When Mikhail Nesterov’s father, a merchant from Ufa, saw his son completely unfit for the merchant business, he allowed him to choose his own path. But at the same time he declared that he would only recognize him as a real artist, when Pavel Tretyakov buys his work for the collection. The first painting of Nesterov, which Tretyakov acquired, was The Hermit. Moreover, the patron and gallery owner bought the canvas even before the 17th Traveling Exhibition of 1889, at which The Hermit was to be presented. It is noteworthy that some of the participants also painted pictures on similar subject. For example, Grigory Myasoedov portrayed a desert dweller in a summer forest. Seeing the work of Nesterov, he rushed to his picture and began to correct something in it. Then he completely removed it from the exhibition. Even those who are alien to Nesterov’s art, consider The Hermit a masterpiece.
Mikhail Nesterov painted his Hermit from the monk Gordey, who laboured in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. He often saw him at the morning mass, admired his calm and kind face. But he did not dare to come up and ask to sit for his painting. And once the noticeable old man did not appear at the mass. Nesterov began to ask: “Who is he? Where is he?”. The artist was told that it was Father Gordey, and he recently died. He rushed to his album, trying to sketch the memorable image. But he failed — the monk Gordey was not like that.
One day, when Nesterov came to Matins in the cathedral again, he saw his monk. He did not tempt fate twice: immediately after the mass, he began to persuade Father Gordey to pose for him. The old man denied everything, citing that, this was pride, not a godly occupation, and sin. Nesterov did not take his “no”, he cited the portraits of the metropolitans as an example. Are the metropolitans themselves such sinners, since they allowed to paint their portraits? In the end, Father Gordey gave up. Nesterov needed two sessions, two hours each.
Surikov and the face of the monk
Nesterov re-painted the face of his Hermit about twenty times. The reason was... admiration of Vasily Surikov for the painting. Yes, admiration. Surikov liked the image created by Nesterov so much that he advised the artist to “add some painting to the face of the Hermit”. Like, then the picture would become absolutely brilliant. And Nesterov did. As a result, he lost that unique facial expression of the monk, which he cherished so much. He painted it over and over again, until he returned to the suitable option. After that, Nesterov used a saying: “I am not a painter. I am an artist!”
The thin tree on the left side of the picture is a special detail of many of Nesterov’s landscapes. Although in other paintings he preferred to paint aspens (1, 2, 3). The spruce on The Hermit canvas is designed to show the fragility of life and at the same time its eternal novelty and youth.
With an inattentive glance, the landscape depicted by Nesterov can be assessed as springtime: early spring, when the snow has not yet melted from the fields. However, the artist depicted autumn. And a vivid indication of the season is the rowan branch with red berries.
Nesterov liked the image of the Hermit so much that he painted two paintings with the face of the monk Gordey in the foreground. The first painting showed him knee-deep, this canvas is kept in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The second Hermit, the main one, is at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Pavel Tretyakov paid 500 roubles to Mikhail Nesterov for The Hermit painting. With this money, the artist made his first trip to Italy, where he stayed for about two months.