Polenov, Vasilii Dmitrievich

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Polenov, Vasilii Dmitrievich


Born May 20 (June 1), 1844, in St. Petersburg; died July 18, 1927, on the Borok country estate, present-day Polenovo, Tula Oblast. Russian painter. Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1893); People’s Artist of the RSFSR (1926). Son of D. V. Polenov.

Polenov received his early artistic training from P. P. Chis-tiakov, and between 1863 and 1871 he attended the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He studied in Italy and France on a stipend from the academy. Polenov was an artist-correspondent during the Serbo-Montenegrin-Turkish War of 1876 and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. In 1878 he joined the peredvizh-niki (the “wanderers”—a progressive art movement).

While abroad, Polenov executed in the academic style a number of paintings devoted to themes from Western European history (The Master’s Right, 1874, Tret’iakov Gallery). At the same time, he worked extensively at plein-air painting. By the late 1870’s, landscapes predominated in his work. Carrying on the traditions of the lyrical landscape established by A. K. Savrasov and F. A. Vasil’ev, Polenov captured the quiet poetry and soft beauty of simple elements of Russian nature that were linked inextricably to the everyday life of man. He was one of the first Russian painters to achieve a freshness of palette, a lively natural rendering of the motif, compositional completeness, and precision of line (A Little Moscow Courtyard, 1878; Grandmother’s Garden, 1878; and The Pond, 1879—all in the Tret’iakov Gallery). Polenov’s introduction into the landscape of genre and lyrical elements and his understanding of the study as an independent work of art greatly influenced the subsequent development of Russian landscape painting. Studies that he executed in the Middle East and Greece (1881–82) served as the basis for the painting Christ and the Woman Sinner (1886–87, Russian Museum, Leningrad), in which the artist attempted to solve problems of morality in the spirit of Christian ethics and, on the artistic plane, to breathe new life into the academic system of painting. His affinity for humanistic themes was demonstrated in the painting The Woman Patient (1886, Tret’iakov Gallery), which shares much in both conception and execution with the work of the peredvizhniki. Polenov continued working with Gospel themes, often imparting to them genre or landscape elements. His landscapes dating from the mid-1880’s are devoted to his native countryside and are distinguished for their monumental-ity, unique decorativeness, and free technique (Golden Autumn, 1893, V. D. Polenov Museum-Estate, Polenovo).

Beginning in the 1870’s, Polenov worked extensively at set design, introducing new painting techniques. In 1873 he became a set painter for theatrical presentations in S. I. Mamontov’s home, a position he later held for the productions in Mamontov’s Moscow Russian Private Opera. Between 1910 and 1918, Polenov was in Moscow, doing work associated with the organization of a people’s theater.

From 1882 to 1895, Polenov taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. His pupils included I. I. Levitan, K. A. Korovin, I. S. Ostroukhov, A. E. Arkhipov, and A. Ia. Golovin. In 1905, Polenov and V. A. Serov sent a communication to the Council of the Academy of Arts protesting the shooting of workers on January 9. An art museum was founded on Polenov’s country estate of Borok (since 1931 Polenovo, Tula Oblast). In 1939 the museum was donated to the state by the artist’s relatives.


Sakharova, E. V. V. D. Polenov. Pis’ma. Dnevniki. Vospominaniia, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Iurova, T. V. V. D. Polenov. Moscow, 1961.
V. D. Polenov, E. D. Polenova: Khronika sem’i khudozhnikov. Moscow, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.