Vasily Surikov – The Morning of the Streltsy Execution – 1880
Vasily Ivanovich Surikov (Russian: Василий Иванович Суриков; 24 January 1848, Krasnoyarsk – 19 March 1916, Moscow) was a Russian Realist history painter. Many of his works have become familiar to the general public through their use as illustrations.
He was born to an old Don Cossack family that had settled in Siberia. His father was a Collegiate Registrar, a civil service rank that often served as postmasters. In 1854, as a result of his father being reassigned, the family moved to the village of Sukhobuzimskoye, where he began his primary education.
In 1859, his father died of tuberculosis so the family returned to Krasnoyarsk and were forced to rent the second floor of their house to make ends meet. He began drawing while attending the district school and was encouraged by the local art teacher. His first formal work dates from 1862, but his family could not afford to continue his education and he became a clerk in a government office. This brought him into contact with Pavel Zamyatin, the Governor of Yenisei, who was able to find him a patron; Pyotr Kuznetsov, a local merchant who owned several small gold mines.
In 1868, he rode on horseback to Saint Petersburg, but was unable to qualify for admission to the Imperial Academy of Arts, so he studied at the drawing school of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. After a year there, he was allowed to audit classes at the Academy and became a full-time pupil toward the end of 1869.
From 1869 to 1875, he studied with Pavel Chistyakov, Bogdan Willewalde and Pyotr Shamshin; winning several medals. His great attention to composition earned him a nickname: “The Composer”. In 1875, he graduated with the title of “Artist”, first degree.
Am I overly enamored of Russian artists?
Well, I do see Russia as a tragic reflection of what the U.S. might have become, and the U.S. as what could happen without all the medieval baggage. Our societies have more in common than many would like to admit.
Lately, I wonder if we’re not heading down that road anyway…