Polenov first found himself abroad not too early — at the age of 28. During his pensioner’s trip, he managed to visit Germany and Switzerland, live in Italy and France, and visit England on the fly. At 32, he went to the Serbian-Turkish front and saw Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Serbia. And at the age of 37 and 54, he took two eastern trips to Turkey, Greece, Syria, Egypt and Palestine. Not only paintings, but also letters remained from the trips. Nature and museums, customs and oddities, food and prices, features of the appearance and local costumes of other countries — now Polenov’s records are read like a fascinating travel blog, subjective notes of a charming and observant person.
Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England

2 January 1874 Paris

From Munich, I traveled via Brenner to Italy. Venezia la bella (Venice the Beauty) is indeed a beauty, but not in our sense, i.e., not in the sense of the urban beauty of the 19th century; it is dirty, and its air is not always fragrant and fresh, but this does not diminish its beauty, it is quite original with its palaces, churches, canals, beautiful black gondolas, its characteristic architecture that seems fantastic, some kind of magical dream for the passing traveller.

At the Academy of Arts, I met Paolo Veronese for the first time in all his brilliant beauty. I know no one of the old southern masters who would take my fancy as much as he did. Titian is undeniably good, he is often finer than Veronese, I have long admired his graceful works ... but Veronese has something attractive, you fall in love with him; you get along with his life, or, rather, with the life of the people he portrayed, because he portrayed his Venice, as it was with him, full of animation and beauty.


5/17 January 1874 Paris

Despite all the imaginary and real Parisian conveniences for life and painting, it is still pure nonsense to work abroad; this is precisely the best way to become a nonentity, as all the artists who have rotted here for six years become... I have now settled in my apartment and studio. Moving, setting up the essentials, such as: beds, chairs, tables, easels, all this was very expensive, besides, my abandoned things came from Rome, for which I also had to pay much, so that the finances were suddenly so exhausted that I’ll have pretty nothing to eat by the end of the month. We don’t even think of a nature now (Polenov probably means that he and Repin had nothing to pay for the work of the sitters - ed.Repin is also very empty in his pocket, and the pension is usually sent by half of next month, i.e. by mid-February instead of the beginning of January...
Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
Ilya Repin (sitting in striped trousers) and Vasily Polenov (standing with his arms crossed) among other students of the Academy of Arts, applying for gold medals. 1871

Photo: ilya-repin.ru

In the late 1870s, friends painted portraits of each other: Polenov painted Repin, Repin painted Polenov.


Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England

17 February 1874. Paris

I must admit, the French work terribly much. Despite the huge number of stores with new paintings weekly exhibited, they constantly open new exhibitions, one after another. The exhibition of watercolours with many lovely things had just closed, a new exhibition of oil paintings was already opening, and this one has no less wonderful things. And in half a month the Salon (the Yearly Exhibition) will open, which is said to be attended by up to three thousand numbers (and Polenov still did not know that two months later, on 15 April 1874, the first exhibition of the Impressionists would open in Paris! — ed.) Well, I just feel envious. And I myself work a lot, but it’s as if I do anything — I am always short of time...

13/25 February 1874. Paris

...There are no good cigarettes in use, and if there are some as exception, then they are four times more expensive than ours. However, I am already used to a French herb called Caporal (caporal is a dark tobacco variety — ed.).



2 March 1874, Paris

With palpitating heart I walked to the Dresden Bildergallerie. I was preparing to see the Raphael’s Madonna. For a European artist, and just for any tourist, it has long constituted the same cult as the black stone in Mecca for an Arab. Despite the many copies, engravings, lithographs and photographs I have seen, despite a lot of reading and hearing about her, all this seems to paralyse the immediacy of the action, yet this work made a deep impression on me. If there weren’t Sixtus and Catherine here, who, in my opinion, cool the wholeness of the impression, while Madonna herself does not pay any attention to them, it would be a creature of high spirits, it could reach the point of hallucination, it would be a real vision...

I myself am now working on a painting from medieval German life. In my trip in Germany last year, I examined the old feudal castles, wandered through the ruins of the knightly “burgs”, and then, descended into the valley, where the peasant population preserved almost the same customs and costumes; I imagined the relationships of barons and vassals, and I decided to paint a picture. For the plot took I one of the feudal rights of the baron, namely, the right according to which every girl on the eve of her marriage belonged to the baron. This right was called Jus primae noctis (Right of the first night). The baron went out in the evening to look at the girls brought for the selection, who married that day.




