Alexey Gavrilovich Venetsianov
Alexey Gavrilovich Venetsianov 1780-1847
The value of Alexei Venetsianov’s work for Russian art is extremely great. He became one of the first Russian artists who presented in their canvases the life of peasants and their images, full of spiritual nobility, beauty and great human dignity. Master of his tireless artistic and educational activities not only approved the everyday genre as an equal and important area of national art, but also created a new school for his time painting, educating in it more than seventy artists – peasant originists, in whose works the main was the reflection of the images of the native of the earth.
The future classic of Russian art Alexei Gavrilovich Venetsianov was born February 7, 1780 in a wealthy merchant family in Moscow. According to family tradition, the genus of Venetian was from Greece. The first place of their residence in Russia is the city of Nizhyn, where Alexey’s father, Gavrila Yuryevich, apparently moved to Moscow in due time. He was a middle-class merchant and traded in flowers, berries, jam and various seedlings. But apart from these agricultural goods brought to Moscow from nearby villages, he also sold paintings “made with dry colors, in gold frames behind the panes.” At that time in Moscow there were many self-taught artists, who, perhaps, supplied him with their simple creations.
Alexei Venetsianov studied at a private boarding house, where besides drawing the necessary sciences, painting was taught. It is known that from a young age the boy was engaged in painting with Prokhorych, an uncle-mentor from a lower class. The teacher and the pupil performed their pictures mainly in the pastel technique.
The family of Venetsianovs lived in Moscow on Vorontsovskaya Street, and there was also the house of the famous portraitist F. S. Rokotov. In the Russian art of the late 18th century, it was the genre of the portrait that was most developed, and Alyosha wanted to learn how to write in it. However, in those years the young man treated painting more as a hobby. On the instructions of his father, the young man entered the land survey department as a draftsman and painted occasionally, trying to learn how to paint portraits with oil paints, as did the famous Moscow masters. But Venetianov dreamed, in all likelihood, quite a different field, as he soon announced to his parents that he intended to go to Petersburg and start a new life in the capital. Gavrila Yuryevich did not forbid his elder son to leave his father’s house.
Difficult life in the capital
Before leaving Alexey created “Portrait of AL Venetsianova, the mother of the artist” (1802, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), painted in oil paints. The author introduced Anna Lukinichna in the same way that Rokotov represented his models – in a “carcass” (a kind of smoky halo). It is depicted in a cap with shining golden ribbons and a red iridescent silk dress. In his hands – a folded fan that goes beyond the picture. There is almost no space in the canvas, the Venetian figure seems flattened, but with special care the ruffles of the shawls and the folds of the dress are written out, and the warm reflexes on the hands and face are gently marked. The woman’s lips are closed in a half-smile, the soft look of the dark eyes is perfectly conveyed, in all appearance some embarrassment and confusion are read. This portrait the artist took with him to the northern capital, thanks to which the work was preserved, and not perished during the fire of 1812 in Moscow.
In the spring of 1802 Alexei Gavrilovich arrived in Petersburg. He tried to make a living by creating paintings in the pastel technique, and he applied to local newspapers. However, luck was not smiling at the naive Muscovite. Many Russian and foreign painters lived in the capital, as well as students of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts – and all sought to receive orders with the help of recommendations and links. In the end, Venetsianov was forced again to get a draftsman, but this time in the post office.
In his spare time, the young man continued to improve in the field of painting, and after one or two years he began to appear orders. One of the first metropolitan works is “Portrait of a Young Man in a Spanish Costume” (1804, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), made by pastel.
The black-haired, charming man, screwing up his eyes, looks at the spectators. Shining details of a blue silk fancy dress and reflexes trimmed with a thin transparent lace of a white collar make the picture elegant and festive. Harmonious coloring and a thoughtful lighting solution – a conditional neutral gray background behind the men and deep dark shadows that emphasize the soft side light – give the impression of some bulk of the figure. In the portrait there is still the same light mysterious haze, which makes the young man seem like a romantic theater hero.
