Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vasily Polenov

Moscow patio
oil on canvas
64.5 x 80.1 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

"A man lives on through his creations" (Polenov)

Vasiliy Dmitrievich Polenov (1844-1927) was a painter, a graphic artist, decorative and applied arts designer, a scene-painter, a stage designer, an architect, a composer and a pedagogue.

He was born into a noble and intelligent family in St. Petersburg. His father was a high-ranking military officer and archeologist. His mother was fond of fine arts and was an amateur painter. He studied simultaneously in the St. Petersburg University and in the Academy of Arts. In 1871, he got a diploma of a lawyer and a Major Gold Medal in the Academy for his painting. It took him several years to decide to go in favor of painting.

As a pensioner of the Academy he traveled to Germany, Italy, France, painted historical and genre pictures and portraits. But most attractive for him was landscape painting on plein air. He studied the works of French landscape painters, especially those by the Barbizon school. In 1876 he returned to Russia. Since 1878 he stayed and worked in Abramtsevo for long periods, created pictures and drawings, participated in the amateur performances as a scene-painter, an actor and a stage director, collected items of folk art, worked at the Abramtsevo pottery.

He was the first to introduce the principles of ‘European influence’ in Russia, these were the basics of plein air painting: clean and bright colors, colored shadows, free strokes. He also created a series of canvases devoted to Jesus Christ. He tended to combine New Testament subjects with his penchant for landscape. He visited Palestine twice, studied the landscape, architecture, people of the land. His manner of depicting Christ was new, and his compositions, though academic, were rather realistic.

From the 1870s, he also turned to theatrical decoration. He was one of the reformers of theater decorative art. Most notably, he decorated Savva Mamontov's mansion in Abramtsevo and his Russian Private Opera. He was elected a member of the St.Petersburg Academy of arts in 1893. In 1926 he was given the title  “Artist of the Republic”. For many years, he coached young painters in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.