Artistic Moscow: Museum of Russian painter Victor Vasnetsov
by Olivia Kroth
The Russian painter Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov was born in the Vyatka Governate, on the 8th of May 1848. He lived in Moscow from 1894 until his death, on the 23rd of July 1926. The artist designed his house in the style of a Russian isba. Today, his home, located in Moscow’s Vasnetsov Lane, is a museum for the painter who gained fame due to his presentation of historical and mythological themes. The ground floor shows how Victor Vasnetsov and his family lived, while several large paintings on the upper floor introduce visitors to his artistic work.
Victor Vasnetov’s Selfportrait (1868):
Victor Vasnetsov Museum in Moscow
13, Vasnetsov Lane
Metro station: Sukharevskaya
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00 – 17.00 (closed on Monday, Tuesday and every last Thursday of the month)
Admission: 250 rubles
Moscow was the last station in Victor Vasnetsov’s life. In 1867, he studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, where he made friends with the painters Ivan Kramskoy and Ilya Repin. He furthermore joined the circle “Perevidzhniki” (Wanderers or Itinerants), a group of Russian realist artists portraying aspects of social-urban life. In 1882, Victor Vasnetsov and Victor Polenov designed the church of Abramtsevo. From 1884 to 1889, Victor Vasnetsov was commissioned to paint frescos in the Saint Vladimir Cathedral of Kiev, together with fellow painter Mikhail Vrubel who became his friend. In 1994, the artist moved to Moscow, where he spent the rest of his life. He built his house in the style of Russian revivalist architecture. Today, Victor Vasnetsov’s isba with its little garden is surrounded by highrise buildings in the centre of Moscow.
On the ground foor visitors can walk through the family’s living quarters. Heavy wooden furniture in the old Russian style suggests a home of peasants in a rural area. In the long winters, each room was heated with a Russian stove. A long wooden table dominates the large dining-room. The table is decorated with the double-headed Russian eagle as inlay work. Here Victor Vasnetsov gathered with his family for dinner. The children played on the piano in the corner. Two wooden buffets contained china and earthenware. A portrait of Victor Vasnetsov’s son Vladimir hangs on one of the walls. On the upper floor visitors can see some monumental paintings with mythological themes in the artist’s workshop. “The magic carpet” (1918-1926) shows a pair of lovers flying on a carpet over clouds, beneath them woods of birches and cliffs.
Magic Carpet (1929-1926):
“The sleeping tsarevna” ((1900-1926) is a huge painting in horizontal format, fixed in a stand on the ground. In the centre the tsarevna is sleeping on a pedestal in a portico with red columns. In the background we can see birches and firs. The tsareva’s guards and servants around her are all asleep, too. Drowsy musicians are holding instruments on their laps. At the foot of the pedestal a bear and a fox are snoozing, while a peacock is slumbering on a tree stump outside.
“The frog tsarevna” (1918) hangs on the opposite wall. The young woman’s long braids hang down to her calves, on her head she wears a Russian crown. The ankle-length green dress undulates to the rhythm of the dance steps, the right hand is waving a white handkerchief, the shoes are richly embroidered. Three musicians sit on the left and right, playing a dance tune on traditional Russian instruments, including a balalaika. This picture also shows a portico with an arch leading outside, where white swans swim on the blue water of a lake. In the background the theme of dancing is repeated: a group of young girls are dancing in a little village.
“The frog tsarevna” was painted after a Russian folk-tale: Three sons of the tsar, wishing to find wives, shot arrows in different directions. The first son’s arrow fell into a nobleman’s yard, so he married the nobleman’s daughter. The second son’s arrow landed in a merchant’s yard and he wedded the merchant’s daughter. The third son’s arrow flew away to the swamps and was picked up by a frog but this animal was an enchanted princess. After many dangerous adventures the youngest son helped her to change into human form again and married the princess.