Finding a Teacher
After living a few years in Petersburg, Venetsianov, passionately wishing to get new skills in painting, realized that without recommendations in this city, he could not achieve anything. How he enlisted the support of the chief director of the post office, D. P. Troshchinsky, under whose command he served, is unknown. But it was this official who introduced Alexei Gavrilovich to the famous Moscow painter VL Borovikovsky. He took Venetsianov not only to his disciples, but also to his house. Now the young painter besides work at the post was engaged in the workshop and constantly visited the Hermitage, copying the samples of world art. He also became interested in reading: he studied the treatise “On Painting” by D. Diderot and other books on art. The teacher introduced him to many capital masters of painting, for example, with the teacher of the Academy of Arts KI Golovachevsky.
In time, Venetsianov’s worldview has changed dramatically. Like most artists, he began to worry about social and moral problems. In December 1807 Aleksei Gavrilovich began to produce the “Journal of Cartoons”. Wanting to state the purpose of the publication as clearly as possible, he placed an epigraph into it: “Laughter corrects morals.” The new magazine consisted of prints from engravings and sheets with signatures to pictures. These were various caricatures and allegorical displays of the vices of the contemporary artist society. Most of the stories illustrated the works of the famous poet GR Derzhavin. The satirical magazine Venetsianova interested many readers and had an impressive subscription list. But already in January 1809 an impression from a new engraving of Velmozh depicting a fatigued lazy nobleman and degrading petitioners – a wounded soldier and widow with a child – did not pass censorship, provoking discontent among the Ministers of Internal Affairs and Education. With indignant comments, they sent a print to the office of Emperor Alexander I. The king immediately issued a decree to close the magazine, seizing all the numbers from the sale and ordered the author to erase all images from the copper engraving boards. The accusatory and ingenious plots of the artist so scared the powers that be, that the publisher was strongly advised to turn to his direct, that is, postal, activity.
The title of the artist
All this somewhat discouraged Venetsianov, he decided to leave the service in the post office and
moved to the Forest Department of the Office of State Property for the position of surveyor. At the same time Alexey Gavrilovich planned to get the official title of the artist. Being a student of Borovikovsky, who never studied at the Academy of Arts, Venetsianov also did not think about entering this famous educational institution. However, according to the charter of the Academy, even those who had never been its students, too, had the right to receive the title of academician of painting. To do this, they submitted their paintings to the contest, after which they received (or did not receive) permission from the commission to be “appointed” for the academic title.
Venetsianov suggested “Self-portrait” (1811, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), which was a strange and bold act. Nobody known artist for the “appointed” to the title of academician suddenly presented his own not bright, not ceremonial, but, on the contrary, a modest image. With a small belt portrait against the background of the conventional landscape, a rustic face in modest glasses looks. Alexei Gavrilovich with a spiritual gaze, as if thinking, stood frozen with a palette and a brush in his hands. However, the academic council at that time consisted of professionals in painting and in this seemingly simple work they saw a clear compositional balance, and the nature of the model, and a thoughtful coloristic decision.
Alexei Gavrilovich was given the title of “appointed” and an official assignment: he was to write a portrait of a certain teacher of the Academy of Arts. By chance, this man turned out to be a master whom Venetsianov knew well.
“Portrait of KI Golovachevsky, an inspector of the Academy of Arts, with three inmates” (1811, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) was created despite some rules of academic painting. The author of the composition did not make the picture hero himself, but his hand, lying freely on the open book. Thus, he stressed the idea of the work – a perfectly educated person presents a generous spiritual gift to his young disciples. However, in the rest, Alexei Gavrilovich relied on the traditions of classicism, highly valued within the walls of the Academy. Three pupils of Golovachevsky – allegories of three kinds of art: painting, architecture and sculpture. The artist solemnly, majestically and partly romantic portrayed the conversation of the mentor with the young creators, who was wise and experienced.
The Council of the Academy unanimously adopted this picture and on September 1, 1811 awarded Alexei Gavrilovich Venetsianov the title of academician of painting. He continued to work in the Forest Department, but now in the rank of provincial secretary. The new work almost did not leave free time for employment by creativity, which made the master very sad. In addition, the news of the death of his mother came from Moscow – and the artist was completely depressed. And in the summer of 1812 Napoleon’s troops invaded Russia.
