Staunch pacifist and painter of oriental subjects
Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (1842-1904), a Russian sketch painter, writer, traveler, ethnographer, soldier, war reporter in the 19th century, is one of the most famous military painters in Russia. He was born in a chief aristocratic family in Cherepovets (Novgorod Province, today’s Vologda Province). He was admitted to the Naval Armament High School at the age of 9 and served briefly after graduation. In 1860, he was admitted to the Petersburg Academy of Arts. Studied with Russian painters A. Markov, Fei Moller and Ya Beideman; in 1863, he dropped out of school and went to the Caucasus, where he created many sketches; from 1864 to 1865, he went to Paris and studied at the famous French academic school. Learned painting under the tutelage of the painter Jean-Jérôme.
In 1867 Vereshchagin joined the governor and commander-in-chief of the military district Konstantin von Kaufmann as a warrant officer and came to Samarkand. Vereshchagin, together with other fighters, defended against a large-scale enemy attack in Samarkand, and was awarded the Order of St. George, Fourth Class, for his desperate bravery-the only medal he received in his life, who despised all medals.
In 1874, the painter went on a two-year trip to India. He has lived in Mumbai, Agra, Delhi, Jaipur and other cities, and stayed in the Eastern Himalayas and Sikkim for three months. In the following year, he started a long journey in the Kashmir region bordering China’s Tibet and Ladakh. journey. Fascinated by India’s ancient history and unique culture, Vereshchagin brought back about 150 drawings when he returned from his travels.
Vereshchagin was serving in the army during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), so he participated in many battles and was seriously wounded. In the 1880s, he returned to Paris and created a series of Balkan works, about 30 of which mainly depicted war scenes, and their artistry and profundity reached a new level.
In 1884, Vereshchagin went to Palestine and created about 50 drawings, mainly natural scenery and biblical historical themes. The painter depicted the local customs and life scenes, including Arabs, Jews, prayers by the Wailing Wall and practitioners who came to Palestine from all over the world. In addition, he was also immersed in the study of the “Old Testament” and “New Testament” and created a number of works, which expounded the contents of the Gospels in a non-docesan way.
Japan is one of the countries Vereshchagin yearns for. In 1903, he spent three months in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nikko, creating a series of drawings depicting the peaceful life of the Japanese. These paintings are his fusion of Impressionism and traditional realism style, painted in a new way.
On the eve of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the 61-year-old Vereschagin believed that he had the responsibility to be in the center of this upcoming war, so he went to the Far East to join the army. On March 31, 1904, he docked at Port Arthur and was bombed died aboard the Petropavlovsk warship.
War theme works
Vereshchagin created more than 330 paintings in his lifetime, mainly in the 1870s and 1880s. At that time, the touring exhibition painting school with realistic themes was quite influential in Russia, but Vereshchagin was the only famous artist who did not participate in the painting school, and this did not affect him in the same way as his friends in the touring exhibition painting school. Reflect the “truths of life” in your own creations. Specifically, it is to reveal the nature of war, pointing out that it is the “greatest evil”, a barbaric act, and a threat to human civilization. “I have reason to think that I am a representative of realism. The so-called realism refers to the strictest requirements for all aspects of the creative process…” Vereshchagin described his creative methods in this way.
Vereshchagin made a name for himself in Russian art as a reformer in his military works. Most of his predecessors’ war-themed paintings depicted brightly colored war scenes, highlighting the victories achieved by the Tsar and his army, and praising the brilliant achievements of Russia’s military strength. But he is committed to depicting non-fiction content that has been erased from the surface aura, showing the true face of war without any romantic aura-horror, tragedy, desolation, and death. As a brave soldier, Vereshchagin participated in the Turkestan War, the Russo-Turkish War and the Russo-Japanese War. He believed that only when he saw the war with his own eyes, experienced cold and hunger, and endured the danger of injury or death, could he create a truly realistic novel. Works of war scenes.
Vereshchagin’s works are divided into Caucasus series, Balkan series, Palestine series, India series, northern Russia series and Japan series according to the places he visited, among which the Balkan series is the peak of his creation.