During the last decade of the 19th century, the artist elaborated his typical style of Russian Renaissance architecture. Examples for this style are Victor Vasnetsov’s designs for the Russian pavilion of the World Fair in Paris, in 1898, and for the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. From 1906 until 1911, he worked on the plan of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Moscow. In 1912, the popular artist received a noble title from Tsar Nicholas II. After the Russian Revolution, in 1918, Victor Vasnetsov created the uniforms of the Red Army. During the last years of his life, he painted mostly religious themes.
Victor Vasnetsov designed the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Moscow:
About thirty of Victor Vasnetsov’s works are exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. They were painted between 1876 and 1909, showing the everyday life of Russian people, historical and mythological topics, landscapes and portraits. A historical painting is named “After Prince Igor’s battle against the Polovtsy” (1880). Prince Igor Svyatoslavich the Brave (Игорь Святославич) lived from 1151 to 1202. He was a member of the Rurik dynasty in Russia. Chronicles tell us that he had a very successful military career, leading many campaigns against the Polovtsy. His last battle, however, ended badly. The Polovtsy shot him down and took him prisoner. Prince Igor escaped by cunning and was able to return home. Victor Vasnetsov’s painting shows dad warriors on the battle field.
The Polovtsy were Mongolian nomads, who settled in the steppe north of the Black Sea, in the 11th century. Originally nomadic herdsmen, the Polovtsy in the 12th century exercised crafts like blacksmithing, clothes-making and shoe-making. They continued to live in yurts, the movable tents of Mongolian nomads. The Polovtsy believed in the existence of good and evil spirits. When they buried their dead, they erected stone statues to honour them. The Polovtsy lived in clans, each headed by a bey. These clans were grouped into hordes, ruled by sultans. The law of blood vengeance prevailed among the Polovtsy, as in most nomadic societies. With their mobile light cavalry they often raided Russian settlements and attacked Russian territory.
The struggle of the Russian people against the Polovtsy is described in various chronicles and in a famous epic, “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign”. In the 19th century, the Russian composer Alexander Borodin composed the opera “Prince Igor” and Victor Vasnetsov painted “After Prince Igor’s battle against the Polovtsy”. The painter called himself “a narrator of tales from Russia’s past”. He wanted to show the power and force of Russian people as represented by heroes of former times who defended their homeland. Victor Vasnetsov admired their “triumphant power and tranquil force”. According to his own words he tried to “keep them alive in the national artistic consciousness”.
Scene from Alexander Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor”:
Some excellent portraits are exhibited in Victor Vasnetsov’s house, as well as in the Tretyakov Gallery, for example the portrait of Tatyana Anatolyevna Mamontova (1864-1920). She was the daughter of Anatoly Ivanovich Mamontov, editor and owner of a publishing house in Moscow. Tatyana was the niece of industrialist Savva Ivanovich Mamontov (1841-1918), who supported the artists’ colony of Abramtsevo. Savva Ivanovich Mamontov (Са́вва Ива́нович Ма́монтов) acquired wealth by constructing Russian railways, mainly the Severnaya Railway linking Moscow with Russia’s North, the Moscow-Yaroslavl Railway and the Donetsk Railway. Later, the Moscow-Yaroslavl Railway was incorporated into the Transsiberian Railway. Today, Abramtsevo is a stop of the Transsiberian Railway. The village is located at kilometre 57 on the way from Moscow to Yaroslavl.
As a member of the Abramtsevo circle Victor Vasnetsov was commissioned to portray members of the Mamontov family. Tatyana’s portrait presents the young woman of twenty years leaning against a tree in the garden. Her short dark hair is covered by a cream-coloured hat, her flowery summer dress is set off by a cream-coloured collar and cuffs. A pearl necklace and cream-coloured handkerchief in her breast pocket complete this outfit. Tatyana is looking at the painter with curiosity and scepticism. It would be interesting to know whether she liked the portrait. Whatever her opinion might have been, nowadays the picture is worth a fortune.
Artists’ House in Abramtsevo:
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: