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On the Boulevard

Painting, 1887, 53×68 cm

Description of the artwork «On the Boulevard»

Makovsky’s On the Boulevard painting may seem an everyday scene at the first glance. However, if we peer more closely, we can notice the beginning of a family drama.

We can clearly enough identify this place as the Sretensky Boulevard. At that time it was a working district where aristocrats did not walk along. On the bench we can see a young and apparently drunken man playing the accordion. A stoop-shouldered woman clutching some package sits next to him. She is holding a baby who is wrapped in a cloth! What is happening between them? To be honest, they look like strangers who happened to be there unintentionally. To understand the meaning of what is happening, we will have to recreate the historical context.

That was a period when in search of work peasants left the impoverished villages. They fled to towns, where they were employed as unskilled workers. That process was very painful, as being cut off from their bases, the peasants were unprotected in urban slums. They stood at the crossroads: no longer rural, and not yet urban, they forgot their homeland and have not found another. In this painting, we observe the result of such process: a wife with a baby came from the village to her working husband. Most likely, the father has not seen the baby yet. Probably, it was difficult for her to raise money for this trip. And she pictured that meeting in a different way from what is happening...

Dressed in a red shirt on Sunday afternoon, the guy looks indifferent and disabuse on a sudden hindrance of his wife who came to spoil his weekend. With his cheeks red, he plays the accordion. He turned away from his wife and child whom he no longer needs. And in the face of the woman one can see despair and hopeless grief. Her world has just collapsed. Staring motionlessly, she is clutching her baby. She seems frozen in her grief. Her husband shook the former affection off his boots along with the dust of the village. However, his future does not inspire too much optimism either. He will surely become a drunkard!

Makovsky’s other artworks on the theme of the relations between town and village come to mind. Isn’t the fate of the baby, who now clings to his mother, going to be the same as that of this worker?

The landscape in Makovsky’s On the Boulevard painting match the emotional drama. Chilly, probably, November day makes one feel uncomfortable after the rain, with the reflections of the wet roofs... Loneliness and meaninglessness seem to have filled the boulevard and the people there. The figures of the passers-by in the background enforce the alienation of the depicted subjects one from another and from the world.

On the Boulevard painting was first shown in 1887 on the 15th exhibition of the Peredvizhniki group. Then it was acquired by Pavel Tretyakov for 1500 rubles, at that time it was a rather high price.

Written by Alyona Grosheva
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Genre scene

Style of art: Realism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1887

Size: 53×68 cm

Artwork in selections: 24 selections