16/28 April 1874, Paris

The good thing about the French and abroad in general is that everyone is given their due, everyone is trying to find a better side of people, and work is respected; in our country, on the contrary, either you must be a genius, and then you enjoy exaltation of no measure, or you are worthless and go clean the cesspools. Everyone strives to rip you off, to offend you, in order to expose himself... Yes, after Paris, it will not be easy to start a business and lay my path in Russia...

20 July/1 August 1874. Normandy

Now I am in Normandy, by the sea, in a small town called Veules. I live with Repin in a house located in a forest, that is, not in a forest forest, but among trees, on the bank of a river that is fast and transparent, like a crystal; it flows no more than a mile and a half, and there are three factories and eight mills constantly working. I paint sketches and remember Imochentsy (the estate of Polenov’s parents on the Oyat River in the Olonets Governorate — ed.).


10/22 February 1875, Paris

Recently, I started dancing a little bit, well, it’s not good for business, you get up at eleven o’clock, and the work is not getting on. The day before yesterday there was a lovely evening at Madame Viardot’s, bal costumé (fancy-dress ball). What costumes, what taste, what historical fidelity... The first prize for his costume was taken by Kharlamov, the portrait painter I told you about; he was dressed in a Venetian elegance of the late 15th century. The whole costume was made of the fabric of that time, surprisingly good, as if the character of the Carpaccio’s painting. I was dressed as a white Circassian, in a huge papakha, with daggers and pistols, as those worn during the relief of the guards (imperial — ed.), the suit is not bad, but it is difficult to dance in it...

Madame Viardot is a lovely lady. The first time she seemed to me a little affected, but when you get to know her better, she is simply charming. I understand Turgenev’s platonic love for her. And he is a good gentleman, heartful, warm and so simple that you even forget that this is the Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev. At the ball, he was dressed up as a foreman, and the costume suited him so well, a real rich man, the head of the family and the keeper of a lively inn.

Madame Viardot treats him like an older bachelor brother who, in his old age, found refuge with his homely sister. And little Viardots treat him like a beloved uncle. At intimate evenings, he hangs out with young people, as if he’s only in his third decade (in 1875, Turgenev turned 57 years old — ed.).

Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
1.1. Alexey Kharlamov. Portrait of the writer I. S. Turgenev. 1875
1.2. Eugène Pluchart. The portrait of singer Pauline Viardot. 1853

22 May/3 June 1875. London

Oh lovely city London! So much smoke! The weather is wonderful, and the wind is strong, and the sun shines with a reddish-brown light, just like we have during forest fires, only the smell is not burnt, but suffocating from coal. Once in Paris, I went to see an American friend, an artist. By the way, he told me that he was going to London and suggested if I wanted to. “With great pleasure, when?” “After two days.” “Wonderful.” I incited Repin and even a Pole friend, he took his one. Thus, on the agreed day, we were at seven o’clock at the gare (at the railway station) and went to Pas-de-Calais with almost six of us.

The weather cleared up, and the sea was anxious and began to throw up our steamer, which is like those on Ladoga. Previously, while the steamer stood in the port, waiting for the tide, we had a snack and a glass of brandy for safety, and some had two. Well, nothing bad, we all stood bravely on the bridge and admired the landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Leer más
. On a clear day, you always fleet in sight of the coast, from Calais you can see the white friezes of Albion. After an hour and a half long toss, we approached the stone wall of Dover Port. All sorts of gentlemen sat on it legs dangling, and several crimson soldiers with some kind of trays on the back of their heads.

We rushed across England, a completely different aspect than France. There, i.e. in France, the trees are all cut around, there are few of them, and they stick out separately. Here they grow as if naturally, the meadows are green, covered with fat rams, although I have never tasted such mutton cutlets anywhere. For some reason, they call them chops. There are very few fields, many meadows and trees with vastly spread branches. In England, everything is on a grand scale and recalls something family-aristocratic, in opposition to bourgeois petty and mercenary France.


