Sunday, December 7, 2014

Viktor Vasnetsov

The Flying Carpet, a depiction of the hero of Russian folklore, Ivan Tsarevich
oil on canvas
165 × 297 cm
Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum, Russia

One of the stories in the One Thousand and One Nights relates how Prince Husain, the eldest son of Sultan of the Indies, travels to Bisnagar (Vijayanagara) in India and buys a magic carpet. This carpet is described as follows: "Whoever sitteth on this carpet and willeth in thought to be taken up and set down upon other site will, in the twinkling of an eye, be borne thither, be that place nearhand or distant many a day's journey and difficult to reach." In Russian folk tales, Baba Yaga can supply Ivan the Fool or Ivan Tsarevich with a flying carpet or some other magical gifts. Such gifts help the hero to find his way "beyond thrice-nine lands, in the thrice-ten kingdom".

In 1880, the rich industrialist Savva Mamontov commissioned Viktor Vasnetsov to illustrate a folk talk about Ivan and the Firebird. The painting represents Ivan returning home after capturing the Firebird, which he keeps in a cage. Ivan is riding the flying carpet in the early morning mist. When exhibited, the painting was panned by leading critics as a commercially motivated betrayal of realism and return to the aesthetics of Romanticism. On the other hand, it was enthusiastically received by the Slavophile artists.

Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926), a Russian artist, was a major Russian Revivalist figure in the art world, and a co-founder of romantic modernism and folklorist art. He showed two distinct periods of evolution in his art. The realistic style of painting local people and landscapes gradually evolved into the nationalist and historical style of design, and architecture, drawing on Russia’s ancient history, adding his fascination of folklore, and romantic modernism. He was central in moving realism towards a more nationalist, and historical style, believing that a true work of art conveys the past, present, and maybe even the future.

His father was a village priest, who was also a painter. Taking after his father’s painting background, Viktor began painting local landscapes, and the people of his village. In 1867, he was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts.
In 1876, he joined the movement of the Peredvizhniki(a group of Russian realist artists, often called The Wanderers)’s in Paris. While living in France, his studies focused on classical and contemporary paintings as well as academist and Impressionist styles. Returning to Moscow in 1877, he began illustrating Russian fairy-tales and traditional East Slavic oral epic narrative poems. The next two decades proved to be very productive years for Viktor, but many of his later works of art were not received well by the public. In these twenty years, he used his expertise in other media including theatrical design, and Russian Revivalist architecture. During this time period, he designed sets and costumes for The Snow Maiden, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera in Italy. He also designed a pavilion for the Russians during the World’s Fair of Paris in 1898. In 1912, he received a title of nobility from Czar Nicholas II. He designed a uniform for the military Red Army in 1918.

Many of his art received very little appreciation during his lifetime. Critics dismissed his latter art as trying to undermine the realist principle of the time period. Little did they know that future generations would admire, respect, and adore his neorussian style, and how he was able to depict Russian history in a mythical, somewhat enchanting way.