St. Petersburg was flooded with refugees from Moscow, to which the Napoleonic troops were already approaching. Alexei Gavrilovich learned from acquaintances that his Moscow house with all the property was burnt, and the destiny of an elderly father is not known to anyone. Later, he learned that Gavrila Yurievich was miraculously alive. At that moment, Venetsianov, like a real patriot, could not stay away from the events and again attempted to publish sheets with satirical stories. He created seven etchings, painted by hand, in which he ridiculed the French, their mores and the fascination of Russian high society with all French.
This series includes, for example, etching “Activity of a Frenchwoman in a shop” (1812, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), which in its spirit and nature of the image goes back to folk popular pictures. Funny sheets in difficult war years were in great demand, and censors, like the whole country, experiencing a surge of patriotic feelings, went around their attention to satire. In peacetime this would not have happened – very many higher-ranking officials treated the master with disdain.
And after the war, the artist had little creative work, preferring to walk alone through the city in dark evenings. In 1815, his life suddenly changed dramatically. Thirty-five-year-old academician of painting, who considered himself an inveterate bachelor, was carried away by Martha Afanasievna Azaryeva and soon married her. This woman came from a poor noble family, her parents had an estate in the Tver province, where they invited the newlyweds to stay after the wedding. And when Venetsianov, who saw only Moscow and Petersburg in his life, was among dense, cold and moist forests, he immediately realized that he wanted to stay in this land forever.
While the family lived in St. Petersburg, Alexei Gavrilovich traveled around the province in search of a suitable and affordable property and, in addition, continued to work in the Department of Forestry. The wife gave him two daughters – Alexandra and Felicata, while the poor woman was constantly ill, feeling bad because of the dank climate in the capital. Finally, the artist acquired a small estate of Safonkovo in the Tver Province and began to prepare slowly for resettlement. But one day, Alexei Gavrilovich, returning from work, stumbled on a slippery pavement in Petersburg, fell and broke his arm. The breadwinner could no longer go to the service, he had to quit, so the family immediately left Petersburg and went to their estate.
In the spring of 1819 the Venetian people began a new happy life among the Tver forests. Alexey Gavrilovich was engaged in agriculture, delving into the subtleties of land reclamation and four-field plowing, animal husbandry and even the construction of a dairy. The newly-minted landlord constantly communicated with the peasants, observed them, their way of life and work. Such changes in life brought a fresh stream to the artist’s work.
The first masterpiece
Soon, Venetsianov conceived the idea of creating a multi-figure composition, in which people’s activity would necessarily be represented in a certain interior. The picture “Gumno” (1821-1822, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) Alexei Gavrilovich wrote from life. Wanting to light the room, and in a natural way, he ordered the peasants to cut out the front wall. The painter left in the foreground the canvas of the edge of fresh cut logs, and in the center on the floor placed a broom and brush, making them a kind of reference point for measuring the depth of the room. Inside the threshing floor there are peasants, tools and the results of their work and even horses. As if the frozen heroes are actually imprinted at the moment of action, why the composure so clearly expresses the calmness and grandeur of their hard work. On the left in the foreground is a seated peasant woman, who laid aside the sickle and tiredly rewinds the grandsons. Near the harnessed horse stopped a young man, lazily watching his merchandise. On the right side, the peasants are led out of the threshing floor by another harnessed horse. At the same wall a group of peasants is located. In the foreground sits an elderly bearded man in a zip-up and bast shoes, and next to him are three women. One of them, leaning back with his head against the wall, sadly looks ahead. Soft diffused light, fuzzy shadows on the floor, accentuated by thin dark lines hanging on the wall of the belt whips, and retiring to the opposite wall of the horizontal folded logs give the whole work a good mood and leave the impression of the dimension of peasant labor.
Success and defeat
Having finished “Gumno”, Venetsianov felt emptied and soon fell ill. Gradually, his physical health recovered, but nervousness grew stronger every day. The artist decided to send his latest works to St. Petersburg for an academic exhibition. The implementation of this idea took away all emotional forces from him – the master experienced how his works would be perceived. The fact is that in the Academy of Arts “… there was in action a strict injunction of 1763 stating that the pupils, so as not to” spoil “the eye, were not allowed to even see, not what to write ordinary peasants.” And Alexey Gavrilovich intended to offer the academic council and the sophisticated metropolitan public a picture of the peasants engaged in their usual affairs.
