Vasnetsov, Viktor Mikhailovich

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vasnetsov, Viktor Mikhailovich


Born May 3 (15), 1848, in the village of Lop’ial, modern Kirov Oblast; died July 23, 1926, in Moscow. Russian painter.

Vasnetsov studied at the St. Petersburg School of Drawing of the Society for the Promotion of the Arts (1867-68) with I. N. Kramskoi and at the Academy of Arts (1868-75), of which he became a member in 1893. From 1878 he was a peredvizhnik (a “wanderer;” member of a progressive art movement). He visited France (1876) and Italy (1885), and he lived in St. Petersburg and Moscow. During his years of study he made drawings for journals and cheap popular publications (People’s ABC by Stolpianskii, published in 1867, and Taras Bul’ba by N. V. Gogol, published in 1874). In the 1870’s he did small genre pictures, carefully painted primarily in a gray to brown spectrum. In his scenes of the street and the domestic life of petty shopkeepers and officials, the urban poor, and peasants, Vasnetsov painted keenly perceptive descriptions of various typical characters in the society of his time (From Apartment to Apartment, 1876, and War Telegram, 1878, both in the Tret’iakov Gallery).

In 1880, having given up genre painting, Vasnetsov painted works on themes of national history, Russian byliny (epic folk songs), and folk fairy tales; to these themes he later devoted virtually all his creative energy. One of the first Russian artists to turn to Russian folklore, Vasnetsov tried to give his works an epic quality and express ancient national ideals and lofty patriotic feelings in a poetic form. Vasnetsov’s paintings include After the Battle of Igor’ Sviatoslavich With the Polovtsy (1880); Alenushka (1881), which is imbued with sincere poetic feelings; Ivan-tsarevich Riding the Gray Wolf (1889); The Bogatyrs (1881-98), which is full of faith in the heroic strength of the people; Tsar Ivan Vasil’evich Groznyï (1897; all of these paintings are in the Tret’iakov Gallery).

Vasnetsov’s work for the theater in the 1880’s and 1890’s was closely related to the general trend in his easel paintings. The outstanding poetic folk settings and costumes for the fairy-tale play The Snow Maiden by A. N. Ostrovskii (produced at S. I. Mamontov’s private theater in 1882) and N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera of the same name (produced in Moscow at S. I. Mamontov’s private Russian opera in 1886), which were executed on the basis of Vasnetsov’s sketches, are an example of the creative interpretation of genuine archaeological and ethnological materials. They had a great impact on the development of Russian theatrical scenic design in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The landscape backgrounds of Vasnetsov’s works on fairy tales and historical subjects, which were imbued with a profoundly national feeling for Russian nature, remarkable for the lyric directness of their perception (Alenushka), or epic in character (After the Battle of Igor’ Sviatoslavich With the Polovtsy), played an important role in the development of Russian landscape painting. From 1883 to 1885, Vasnetsov painted the monumental panel The Stone Age for the Historical Museum in Moscow, and from 1885 to 1896 he painted most of the murals in the St. Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev. In the murals of the St. Vladimir Cathedral, Vasnetsov tried to introduce a spiritual and emotional content into the traditional system of monumental church painting, which had completely deteriorated in the second half of the 19th century.

Vasnetsov’s mature painting, which was distinguished by a striving for a monumental, decorative artistic expression and a muted resonance of patches of color and sometimes drew on symbolism, anticipated the “modern” style that later became common in Russia. Vasnetsov also did a number of portraits (A. M. Vasnetsova, 1878, and Ivan Petrov, 1883, both in the Tret’iakov Gallery) and illustrations for The Songs of Prophetic Oleg by A. S. Pushkin (water-color, 1899, in the Literature Museum, Moscow). His drawings were the basis for the construction of a church and the fairy tale “Hut on Chicken Feet” in Abramtsevo (near Moscow, 1883) and the facade of the Tret’iakov Gallery (1902). In the Soviet period Vasnetsov continued to work on folk fairy-tale subjects (The Battle of Dobrynia Nikitich With Gorynych the Seven-Headed Serpent, 1918, and The Immortal Kashchei, 1917-26, both in the V. M. Vasnetsov House Museum in Moscow).


Stasov, V. V. “Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov i ego rabody.” In V. V. Stasov, Stat’i i Zametki, vol. 2. Moscow, 1954.
Lebedev, A. K. V. M. Vasnetsov, 1848-1926. Moscow, 1955.
Morgunov, N., and N. Morgunova-Rudnitskaia. V. M. Vasnetsov. Moscow, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.