and his sister Berenice. That year he
received commissions for four big paintings for the Cathedral of Christ the
Savior in Moscow.
To fulfill the commissions Surikov moved to Moscow,
where he settled permanently.
with its old architecture, impressed the artist deeply. The views of
the Red Square, monasteries and cathedrals, Kitay-Gorod called to mind
dramatic historical events. 'When I moved to Moscow, this center of the
nation, I immediately found my way in art.' - Surikov. On impulse, he
started the big historical canvas Morning of Strelets' Execution
(finished in 1881). This painting defined the main direction of his work
- depiction of Russians in turning points of their history. The next
big painting, Menshikov in Berezovo, dealt with the personal
drama of an outstanding politician. Once a mighty courtier, the right
hand of Peter the Great, now an exile, Surikov's Menshikov impresses the
viewers with his strong personality. Surikov's wife sat for Menshikov's
daughter, Maria, who is beside her father wrapping herself in a fur
After the collector of Russian art Pavel Tretyakov bought both of
Surikov's canvases, the artist had money to go abroad. He visited
Germany, Italy, France, Austria, studying and admiring the rich
collection and different schools of painting, drawing and painting his
impressions. The interesting fact is that while getting foreign
impressions, the artist thought out his next work from Russian history Boyarynya Morozova. On his return Surikov started the work on this canvas.
In 1887, Surikov's wife died. Her death caused him a deep depression: he
gave up painting, turned to religion, and left with his children for
Siberia. The atmosphere, familiar from childhood, and the caring
attitude of his friends restored him to life. In 1891, in Siberia,
Surikov painted his most joyous picture Taking of a Snow Fortress,
which shows a Siberian game in which a horseman must jump over a snow
wall, defended by young people with twigs and whips. This cheerful
painting is an exception in his art, all other paintings by Surikov are
After the Taking of Snow Fortress Surikov started painting The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak
(1895). The battle of the 16th century between the Cossacks under their
ataman (commander) Yermak Timofeevich and the troops of Kuchum-Khan,
the ruler of Siberia, he showed with reliability of a witness. Another
big canvases, devoted to Cossacks is Stepan Rasin (RAH-zin), which depicts the moment of the Cossacks return from a successful campaign against Persia.
Besides historical pictures Surikov created many portraits and
self-portraits which show the gift of the master and his interest into
the inner world of his models.
Surikov executed only nine historical canvases out of hundreds of
portraits, studies, and sketches, but he is still considered Russia's
greatest historical painter.
Surikov is represented in the following collections: State Tretyakov
Gallery, Moscow; State Russian Museum, St Petersburg; Irkutsk Regional
Art Museum, Russia; National Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan; Nizhni
Novgorod Art Museum, Russia; Joslyn Art Museum, Nebraska, amongst
Sphinx Fine Art,
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