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Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848 - Moscow1926)

Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov was a Russian artist. He is considered a key figure of the Revivalist movement in Russian art.

His father Mikhail Vasilievich Vasnetsov, a village priest, was a well-educated ‘philosophy-enclined’ man interested in natural science, astronomy and painting. His grandfather was an icon painter. He had two brothers : Apollinary Vasnetsov became a remarkable painter too and the other one became a schoolteacher.

From the age of ten, Vasnetsov studied in a seminary in Vyatka. During his seminary years, he worked for a local icon shopkeeper. He also helped an exiled Polish artist, Michal Elwiro Andriolli (1836-1893), to execute frescoes for Vyatka’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Having graduated from the seminary Viktor decided to move to Saint Petersburg to study art. He auctioned some of his paintings in order to raise the money required for the trip to the Russian capital. In August 1867 Vasnetsov entered the Imperial Academy of Arts. Three years later the Peredvizhniki movement of realist painters rebelled against the Academism. Vasnetsov befriended their leader Ivan Kramskoi (1838-1887), referring to him as his teacher. He also became very close to his fellow student Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844-1930). In the early 1870s Vasnetsov executed a lot of engravings depicting contemporary life. He also started genre paintings in oil, which were warmly welcomed by democratic circles of Russian society.

In 1876 Repin invited Vasnetsov to join the Peredvizhniki colony in Paris. While living in France he studied classical and contemporary paintings, Academist and Impressionist alike. At that period he produced prints and exhibited some of his works at the Salon. It was in Paris that he became fascinated with fairy-tale subjects. In 1877 Vasnetsov returned to Moscow.

In the late 1870s he concentrated on illustrating Russian fairy tales and bylinas. These works were not appreciated at the time they appeared. Many radical critics dismissed them as undermining the realist principles of the Peredvizhniki. Even such prominent connoisseurs as Pavel Tretyakov refused to buy them. The vogue for Vasnetsov’s paintings would spread in the 1880s, when he turned to religious subjects and executed a series of icons for Abramsetvo estate of his patron Savva Mamontov (1841-1918).

Between 1884 and 1889 Vasnetsov was commissioned to paint frescoes in St. Vladimir’s Cathedral of Kiev. It was a challenging work which ran contrary to both Russian and Western traditions of religious paintings. The influential art critic Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906) labelled them as sacrilegious play with religious feelings of the Russian people. Working together on the decoration of the Cathedral, Vasnetsov taught Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910) a great deal.

In 1885 Vasnetsov travelled to Italy and worked on stage designs and costumes for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov(1844-1908)’s opera The Snow Maiden.

The following two decades were productive for Vasnetsov, but most of his later paintings were perceived as being of secondary importance. He increasingly turned to other media during this period.

At the turn of the century Vasnetsov elaborated his hallmark “fairy-tale” style of Russian Revivalist architecture. His first acclaimed design was a church in Abramtsevo, executed jointly with Vasily Polenov in 1882. He also designed the Russian pavilion of the World Fair in Paris in 1898. Finally in 1904 he designed the best-known of his ”fairy-tale” buildings – the Tretyakov Gallery.

In 1912 Vasnetsov was given a noble title by Czar Nicholas II (1868-1918).
Vasnetsov allocated a significant portion of his income to the State Historical Museum, so that a large part of the museum’s collection was acquired on Vasnetsov’s money. After the October Revolution he advocated removing some of the religious paintings - notably those by Alexander Ivanov (1806-1858) – from churches to the Tretyakov Gallery. In 1918 Vasnetsov participated in the designing of a military uniform for the newly founded Red Army.