MOSCOW.- The State Historical Museum
opened the exhibition "The Year 1812 in the paintings by Vasily Vereshchagin", a gift given to the museum in 1812 by Emperor Nicholas II. Prior to the celebraton of the 200th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812 the State Historical Museum has organized this exhibition of paintings made by the famous Russian painter of battle scenes, Vasily Vereshchagin.
Twenty grandiose picturesque paintings chronicle the events from the Battle of Borodino to the flight of Napoleon from Russia. The artist meticulously studied the events of that era, defending his right to the historical realities of loyalty, purging the myth of Napoleon and the French army. The paintings are exhibited as the artist would have wanted to: with special lighting, music and noise, accompanied, with literary texts of the artist.
Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin was born at Cherepovets on October 26, 1842. His father was a Russian landowner of noble birth. When he was eight years old he was sent to Tsarskoe Selo to enter the Alexander cadet corps, and three years later he entered the naval school at St Petersburg, making his first voyage in 1858. He served on the frigate Kamchatka, sailing to Denmark, France and Egypt.
He graduated first in the list from the naval school, but left the service immediately to begin the study of drawing in earnest. He won a medal two years later, in 1863, from the St Petersburg Academy for his Ulysses slaying the Suitors. In 1864 he proceeded to Paris, where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme, though he dissented widely from his master's methods.
In the Salon of 1866 he exhibited a drawing of Dukhobors chanting their Psalms, and in the next year he accompanied General Kaufman's expedition to Turkestan, his military service at the siege of Samarkand procuring for him the Cross of St George. He was an indefatigable traveller in Turkestan in 1869, the Himalayas, India and Tibet in 1873, and again in India in 1884.
After a period of hard work in Paris and Munich he exhibited some of his Turkestan pictures in St Petersburg in 1874, among them two which were afterwards suppressed on the representations of Russian soldiers The Apotheosis of War, a pyramid of skulls dedicated "to all conquerors, past, present and to come," and Left Behind, the picture of a dying soldier deserted by his fellows.
Vereshchagin was with the Russian army during the Turkish campaign of 1877; he was present at the crossing of the Shipka Pass and at the Siege of Pleven, where his brother was killed; and he was dangerously wounded during the preparations for the crossing of the Danube near Rustchuk. At the conclusion of the war he acted as secretary to General Skobelev at San Stefano.
After the war he settled at Munich, where he produced his war pictures so rapidly that he was freely accused of employing assistants. The sensational subjects of his pictures, and their didactic aim the promotion of peace by a representation of the horrors of war attracted a large section of the public not usually interested in art to the series of exhibitions of his pictures in Paris in 1881 and subsequently in London, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna and other cities.
He painted several scenes of British imperial rule in India. His epic portrayal of The State Procession of the Prince of Wales into Jaipur in 1876 is claimed to be the third largest painting in the world.
He aroused much controversy by his series of three pictures of a Roman execution (the Crucifixion); of sepoys blown from the guns in India; and of the execution of Nihilists in St Petersburg. His picture Blowing from Guns in British India depicted executions carried out by tying victims to the barrels of guns. Vereshchagin's detractors argued that such executions had only occurred in the Indian rebellion of 1857, but the painting depicted modern soldiers of the 1880s, implying that the practice was normal. Because of its photographic style, the painting appeared to present itself as impartial record of a real event. In the Magazine of Art in December 1887 Vereshchagin defended himself, rather evasively, by saying that this mode of execution was "the most humane in existence" and that if there were another rebellion then the British would use it again. A journey in Syria and Palestine in 1884 furnished him with an equally discussed set of subjects from the New Testament. Vereshchagin's paintings caused controversy over portraying the figure of Christ with what was thought at the time to be an unseemly realism. His depiction of Jesus's features was thought of as excessively vulgar and over-emphatically Semitic in ethnicity.
The "1812" series on Napoleon's Russian campaign, on which he also wrote a book, seem to have been inspired by Tolstoi's War and Peace, and were painted in 1893 at Moscow, where the artist eventually settled.
Vereshchagin was in the Far East during the First Sino-Japanese War, with the American troops in the Philippines, and with the Russian troops in Manchuria. During the Russo-Japanese War, he was invited by Admiral Stepan Makarov to join him aboard Makarov's flagship Petropavlovsk. On (March 31, 1904 O. S.) April 13, 1904, Petropavlovsk struck two mines while returning to Port Arthur and sunk, taking down with her most of its crew, including both Admiral Makarov and Vereshchagin. Vereshchagin's last work, a picture of a council of war presided over by Admiral Makarov, was recovered almost undamaged.