After the battle of Igor Svyatoslavich with the Cumans

Viktor Vasnetsov • Painting, 1880, 205×390 cm
Digital copy: 1.5 MB
2478 × 1300 px • JPEG
50 × 26.3 cm • 126 dpi
42.0 × 22.0 cm • 150 dpi
21.0 × 11.0 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Battle scene, Historical scene
Style of art: Romanticism, Symbolism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1880
Size: 205×390 cm
Content 18+
Artwork in selections: 45 selections
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Description of the artwork «After the battle of Igor Svyatoslavich with the Cumans»

When Viktor Vasnetsov worked on his painting “After the Battle of Igor Svyatoslavich with the Cumans” his friends did not recognize him: it seemed that he had even grown younger, and his strength had increased threefold. But when someone entered his studio, the canvas turned out to be curtained: Vasnetsov did not show anyone what he was painting until he had completed the work.

The subject of the picture is inspired by The Song of Igor’s Campaign and Ruslan and Lyudmila by Pushkin (“O field, field, who has strewn you with dead men’s bones”). Vasnetsov was accused of not painting the battle itself. In fact, the artist made eleven sketches before creating the final version. At first, he just planned to show the battlefield, the course of the battle and everything that the critics lacked in his picture. But he deliberately abandoned the idea.

One of his last sketches before the final painting is kept in the Tretyakov Gallery. The artist has already come to the idea of depicting not the battle itself, but namely “after the battle”. There is a difference in colour, it is more disturbing in the sketch, with the use of intense colour contrasts. In the final version, Vasnetsov abandoned them, preferring calmer colours and thereby changing the general mood of the picture — now it is not that bloody twilight, but a physically felt silence. The setting sun is not crimson, but soft pink. Oddly enough it sounds, the final version even has a certain serenity. Bright red spots are only on the boots of one of the subjects on the left and on the shields. This is a clear reference to The Song:

The Fiend’s children bar the field
with their war cries;
the brave sons of Rus
with their vermilion shields.
(Translated by Vladimir Nabokov)

At the moment, there is neither anger nor hatred on the faces of the dead men, although, judging by the intertwined bodies, there was a hot battle not long ago. Death seemed to equalize everyone. The young man in the foreground, who was pierced by an arrow, appears to be radiant. A pectoral cross hangs from his neck. Pavel Chistyakov, who was delighted with the picture, said about this subject: “I can see this man through, I knew him alive!” Vultures fly over the bodies, but they do not cause a feeling of horror, but are part of the natural course of things. And how wrong the critics were, reproaching Vasnetsov for “thrill of corpses”! What do the abundant simple flowers growing on this field of death — bells, daisies, forget-me-nots — mean, if not a hymn to life?

Vasnetsov showed the painting at the eighth exhibition of the Itinerants, and it caused fierce controversy. Repin liked it very much. “This is an unusually wonderful, new and deeply poetic thing for me. This has never happened before in Russian school,” he said resolutely. It was from this picture, perhaps, that Vasnetsov found his own direction, in which he had no predecessors. Kramskoy was puzzled. A well-known critic and one of the Itinerants inspirers, Vladimir Stasov, reproached the painting for academicism, and the artist for being carried away by conventions. Vasnetsov paid back in his own coin, he quipped that “the artistic truth is certainly one-sided for Stasov and, excuse me, it has no pants.” But in fact, he was very upset with such a cold attitude to his work, in which he had put a lot of effort. The newspapers published different devastating reviews, in which Vasnetsov was accused of “praising corpses”. The comment of Pavel Chistyakov, his teacher from the Academy, turned out to be a great support. He accepted the picture with enthusiasm and said that he was very grateful to Vasnetsov for the fact that he was able to express what no one had succeeded before — the very spirit of Ancient Ruthenia, its eternity and continuity.

Author: Aliona Esaulova