In the center of the oil painting “Ode to War” (1871), the severed skulls are piled up in a pyramid shape like a hill, and crows are flying all over the sky above the skulls. The painter symbolizes death and destruction through elements such as skeletons, crows, bare trees, barren land, and desolate towns in the background. It is creepy and expresses the indictment of killing each other. Vereschagin wrote such “meaningful” words in the frame: “To all conquerors, past, present and future.” All works belonging to this series of wars, including Timur (Tamerlane) Gate” (1872), “The Mortally Wounded” (1873), etc., were all acquired by the art connoisseur P. Tretyakov who gave Vereshchagin’s works a very high evaluation.
“Timur (Timur) Gate”
In April 1877, the 10th large-scale war broke out between the Russian Empire and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which ended in a disastrous defeat for Turkey. Vereshchagin fought at the front with the Imperial Army during the Russo-Turkish War, at a crucial Battle of Shipka his brother was killed and he himself was seriously wounded preparing to cross the Danube… After the war, Having experienced a lot of suffering, he deeply reflected on the war, and soon created a number of war-themed works, that is, the Balkan series, including Shipka-Seinova, Skebe near Shipka Lev, “The Vanquished – Requiem”, etc., are used to reveal the horror of war, which has aroused strong public attention. “Shipka-Seinova, Skebelev near Shipka” describes the Battle of Shipka mentioned above. Shipka is located in central Bulgaria. Skebelev was the commander of the 16th Division of the Russian Army at the time. After he led the Russian army to forcibly cross the Danube, he quickly moved forward, expelled the Turkish army from the Shipka Pass, and opened the way to Istanbul. . On the screen, after the Russian army seized the Shipka Pass, Skebelev, riding a horse, waving his military cap and cheering, galloped past the victorious Russian army, reviewing his own winning team in this way. But the victory scene only occupies a very small line on the left side of the frame, and it is almost impossible to see clearly if the picture is not enlarged; while most of the frame is reserved for the battlefield covered with snow and full of bones. The artist intends to remind people that every battle is won with a tragic sacrifice. Similarly, “The Vanquished – Requiem” also depicts the soldiers who died in the Russian-Turkish War when they attacked the Turkish fortifications in the village of Derish in Bulgaria. From the dark sky to the earth, there are snow and ocher everywhere The covered corpse is shocking. The painting exposes the cruelty of war, while expressing deep sympathy for the soldiers who died in battle.
Vereshchagin’s works are not liked by everyone. He has been accused of not following the rules of creation, and his works contain violence and cruel content, which “reproduces the bloody wind of Tsarist Russia’s expansion”. The then emperor Alexander II “expressed extreme dissatisfaction” after seeing Vereshchagin’s works, and Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich (the future Alexander III) also commented on Vereshchagin: “In him There is always a tendency to run counter to national pride, from which it follows that Vereshchagin is either a jerk or a complete lunatic.” On the contrary, however, Vereshchagin himself was a staunch pacifist Those who want to call for peace through their works. What he cares about is the fate of mankind, and both war scenes and national customs are full of humanitarianism. In 1901 Vereshchagin was nominated for the first Nobel Peace Prize.
Zelifila Tregulova, director of the Tretyakov Gallery, said: “He is not a quiet pacifist who only stays in his own studio. It is to make future generations no longer have the idea of launching a heinous war.”
Oriental theme works
War experience and travel time in Central Asia, India, China and Japan gave Vereshchagin a lot of creative inspiration, prompting him to create a large number of oriental landscape and figure paintings. He said in his memoirs: “I don’t have a special love for the East. It is freer and more independent than the West. It is different from the loft I lived in Paris and the room I lived in on the central street of Vasilyev Island. I live here. What I painted was Kyrgyz tents; unlike before, I was surrounded by models, but now I am surrounded by real people. What I draw are all natural scenes, rather than specially looking for them.”
“The Vanquished – Requiem”
From 1869 to 1870, Vereshchagin returned to Central Asia, paid close attention to this beautiful and unique place, and created a series of works. He strives to depict every aspect of the place, so that each of his paintings and sketches forms part of a larger work. In the painting “Cossack in a Fur Hat”, Vereshchagin described the uniqueness of a typical Cossack’s clothing, accessories and appearance of the whole figure; , the painter showed the appearance of the Kyrgyz tent, showing the national style; and in the painting “The Interior of the Kyrgyz Tent of the Rich”, we can intuitively see the complex and precise structure inside the Kyrgyz tent, and the Kyrgyz unique hangings, furniture and The carpet, and the scene of father and son getting along.
In addition to depicting the daily life of people in Central Asia, Vereshchagin’s paintings of “Dervish Wearing Festival Costumes” and “Chorus of Dervish Begging” in Tashkent vividly portray the Islamic religion in Central Asia. unique religious life.