One of them was the work “These are the ones and father’s dinner” (1824, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). Her main character is a touching barefoot little boy, sadly sighing over the spilled lunch he evidently carried to his father. In this chamber plot there is so much tenderness, warmth and good humor that his success is not surprising. Also, the rest of the canvases by Venetsianov presented at the academic exhibition were also positively accepted.
Very many, including titled, gentlemen now expressed their desire to patron a little-known but obviously gifted artist. He also heard a lot of flattering reviews of professionals about their work. Soon the academic exhibition was over, but Alexei Gavrilovich was not in a hurry to return to the estate. Feeling success and realizing the scale of his artistic skills, he set out to achieve the next academic title – a professor of perspective painting. Venetsianov summoned a spouse with his daughters and servants to his apartment. However, despite numerous promises of help and protection, there was practically no time for the family to live. Alexei Gavrilovich almost despaired and already wanted to return to Safonkovo, when the news came about the purchase of his picture “Gumno” by the emperor himself.
Soon, Venetsianov received from the Academy a program, which he had to fulfill for the title of professor, and began to work. Throughout the cold autumn of 1824, the winter and the beginning of the spring of 1825 the master tried to prove to his academic officers his professional solvency, but all four sketches of the perspective view of the Nevsky Monastery proposed by him were rejected. Exhausted by the failures and prolonged illnesses of his wife and daughters, Alexei Gavrilovich decided to return to his Tver estate.
Native Images a spacious workshop at home in Safonkovo artist was waiting for an unfinished picture, which he enthusiastically began to add.
“Sleeping Shepherd” (1823-1826, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) – the first canvas of Venetsianov, in which a man is depicted in nature. The shepherd-teenager is sleeping peacefully, leaning against the trunk of the birch. Masterfully written are the folds of his peasant clothes from unpainted flax and a calm face. All the free space of the canvas occupies the Central Russian landscape. A small, slightly overgrown river glistens, behind it a peasant woman with a rocker can be seen among the dense grass, and then the threshing barn rises. In the warm beauty of a summer day you can feel peace, true truth and love for your native land. This simple story with a familiar landscape for the Russian people is surprisingly transformed by a master into a poetic work that sings a beloved land.
But the estate stood for a whole year without its owner, and now it was necessary for Venetsianov to put aside canvases and paints and to engage in agriculture in order to support his family. Despite this, he continued to look for plots for his future paintings, having the opportunity to constantly observe the peasant life.
Once, while talking with neighbors, Alexei Gavrilovich found their serf-boy drawing on the board and was amazed at his skill. Soon he came to the idea that he should teach art-capable children the basics of painting and drawing. This required not only extra time, but also certain financial costs: after all, young artists had to be redeemed from their landlords, and later placed on their estate and deal with them. But nevertheless the master did not abandon his plan.
Even while renting an apartment in St. Petersburg, Venetsianov conceived to create a picturesque image of Motherland. Painting “On the plowed field. Spring (middle of the 1820s, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) is realistic and at the same time allegorical, since it is the image of the entire Russian land. A tall stately peasant woman in Russian national clothes barefoot walks stately in the plowed field and leads two horses, pulling the harrow. The low horizon line, rare bushes and small stones on the field only emphasize the monumental figure of a woman embodying spring activities. In the right part of the canvas, the child of the heroine sits in the grass. The image of the young peasant woman is romantic: this impression is created by the smooth bend of her body, and the expression of a gentle face. The landscape is quite realistic: a transparent light blue sky, a palpably damp dark earth and open expanses of an endless field. Harmonious combination of the truth of life and romantic fiction creates the basis of the whole work.
Venetsianov was often forced to stay outside the workshop and, doing business, every time discovered a new, previously unprecedented beauty of rural life. Thanks to this, he conceived his future pictures. Summer with his daily works in the field is displayed in the canvas “On the harvest. Summer “(mid-1820s, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The artist artistically divided the canvas into two parts. Downstairs, in the background, the peasants collect piles of fragrant hay. The uneven horizon line with the incoming shadows of the clouds underscores the vast expanses of the ripening field. In the foreground, on the plank floor of the open threshing floor, a peasant woman sits.