Finally, we reached London and rushed across the rooftops. (In London, there are almost no railways on the ground — either under ground or above it.) A strange look, like some kind of card town or Japan. Houses in London are low, rarely four storeys high, and almost all are made according to the same pattern: for example, forty or fifty houses are the same, then the same number with minor changes, etc. Almost all houses, except for shopping streets, have three windows and three floors, with a porch, and inhabited by one family. The chimneys of the houses — and there are many of them — seem to be cut to the same height, and above them are the telegraph and railway signals of various devices, and factory chimneys, all smoked and doused with soot. The streets are crooked and dirty; outside the houses are made of simple and dark bricks, ugly and boring, the shops are small and casual. In a word, everything is tasteless, everyday, gloomy and factory-like, but very original and strict...

The Kensington Museum contains so many things that at first you lose your mind and grow stupid, and only after you get used to it, you become smart again and begin to understand something... You can be inside until ten o’clock in the evening. Everything is lit with gas, all kinds of people walk there, girls are running around, and the policemen say nothing, and everyone is watching, interpreting and learning something. The purpose of this institution is the visual teaching of all subjects...

I saw the famous English watercolours, which are said to be not inferior to oil painting, but I do not agree with that. True, English oil painting is much affected by watercolour, but it is very weak itself, especially when compared with the Spaniards or Italians. The British have it kind of faded, dotted, dry. They are stronger in railroads and in chops than in art.

Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
1.1. Photos by Vasily Polenov. 1870s and 1884
1.2.

Imagine that up to sixteen thousand trains enter and leave London every day, and it’s hard to imagine without seeing them — they run one after another. In the underground railway, the distance between trains is two minutes, and it rushes at full steam, so that you think that it is not for you, but for some other crazy hurrier, and it stops almost instantly, you jump in, and it rushes farther. And during all this, there are no bells, no shouting, no signs. However you need to know or ask yourself, otherwise no one will indicate, even if you die of hunger. This is the first country I have come to without the language. No other language is valued here besides the English. An Englishman, even if he knows French, would not answer your question in French. It is imperative that you know English to go to London. I regretted so much that they taught me unnecessary Latin and various catechisms, masses, psalms, and other uselessness instead of English; things would have been different.
Vasily Polenov's travel blog: Italy, Germany, France, England
Neither Repin nor Polenov left any graphic or picturesque images of London — their visit was probably too short and oversaturated with impressions. The photograph of the Blackfriars metro station and St. Paul’s Cathedral was taken in the same month and year when Russian artists met Foggy Albion — May 1875.
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They eat a lot, but the same food in London. Dinner costs three shillings, almost four francs, consists of roast beef and potatoes as much as you like, and cheese as much as you like, and nothing else, a drink is bought separately. And if you ask anything else, you will pay almost twice. But the garçons in restaurants are like lords...

On the penultimate day, a friend of our Americans came, an Englishman, who had already met me before and for some reason fell in love with me, and invited me to show me the real wonders of London, which foreigners usually do not see. Of course, I grabbed him with my both hands, jumped, and the three of us set off — Mr. Bonnycastle, Repin and me. And he gave us a treat! Here is a summary of what we saw and where we were that day. We were in courts of different categories, with judges in purple, black, red and blue robes, in grey, white, long, short wigs, with lawyers in two-tasselled and one-tasselled wigs. We saw the Parliament, the empty House of Deputies and the House of Lords with the Lord Chancellor in a long wig... From there, we went to the City, that is, actually real London. All commercial England is concentrated there... This very City is a state within a state, it has its own rights, its own administration. The supreme power belongs to the Lord Mayor, who is not a lord at all, just a shoemaker or tailor, but becomes a lord when he sits on the mayor’s chair of the City. No unit of troops can pass through the City without obtaining the permission of the Lord Mayor. If the queen accidentally falls into the City, then the gate is immediately locked, and she is considered a prisoner until the Lord Mayor brings her the keys. He hears City cases without any jury or wig. We saw him too. There is also the central post office, the London bank, in the cellars of which, I forgot how much, gold pounds sterling are located, surely, a lot. There are also many Russian millions, saved by someone for a rainy day...

Continuation: Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Egypt, Palestine — Part 2.

Text prepared by Anna Vchorashnia.