Nesterov, Mikhail

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nesterov, Mikhail Vasil’evich


Born May 19 (31), 1862, in Ufa; died Oct. 18, 1942, in Moscow. Soviet painter. Honored Art Worker of the RSFSR (1942).

Nesterov, the son of a merchant, studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture under V. G. Perov, A. K. Savrasov, and I. M. Prianishnikov from 1877 to 1881 and again from 1884 to 1886. He studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts under P. P. Chistiakov from 1881 to 1884. Beginning in 1889, Nesterov exhibited with the peredvizhniki (the “wanderers”—a progressive art movement); he became a member of the group in 1896. Nesterov lived mainly in Moscow except from 1890 to 1910, when he resided in Kiev.

Nesterov’s early works, which were painted in the peredvizhniki style, included genre scenes (The Connoisseur, 1884, Tret’-iakov Gallery), historical compositions (Pleaders Before the Tsar, 1886, collection of G. B. Smirnov, Moscow), and portraits. The artist also did many illustrations.

The works The Hermit (1888–89, Tret’iakov Gallery) and The Vision of Young Bartholomew (1889–90, Tret’iakov Gallery) reflect Nesterov’s growing interest in spiritual and ethical problems and his search for the radiant and pure spiritual beauty attained by those people who turn away from the vanities of life. Nesterov viewed such people as being at one with the spiritual and lyrical elements of the muted northern landscape—the cold lakes, the copses, and the solitary trees. The contemplative and peaceful mood of his works and the emotional impact of their silvery panoramic landscapes introduced a poetic quality into Russian painting.

Nesterov’s compassion for the people took the form of conservative religious illusions, which increasingly affected his painting. His interest in the psychology of believers, in the emotions of those who saw the light and became inspired, led the artist to a distinctive form of dramatic expression (While Church Bells Ring, 1895, Russian Museum, Leningrad; The Monastic Vows, 1897–98, Russian Museum; Holy Rus’, 1901–06, Russian Museum; In Rus’, Tret’iakov Gallery).

The influence of art nouveau on Nesterov became increasingly pronounced. The artist’s works reflected an interest in symbolic imagery and resembled decorative panels. Colors were mixed with white, and emphasis was placed on two-dimensionality. In Nesterov’s monumental works, such as the wall paintings in the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev (1890–95), the mosaics in the Spas na krovi Church in St. Petersburg (1894–97), and the frescoes in the Marfa and Maria Cloister in Moscow (1908–11), these characteristics gradually evolved into a cold stylization, and the treatment of religious themes conformed to official church requirements.

At the same time, Nesterov’s realistic aspirations to convey man’s spiritual essence in harmony with his environment, be it interior or landscape, were reflected in his portraiture. His careful character studies were softly modeled, had expressive silhouettes, and were well integrated with the background (E. P. Nesterova, 1905, Tret’iakov Gallery; The Philosophers, 1917, Tret’iakov Gallery; O. M. Nesterova, 1906, Russian Museum).

In Soviet times, Nesterov further developed realist elements in his paintings. He worked mainly as a portraitist, producing remarkable likenesses of prominent artists and scholars. Among his portraits, which were painted primarily in the 1930’s, were those of P. D. Korin and A. D. Korin (1930), A. N. Severtsov (1934), I. D. Shadr (1934), S. S. Iudin (1935), I. P. Pavlov (1935; State Prize of the USSR, 1941), K. G.’ Derzhinskaia (1937), E. S. Kruglikova (1938), and V. I. Mukhina (1940). All of these portraits are in the Tret’iakov Gallery. Such works placed Nesterov among the leading painters of the socialist realist style.

Nesterov’s portraits combine a sense of the richness of spiritual life, creative fervor, a diversity of human character, and flexibility in the means by which to best express the psychological state and mood of the sitters. In addition, they exhibit perfection of technique, clear and balanced composition, and accurate rendering of volume and space.

Nesterov, who also continued to paint lyric landscapes (Autumn in the Country, 1942, Tret’iakov Gallery), was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.


Davnie dni. [2nd ed.] Moscow, 1959.
Iz pisem. Leningrad, 1968.


Durylin, S. N. Nesterov-portretist. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Mikhailov, A. M. V. Nesterov: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo. Moscow, 1958.
Nikonova, I. M. V. Nesterov. Moscow, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.