Resting from work, she is breastfeeding her child. Next to it is a sickle, and past her older children. The entire upper part of the canvas occupies an endless blue-white sky. The contrast of the reddish-golden field and the pale cold sky gives the picture an amazingly cheerful sound, expressively conveying the idea of the joy of simple human life.
In this work the master achieves a convincing depth of space thanks to a rhythmic combination of contours (plank floor, groups of working peasants and the horizon line) and verticals (the figure of the peasant woman sitting in the foreground, the dark squares of the already harvested rye, the shadow of the wooden structure on the left).
Venetsianov proved his professionalism in building the perspective, but the academic council did not appreciate this, rejecting his competition for the title of professor.
The royal commission and the school of Venetsianov
Meanwhile, it was the geometrical construction of the drawing, the most necessary component of any canvas, that Venetsianov taught his students, who had a lot. Among them were the future famous artists: A. V. Tyranov, S. K. Zaryanka, F. M. Slavyansky and many others. Alexei Gavrilovich not only helped these young men write pictures, but also fed, clothed and even gave out for their sons, when he ordered for them passes to the halls of the Hermitage, so that they could freely copy masterpieces of art. Future painters adopted from their mentor not only the skill of composing the composition and drawing, but also the love of “folk” subjects.
Throughout his life, Venetsianov captured the images of the peasants with great enthusiasm, but he only painted custom portraits until 1828. It was in this year that an unexpected turn took place in his life: at the personal invitation of Emperor Nicholas I the artist was urgently summoned from St. Petersburg to St. Petersburg. Arrived in the capital, the painter received a task from the tsar, which surprised and upset him.
It turned out that the Emperor Alexander I in 1819 invited the fashion painter George Dow from England to create a gallery of portraits of the heroes of the war of 1812. He turned out to be a good portraitist, but an avid artisan. The Englishman created a portrait of A. N. Golitsyn, however, after changing the rank of the prince, it was too lazy to rewrite the uniform. Dow just covered the painting with paper, on which new orders and insignia were painted on top. Paper on the princely portrait of the prince got unstuck at the most inopportune moment, a scandal arose. Therefore, Nicholas I called out from the province a modest but, in his opinion, a talented and intelligent artist, to whom he promised his protection so that he not only rewrote the portrait of Golitsyn, but also understood the private affairs of the Dow. Venetsianov, who at times during the harvest had to sleep in the open air, felt uncomfortable in the rich and spacious workshop of a fashionable portraitist. Alexei Gavrilovich was hurt to deal with someone else’s work, which was foreign to him, but he experienced an even more emotional blow when he saw the dilapidated and exhausted serf painters – Dow’s assistants.
Following the order of the king, Venetsianov began to seek for them free. Information about the success of this master’s undertaking is contradictory: on the one hand, the emperor let all go, and on the other, Dow owed someone, and the debt passed to his serf artists. At home, Alexei Gavrilovich, with even greater persistence, began to teach the painting of able young peasants, and as a result he had to build an estate in order to be able to buy them from the owners. It is not known what would be the end of this ruinous for his family activities, if in 1830 Venetsianov did not dare to go for help to St. Petersburg.
He appealed to the president of the Academy of Arts to apply for financial assistance from the imperial court. In the office of Nicholas I received a paper in which it was told not only about the plight of Academician Venetsianov, but also about the creation of a new Russian school of painting. The request of Alexei Gavrilovich was satisfied. He received one-time financial assistance, and was also invited to a private audience with the king. Nicholas I honored the master of the Order of St. Vladimir of the 4th degree and awarded him the honorary title “Artist of the Emperor of the Emperor”. Now, as a court painter, who nevertheless did not have to be at all times at court, Venetsianov began to get a good annual salary. However, a tangible improvement in living conditions did not make Alexei Gavrilovich happier.
