Vereshchagin, Vasilii Vasil’evich
Born Oct. 14 (26), 1842, in Cherepovets, Novgorod Province; died Mar. 31 (Apr. 13), 1904, in Port Arthur, when the battleship Petropavlovsk blew up. Russian artist who specialized in painting battle scenes.
Vereshchagin studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1860-63) under A. T. Markov, F. A. Moller, and A. E. Beideman, as well as in J. L. Gérôme’s studio in Paris (1864-65). He traveled a great deal around Russia, in the countries of Western Europe, and also in Syria, Palestine, India, Japan, and the USA. Vereshchagin took part in the conquest of Central Asia, in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). He painted his pictures, for the most part, on the basis of sketches and studies from nature, executed at the time of the events in which he himself was a participant, or during his travels. In striving to reflect as fully as possible the truth of events, Vereshchagin combined his paintings into thematic series—for example, the Turkestan Series (1871-74), the Balkan Series (1877-78 and the 1880’s), and a series on the theme of the Patriotic War of 1812 (1887-1904). The democratic tendency of his creative art brought Vereshchagin close to the peredvizhniki (“the wanderers,” a progressive art movement). In his works, for the first time in the Russian battle-scene genre, the romantic depiction of military clashes gave way to philosophically profound insights concerning war; in Vereshchagin’s treatment the battle-scene genre was transformed into the genre of battles and history. Having rejected the false heroics, conventions, and parade-ground quality of academic battle painting, Vereshchagin showed the cruel and bloody everyday routine of war and the countless sufferings borne by the people (for example, After the Failure [Conquered Men], 1868, Russian Museum, Leningrad, and After the Attack: Dressing Station Near Plevna, 1881, Tret’iakov Gallery). In order to see and truthfully record the most unvarnished picture of war, Vereshchagin went on dangerous military operations several times. Nevertheless, he did not understand the true social nature of war. Since he did not know the true methods of struggling against war, Vereshchagin at times condemned it from a pacifist viewpoint. His best works subject predatory wars to sharp criticism from the democratic point of view. It is to Vereshchagin’s enormous credit that he was the first in the history of battle-scene painting to depict soldiers as the main force of military events and to show their courage and hard work in his patriotically spirited paintings (for example, the triptych entitled All Quiet at the Shipka Pass!, 1878-79, location unknown). While he opposed wars of conquest (The Apotheosis of War, 1871-72, Tret’iakov Gallery) and unmasked feudal barbarism and religious fanaticism (The Ceremonial Triumph, 1872, also at the Tret’iakov Gallery) and colonialism (The Suppression of the Indian Uprising by the British, c. 1884), Vereshchagin did show both the courage and the moral force of the people as they fought against invaders (for example, the painting from the series on the Patriotic War of 1812 entitled Keep Away—I’ll Take Care of Him, 1887-95, Historical Museum, Moscow). Vereshchagin did a great deal of work in the field of ethnographic-genre and landscape painting (Cavalryman in Jaipur, after 1874-76, Tret’iakov Gallery; A Zirianin, 1893-94, Russian Museum; In the Mountains of Alatau, 1869-70, and The Taj Mahal Mausoleum in Agra, 1874-76—both in the Tret’iakov Gallery). In Vereshchagin’s works documentarily exact description is combined with meticulously worked-out composition, precise drawing, and a vivid graphic quality in the solution of pictorial problems. The conventional devices of academic painting, which Vereshchagin gradually outgrew during the course of his creative career, gave way to his efforts to truthfully depict objects of the world under conditions of natural light and open air.
In an attempt to propagate his antimilitaristic ideas by means of his works, Vereshchagin arranged exhibitions of his paintings in the cities of Europe and America. Vereshchagin was also active as a writer and a publicist. His creative art, which met with ardent approval from the democratic world community, was subjected to constant attacks by reactionary groups in Russia and other countries.
WORKSNa voine v Azii i Evrope: Vospominaniia. Moscow, 1894.
Perepiska V. V. Vereshchagina i V. V. Stasova. Moscow, 1950.
REFERENCELebedev, A.K. V. V. Vereshchagin. Moscow, 1958 (Contains a list of Vereshchagin’s written works, a list of his paintings located in museums of the USSR, and a detailed bibliography.)
V. M. DATUNOV