A Russian artist in Center Asia
In 2004 it was 100 years since the date of death of the Russian artist, Vasiliy Vereshagin.
It is impossible to imagine Russian, and not only Russian painting, without the name of Vasiliy Vasilievich Vereschagin. His pictures were admired by some and bridled by others. He hated the art, which was directed "exclusively at decorating and consoling". The heavy truth about the bloody war looks barefacedly, even severely from his pictures. It has forced the bravura beauty of traditional battle-painting, where the commander on a mettlesome horse, occupying half of the canvas, looks proudly at the armies moving in a parade order, among the effectively arranged gunpowder smokes and breaks to grow dull. Vereschagin dissociated himself from such painting with indignation, almost contemptuously: "It was offending to me that these paintings were named (the matter concerns a series devoted to the Russian-Turkish war for the liberation of Bulgaria) as battle-paintings - what an academic nickname! - these are pictures of Russian life, Russian history..."
He, the painter and soldier, the ethnographer and patriot, the traveler which traveled nearly half the world, a bright and courageous Russian man, passionately asserted: "I am a painter, who never wrote and will not write any painting on demand of even the most important persons of consequence... My paintings are not written in favour of any tendency, but sincerely correspond to my belief".
Having studied in the Naval College and completed it as the best student, Vereschagin simultaneously, from the second college year, started to attend classes in the drawing school of the Society of art encouragement. Then, in 1860 (year of graduation from college), despite the fervent protests of his family, counting in its clan more than one generation of warriors-defendants of Fatherland, joined the Academy of applied arts. Having quit the Academy in 1863, he immediately left for Caucasus, where he wrote military episodes on location, but then left for Paris feeling insufficiency of artistic mastery. He studied with the known artist J.Jerome in the Studio of fine arts. However, in 1865 Vereschagin was seen again on Caucasus, he drew dwellings, monuments of architecture, bazaars, but mainly people: the Kalmyks, Kazakhs, Lezghins, Armenians...
Among this multitude his pencildrawing sticks to one's memory, it is called "The Religious procession of Muslims-Shiites on the Moharrem holiday in Shush", about which V.V.Stasov has written prophetically: "the mass, its suffering, its darkness and misunderstanding of itself - this is the program of the whole future Vereschagin". This Vereschagin "will be born" after a two-year stay in Central Asia (not as a contemplator - a participant of fights and events as an ensign under the governor). Tashkent, Samarkand, the Kirghiz and Kazakh steppes, the Kokand kingdom - the load of impressions was so great, that the artist left for Munich, equipped a special workshop there and created the Turkestan series which made him famous where the war appeared in all the contemporary and "medieval" horror.
The last work of the series "Apotheosis of war" - a pile-pyramid of skulls filling the picture almost entirely, - is devoted "to all the great conquerors of the past, present and future". Having been presented on a special exhibition, the Turkestan series has made a public explosion. It has brought tremendous glory and… indignation. Being infuriated by the painting called "Forgotten" (an unburied Russian soldier lying alone), a certain general furiously assured that there were no such cases in his army. A certain Tyutryumov spread a rumour, that, as they say, Vereschagin has employed the local artists in Munich and they have written all the paintings. The defamation was so great that Vereschagin has destroyed three canvases with his own hands including the "Forgotten". It is difficult to imagine, what would have happened with the passionate, proud nature of the artist - fervent realist if the advancers who were at the height of their fame would not have defended him.
He continued his work in India - with peaceful pictures of Bombay, Agra, Delhi, poor mountain princedoms - Sikimma and others. He reported to Russia: "There is a multitude of etudes, and even more of the forethought... What I hope to make with the help of these etudes, as I think, will not only have an English-Indian but also a universal significance".
The artist Vereschagin has phrased his aim like this: "Some spread the idea of peace with the aid of their fascinating powerful word, other advocates put forward different arguments in its defense: religious, economic and others, while I propagate this by means of paints". He served this aim faithfully till the last minute of his life. As soon as Vereschagin received a message about the beginning of the Russian-Japanese war - he was already with the seamen, about whom the artist (the pupil of the Naval College all the same) wanted to write a poem. However, destiny made cruel arrangements: Vasiliy Vasilyevich Vereschagin was killed together with admiral Makarov on the "Petropavlovsk" battleship.
Source: Time Out