In the summer of the next 1831 during the prolonged cholera epidemic that spread across the province, the artist’s spouse, Marfa Afanasyevna, died. Venetsianov lived only with his daughters and numerous students, the best of which at that time had already received gold medals at the Academy of Arts for their competitive work and were preparing for an independent creative life.
In the separate workshop built in Safonkovo, newcomers and senior students worked together every day. In a large closed room the young men painted still lifes and sketched the posing peasants. Venetsianov’s method was “… not to copy from anything, but to start directly considering nature in straight geometric lines, for which he had the first start with a cube, a pyramid, a cylinder, a cone, and so on.”
Master persistently instilled in his pets a love of reading and science. But, in addition, he trained young artists for this work. Venetsianov found orders for the creation of iconostases for the temples under construction. The church images were written by senior students under the guidance of the teacher, and there were several such expensive orders. On the money received, Alexei Gavrilovich bought canvases and paints, as well as clothes for his pupils. Capable artists, having learned about the “new school of painting”, flocked to him from all corners of Russia. Venetsianov had an unmistakable sense of talent and, when he accidentally met a poorly dressed young man with “sheets under his armpit” or smeared with oil paint, asked him to show him the drawings he had created. Alexei Gavrilovich tried at least temporarily to support creative youth, delicately offering money for “brushes and paints.”
But not only the salary of the court painter and periodically appearing orders contained Venetsianov his school. By that time, the Society for the Promotion of Artists, founded in 1821, was already active in the capital. The wealthy members of this organization basically bought out serf artists and the most able ones sent to study abroad. The society arranged exhibitions in which unknown, but talented self-taught artists and students of the Venetsianov’s school participated, and besides, helped Alexei Gavrilovich with money, understanding what social significance his activity had.
The master himself wrote little in these difficult years of life and mainly engaged in educational activities. By this time, he moved to St. Petersburg, on the Hare Island, taking with him the best students (as the painter did every time he had to leave the estate for a long time). Alexey Gavrilovich was one of the first Russian artists who began to publish his critical articles devoted to the art of contemporary artists. In that
he became friends with many famous creative people of his time, such as PK Klodt, NV Gogol, VA Zhukovsky, NI Gnedich, IA Krylov and even KP Bryullov, with whom he soon sincerely made friends.
An elderly artist who had given himself a vow not to write custom portraits, now with great pleasure created images of his new friends and colleagues. One of his successful “non-peasant” works can be called “Portrait of V. P. Kochubei” (1831-1834, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg). This senior government official, a passionate collector and lover of Russian art, Venetsianov knew for a long time. Kochubei, who collected a gallery of paintings in his home, willingly showed it to almost everyone. The Chancellor is depicted sitting at his desk in the living room of his capital’s mansion. The man’s face is calm and dispassionate. Excellent perspective of the room, and laconic in the color ratio of its classic interior, decorated with portraits and marble columns with Doric capitals. Through the windows, cold, diffused light falls, which gives the entire canvas austerity. The ceremonial portrait of Kochubei, performed by Venetsianov, is the most accurate in characterization of a rich, influential and educated nobleman. At the same time, the work is the least bright and solemn among the many paintings of this genre, created in the same years by various colleagues of the artist.
Recession in creative life
early winter 1836 Alexei Gavrilovich paralyzed, but within a month the sensitivity of the hands and feet returned. Doctors forbade Venetsianov to work, recommending more to be out in the open air, and he wandered aimlessly throughout the winter and the beginning of the cold spring through the streets of Petersburg, dreaming of returning to Safonkovo. At academic exhibitions, there were no more his paintings, and in the press did not appear thoughtful critical articles. But not only the consequences of the disease explained the creative crisis of the master. Begun by Venetsianov and the theme of national images continued in his pupils in Russian painting has now gained great popularity. Everyone, even an incapable artist, at least in one of his paintings sought to introduce peasants, but much embellished, happy, contented and soulless. Aleksei Gavrilovich was at a loss not only because of the very wave of a false nation, but also because of the approval of false-folk paintings by the press and even by the Society for the Encouragement of Artists.
The truth of the life of Russian peasants turned out to be of no use to anyone, the dear and beautiful scenes with their participation were appreciated. Therefore, Venetsianov suddenly felt insecure in his judgments, but without creativity, he did not think of himself and still sought to remain a master of “folk painting.”
