Do you consider low self-confidence a problem? The greatest painters, in such a case, can show you a great example. What does it actually mean to have low self-confidence? Just imagine: you successfully had passed the exam at the Imperial Academy of Arts, but you found out about your admission only a year later, having appeared again to pass the same exam. The thing was that Viktor Vasnetsov could not even think of the fact that in “the holy of holies” he could have been accepted! However, the main Russian storyteller did not consider that year to be lost, and by the way, he did not finish his studies in the Academy.
Having passed the exams, and not even trying to find out the result, Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov entered the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts. Together with Ilya Repin, he was taught by Kramskoy. Their teacher also believed that there were so many self-doubts given out to Vasnetsov that they would have been enough for three people at once, but, fortunately, the artist was not deprived of talent: “You, darling, are full of self-doubts. You are very diffident. It’s time for you to finally be bold and go for it. The eye you have is enviable.”
Before the Academy. The first paintings by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov
A few decades later, they would say that Viktor Vasnetsov “came out of low origin”. He was born in a family of the priest. No, no, those were not the puffy priests that Viktor’s comrade, the famous Ilya Repin, so vividly portrayed in his “Religious procession”. The life of the village priest Mikhail Vasnetsov was no different from the life of the peasants, except that the intellectual and artistic interests were wider. And the peasants themselves had been friends for little Vitya since childhood. He didn’t have a need to condescend to people or “pull them closer” to him, and even more so, he did not have to prove to himself or to others that “the lower classes were also human beings.” It was just that among them he spent his childhood; they were his friends without the implied saying “as if”. Perhaps, that explained the incredible reliability of the “humiliated and insulted” performed by Vasnetsov.
The son of a priest, who was burdened by a large family (six children), but, by no means, with large incomes, had to go to the theological seminary, and the reason was that the children of clergymen were accepted free of charge. In Vyatka, Vasnetsov met the first real artist in his life - that was the exiled Pole Elwiro Andriolli. Having looked at the drawings of the future master, he firmly stated that there were enough priests in the world, but people with such artistic instincts were not common at all. He talked about the Academy of Arts and offered to arrange an auction and put up two paintings by Viktor Vasnetsov - “Reaper” and “Milk-maid”, which made it possible to earn a trip to St. Petersburg. His father accepted the son’s desire and informed the seminary that the studying was over. Viktor Vasnetsov went to Petersburg to enter the Academy.
The role of Peredvizhniki movement in the artist’s life and his trip to Europe
When Viktor visited the first Peredviznniki exhibition (Russian: Peredvizhniki; The Wanderers or The Itinerants in English), he thought that was his way. Vasnetsov made several paintings for their exhibitions. His work “From apartment to apartment” was especially praised. Pavel Tretyakov also paid attention to the artist, which was then considered to be a serious achievement. Firstly, Tretyakov had an excellent taste, and secondly, his interest promised artists the opportunity to forget about lack of money. Peredviznniki pinned hopes on Vasnetsov as a master of genre painting, who would continue to portray orphans and wretched people. But the artist himself felt that, despite being close to the movement, he had not yet found his direction.
Repin and Kramskoy invited him to go to Paris, and everyone around said that the painter could not succeed without seeing other countries. In Paris, he stayed at Kramskoy’s house. He wasn’t impressed with all the new directions. Vasnetsov preferred the classics in museums to contemporary exhibitions. Even Repin gave in to the charm of France, but Vasnetsov remained completely indifferent to Paris. Soon he moved to the suburbs and rented a house in Meudon. Viktor Mikhailovich had lived there for a year and brought from there a painting called “Acrobats (Festival in a Paris Suburb)”, along with many sketches and watercolors as well.
One woman for a lifetime
Viktor Vasnetsov met the love of his life at his homeland. In the spring of 1871, seized by the fogs of St. Petersburg and hard study, he came to his family in Ryabovo - to get warm and relax. He planned to return to his classes in the fall, but lingered for a while, and then again, and again. The main reason for it came down to French wisdom, calling to look for a woman in any incomprehensible situation. Viktor met Sasha Ryazantseva in the Vyatka Museum, and he didn’t have the strength to return to Petersburg. On the way from Paris in 1876, Vasnetsov first went to Vyatka to see Sasha. They arrived in Petersburg together, got married, gave birth to five children and lived for half a century in love and harmony, once again destroying the myth of the necessarily bohemian image and unhappy personal lives of artists.
To Moscow, to Moscow!
Sometimes you need to find your place geographically, and only there can you do what you’re supposed to. Moscow became such a place for Vasnetsov. The exquisite Petersburg was too European and too cold for him (and it wasn’t so much about the weather). In Moscow, everything seemed a miracle, and at the same time, it was the real life itself. “How many miracles I saw!”, Vasnetsov told his wife, returning from an ordinary walk.
Viktor Vasnetsov took the first step in the direction of his true gift by working on a painting based on “The Tale of Igor's Campaign”. To say that it was met coldly meant to substantially soften reality. Academists and Peredviznniki for once agreed with each other that the painting was worthless. And only the support of his teacher from the Academy, Pavel Chistyakov, allowed Vasnetsov to cope with a flurry of criticism. The teacher noted the very essence of not only the painting itself, but of Vasnetsov’s talent as a whole: “So distant, so grandiose and in its own way distinctive Russian spirit smelled at me ...”
It was that distinctive Russian spirit that Vasnetsov would embody in his fairy tales, in epics and even in his landscapes. It wasn’t possible to say whose tradition Vasnetsov continued – and he did not actually continue, he created. What were the fairy tales before him? They had been the lubok prints or book illustrations. He transferred them to the canvas, and he did it so powerfully that when they were absolutely recognizable as illustrations, they ceased to be ones. Those were not plots of fairy tales, they were “deep legends” in their original form. It seemed that it was Vasnetsov who was truly able to fully embody Pushkin's “here is the Russian spirit, it smells of Rus here.” Peredviznniki were mistaken, believing that was possible only by painting the oppressed people. Political systems could replace each other, sometimes very quickly, as history had already shown, the fashion for artistic trends was also inconsistent, and magic carpets, Gray Wolf and Alyonushka, Koschei and Baba Yaga, with which Vasnetsov opened the door to “serious art” turned out to be timeless.
Viktor Vasnetsov in Kiev: St. Vladimir Cathedral
Vasnetsov refused to paint the Vladimir Cathedral, which was offered to him by Adrian Prakhov, a Kiev art critic and historian. But having spent the whole night thinking it all over, in the morning he decided to send a telegram to Prakhov in which he announced that he was accepting his offer. Before setting to work, he went to Italy to see the murals. Instead of the planned three years, the work on the cathedral took him ten years, and Vasnetsov was eventually proclaimed the founder of a new icon painting (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
The artist’s house
Having returned from Kiev, Vasnetsov was able to build a house for himself. Both the interior decoration and architecture - everything was created according to his sketches. He and his family lived the rest of their lives in that house. By that time, his name was already known both in Russia and in Europe; his solo exhibitions had a success. The established course of life was disrupted by public disturbances. Vasnetsov did not accept the revolution, but he also refused emigration, choosing, apparently, internal emigration - the cycle “The Poem of Seven Tales” was it for him. In the Soviet years, he was not forgotten, the government even appointed him a personal pension, but they tried not to mention the fact that he did not welcome the new order, and called the newly formed country with the word “Nerus”.