Vereshchagin also liked to paint the great nature, the bright colors and sunshine of life. In the two paintings of “Issyk-Kul” and “Ala Lake”, there seems to be nothing that can remind people of the tragedy of war, only the blue and quiet lake, the majestic and magnificent peaks, the endless grassland and the leisurely life of the local people , Nature exudes a serene and charming atmosphere, very charming.
In search of new visual experience, the painter also went to the Caucasus, Palestine, the Philippines, Cuba, the United States and Japan. What impressed him most was India, where he stayed for two years and lived in Mumbai, Ankara, Delhi and Rangpur successively. At the age of 32, he embarked on a tour of the difficult-to-climb region of Kashmir and Ladakh on the border with China’s Tibet, which almost consumed his life. It was there that he created “Yaks” (1875), a caravan of yaks slowly moving under a load against a backdrop of cold gray skies and barren yellow peaks…the harsh natural environment of the region is on display.
Already at the beginning of his travels, Vereshchagin attempted to create two series on India, two “long poems,” as he called them. However, the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war interrupted his creation, and the next step was to join the army and go to the battlefield. It is worth mentioning that Vereshchagin also passed through western China during his travels, and the paintings he left along the way were mostly related to the daily life of Chinese people in the late Qing Dynasty. For example, in the paintings “The People of Sauron”, “Women of the Sauron Tribe” and “Children of the Sauron Tribe”, the painter depicted the typical images of ordinary men, women and children in the Qing Dynasty respectively. Headdresses and manners are all described in detail; and in the three paintings of “Small House in China”, “The Broken Wall of a Small Chinese Temple” and “Small Garden Gate in Tacheng”, through the roof ridge, animal head, and small pavilion And the symmetrical round door style shows the unique characteristics of Chinese architecture.
“The Cossack in the Fur Hat”
“Dervishes in Festive Dress”
“The Carriage of the Rich People in Derry”
At the same time, Vereshchagin, who was very interested in religion, also created many works about Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhist customs of Turghut people in Xinjiang. For example, the portrait of “Tibetan Monk” depicts the image of a Tibetan monk wearing Tibetan costumes with pious eyes; , the monk hat on the head and the monk’s robe on the body belong to the typical style of Tibetan Buddhism.
In the painting “The Prayer Room of the Kalmyks”, in a dimly lit room, three Turghuts dressed in Tibetan Buddhist monk costumes are performing rituals in a small Buddhist hall. The artist described the layout of the Tibetan Buddhist temple in detail: the Buddhist hall is divided into four levels from bottom to top, and incense is burned on the right side of the bottom level; offering cups, bowls, butter lamps, etc. are placed on the upper two levels. Offerings and other Buddhist utensils; three Buddha statues are enshrined at the top. It is impossible to determine where the two Buddha statues on the left and right are sacred, but the one sitting in the middle should be the Tathagata Buddha. There are six thangkas hanging from left to right on the wall behind the Buddha statue. At the top of the picture, curtains and other ornaments hang down, adding to the mysterious and solemn atmosphere.
Vereshchagin traveled to Japan in 1903, but because the Russo-Japanese War was approaching, he returned to Russia after only three months, and brought back nearly 20 sketches of Japanese genre paintings and portraits. In the painting “Sunlight Temple”, the artist showed us the dignified and elegant features of modern Japanese architecture; With the setting and decoration, the image of a traditional Japanese woman comes alive on the paper. If it is said that in the portrayal of portraits and architectural features, the painter has brought the traditional realism techniques into full play, then in “Leisure in a Boat” and “Leisurely”, he adopts the impressionist style of painting, through the painting of boats, paper umbrellas, etc. And the depiction of women’s attire shows the Japanese folk customs in the early 20th century.
Vereshchagin once said: “I have loved the sun all my life and wanted to paint it. When I had to go through the war and tell my opinion about the war, I was very happy to be able to devote myself to the sun again. But the rage of war again and again It torments me one after another.” If war is a reality that Vereshchagin has to face all his life, then the mysterious East under his brush is the long-lost “sun” in his heart.
He is a staunch pacifist—his war-themed works are all tragic, true and thought-provoking, with the intention of calling for peace; The real microcosm of Eastern social life has made a contribution that cannot be ignored for future generations to understand the history and culture of the East, customs and customs, and to conduct Oriental studies.