In the painting “The Return of the Soldier” (1830s, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), the artist portrayed calm peasants and a soldier with a child in his arms. Surprisingly, in this seemingly familiar Venetsianov story there is no hint of emotion and life truth. Most prominent colleagues-painters did not approve of this picture.
Despite all the laudatory criticism in the press, Venetsianov considered his creation to be unsuccessful, but an even greater failure awaited him ahead of him.
By that time, Alexei Gavrilovich was no longer a court painter: the emperor gave this post to some unknown artist. So Venetsianov lost his annual salary, which significantly affected his financial condition. For the umpteenth time, Safonkovo was laid, where bailiffs now came to describe the property. Most of the students left their mentor at that time, and the sick elderly painter remained practically alone.
During this period, the Academy of Arts announced a competition for the creation of a historical picture about Peter I. The first prize was an unheard-of sum for those times – eight thousand rubles, donated by the millionaire philanthropist A. N. Demidov. But the most famous academic artists – KP Briullov, FA Bruni and others, on which the high commission hoped – were engaged in previously begun work. The contest was answered by third-rate painters and Venetsianov, who planned not only to improve his plight, but also to try himself in an unfamiliar genre of historical painting. He also tried to understand the ambiguous personality of the reforming tsar, who had been interested in him before.
Painting “Peter the Great. The foundation of St. Petersburg “(1838, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) represents a young king on the banks of the Neva, surrounded by subjects, one of whom holds in his hands the outline of the future city. Venetsianov put the heroes he never saw into a conditional landscape, thus depriving his work of the most important thing – truthfulness, that is, precisely what distinguished his “folk” paintings. But only living images can convey the beauty of the human soul. The picture was illustrative.
Being an academician by title, Venetsianov did not finish the Academy of Arts and never wrote paintings on historical or mythological themes, which necessarily created graduates of this institution. Trying to be as convincing as possible, Alexei Gavrilovich sent a petition to the monarch’s office before starting work to ensure that he was given the clothes of Peter’s times. The artist wanted to put things on the sitters, so that the whole composition looked as realistic as possible, but he was only allowed to sketch the costumes. Work on this, of course, did not win.
And yet, the canvas has many merits: it is a thoughtful color solution, and a portrait resemblance, and a careful arrangement of the figures. The work of Venetsianov turned out to be the strongest among all those who claimed to win, but the academic commission decided to give the main prize to no one. The artist saw in this intrigue and injustice.
Meanwhile, the situation in Safonkovo became so catastrophic that Alexei Gavrilovich had to send his youngest daughter to the service. He was anxious to have Felitsa become a classroom lady in any of the women’s gymnasiums of St. Petersburg, and for this purpose traveled with the petition of all the familiar high-ranking officials. However, the work in the capital for the girl was never found, and the artist with great difficulty built Felicata in Tver. As for Alexandra, Venetianov did not want to let her go. The eldest daughter not only tried to raise the decayed economy, but also engaged in painting, being very capable and, most importantly, a devoted pupil of her father.
In those years the masters had already left all his pupils, he was deeply wounded by the fact that the artistic society of the capital almost forgot it, felt himself unnecessary and constantly thought about death.
1839 Venetsianov painted the painting “Communion of the Dying” (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), in which he strove to convey the yearning and loneliness of an ordinary person before his imminent demise. But in this multifigured composition there is no tragedy of the person’s departure, nor his reconciliation with death after the sacrament. The images of peasants standing near the bed, as well as the dying, are static and almost non-emotional. The artist was again a hostage to the “speculative presentation”, depicting only an interesting household scene in which he beautifully worked folds of fabrics of canvas and clothes, masterfully arranged the composition and space.
In order to somehow make ends meet and cover increasing debts, the painter arranged an exhibition of lottery for his works and works of some students. The canvas “Communion of the dying” was surprisingly received by the flattering assessment of most critics who noted the soft light and the atmosphere of goodness in the film. Almost all the works were sold out, but Venetsianov managed to pay off his debts and to donate most of the sum to the St. Petersburg children’s hospital.
The fact that in Safonkovo, with the exception of her daughter, there were no more students left, the master was very depressed. After some hesitation in 1840 Alexey Gavrilovich filed a petition with the Academy of Arts to take into account all his pedagogical merits in the education of young artists, he was enrolled in the teaching staff. But they were very strong in the educational institution of intrigue against the peasant artist, and he was not simply denied the post of professor of painting – Venetsianov was not even allowed to work as a classy uncle. In many respects this was due to the fact that the rare ability of Venetsianov to find and train a large number of talented painters gave rise to doubt the professionalism of many teachers of the Academy, forced to annually expel many newly adopted incapable students.
A few more years, Venetsianov tried to become an official teacher first in the Academy of Arts, and then a new creative educational institution, which with great difficulty was organized in Moscow. But even in the democratically-minded Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture, he still did not find a place. Offended artist waved his hand at all his vain attempts and completely immersed in creativity. At this time he created his last wonderful works.
The heroine of the painting “The Peasant Woman of the Tver Province” (1840s, the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) looks at the spectators with mild sadness. The tanned, smooth skin of a girl contrasts with the tiny folds of a white blouse. Roundness of forms, soft lines of hands give vitality and sensuality to all appearance. The vegetative background behind the back of the model highlights the warm atmosphere of the summer village evening in the picture.
The last student
The beginning of the winter of 1841 brought Venetsianov both heartfelt joy and pain. Often visiting his neighbor on the estate of landowner Milyukov, Alexei Gavrilovich met with one of his young serf peasants – Grigory Soroka. A notebook with drawings of a young man impressed the elderly master. Miliukov just hoped that an artistically educated neighbor would be interested in the original gift of a domestic man and undertake to train him, but did not intend to give the guy a free one, than led Venetsianov to indescribable rage. He understood how talented Soroka was, so he could not help taking him to his home in Safonkovo, despite the conflict with his neighbor. Venetsianov not only taught the young man drawing and painting, but also gave him the opportunity to earn, giving up the hard-earned orders for the creation of church images or copies of famous paintings to his only pupil. Miliukov often called the serf back, forced him to decorate the rooms of the master’s house, and somehow even made Sorok a gardener. Venetsianov could consoled the young painter, who understood that his dreams about the Academy of Arts could not come true.
Over time, Alexei Gavrilovich became increasingly difficult to create, often did not have enough strength to reach the studio. He was tormented by faints and dreary anxiety over the daughters of the lackeys who remained unmarried. The metropolitan vanity and intense artistic life of St. Petersburg no longer interested the elderly painter, now he did not want to leave his estate and did not want to learn anything new. With great difficulty, Venetsianov completed one of his last paintings.
Over the canvas “The Toilet of Diana” (1846, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), Venetsianov worked with great love and dedication, trying to idealize the face of his only and aging model. He scrupulously wrote out not only her naked body, but also the patterns on the carpet, the folds of the maid’s dress, the items on the dressing table and other details of the interior. However, with all the careful arrangement of the space and elaboration of the figure of the protagonist, Diana’s face is cold and indifferent. The master of the work-transfer of the unity of beauty of the body and soul of a beautiful woman – the master never reached.
At the beginning of the winter of 1847, Venetsianov wrote a large, expensive order for a Tver temple. He created sketches for twenty images of saints and an altarpiece of the Trinity, which he himself wanted to demonstrate to the customers. On the morning of December 4, the artist ordered the sledge to be laid and set off. Not far from the estate of Miliukov’s neighbor, the horses were suddenly carried with all their might, and the coachman, frightened, jumped out of the sleigh. Alexei Gavrilovich grabbed the reins, trying to stop the horses, but he was thrown into the snow. He could not free his hands from the reins of the reins, his body for several kilometers was beating against various obstacles, dragging behind the sleigh. When Milyukov’s peasants finally stopped the distraught animals, Alexei Gavrilovich was already dead.
In the artistic life of Petersburg, the death of one of the talented domestic painters was unnoticed. Perhaps, only his former students remembered the master in a kind word. However, unlike many of his persecutors, Venetsianov left a deep mark in the Russian fine arts, being one of the first artists to present to the audience touching and truthful images of the common people.