In this issue of the History of Things we’ll talk about painter Apollinary Vasnetsov, a historian who specialised in Moscow studies, and the younger brother of Viktor Vasnetsov, who painted Three Bogatyrs and Ivan Tsarevich Riding a Grey Wolf .Apollinary Vasnetsov’s drawings and paintings are the most popular works in the fine art collection of the Museum of Moscow, the arts establishment which he helped found. .
Natalya Muzalevskaya, a researcher at the museum, offers us a look at Apollinary Vasnetsov’s works ahead of the painter’s birthday (6 August 1856).
Apollinary Vasnetsov loved painting since early childhood, which was largely due to the influence of his elder brother, Viktor, the would-be celebrated artist. Although Apollinary did not get a fundamental art education in St Petersburg, Viktor introduced his younger brother into a circle of famous painters, many of whom became his lifelong friends. In 1883, as part of a Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers) exhibition, the first significant work by Apollinary, The Grey Day, was exhibited. It enjoyed popularity and was purchased by Pavel Tretyakov.
Neglinnaya River in the 17th Century, 1918. Cardboard, charcoal, watercolour. Right: An explanatory sketch for the picture Cannon-casting Yard on the Neglinnaya River in the 17th Century, 1920s. Paper on cardboard, Indian ink.
Apollinary Vasnetsov. Left: Traffic on Voskresensky Bridge in the 18th Century, 1926. Paper, watercolour, charcoal. Right: An explanatory sketch for the painting Traffic on Voskresensky Bridge in the 18th Century, 1927. Paper on cardboard, Indian ink.
Apollinary Vasnetsov. Left: The Old Mouth of the Neglinnaya River, 1924. Paper on cardboard, charcoal, watercolour. Right: An explanatory sketch to the work The Old Mouth of the Neglinnaya River. Date unknown. Paper, Indian ink.
In 1888, the painter joined the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions, and in 1900, he was granted the title of an academician. After Isaak Levitan’s death, he headed the landscape painting studio at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
Apollinary Vasnetsov turned to ancient Moscow history and archaeology in the late 19th century as an established landscape painter. From then on, the historical landscape of Moscow, the capital of Russia since the old times, remained his principal creative pursuit. A member of the Moscow Archaeological Society and chair of the Commission for Old Moscow Studies, Vasnetsov would embark on a work dedicated to “the hoary antiquity of Moscow” only upon comprehensive research on the subject.
The artist would take part in archaeological excavations conducted in Moscow at construction and renovation sites. He supported each work with a sketch and a drawing plan with explanatory comments, which he would voice during meetings of the Old Moscow Society.
Vasnetsov created his historical pictures with a mixed technique – he used charcoal, watercolour and black chalk to clearly depict every detail of architecture and every figure. In the early 1920s, the painter created a number of works based on ancient Moscow storylines upon the order of the Moscow Community Museum (today’s Museum of Moscow), to whose establishment he contributed a lot.
Apollinary Vasnetsov’s drawings and painting are a valuable part and rightful pride of the Museum of Moscow. Hardly any other historical museum in the world can boast such a full collection of works by one master reflecting the entire process of city evolution in an equally artistic and research-based way.
Vasnetsov was not just a researcher of old Moscow history but an advocate for its conservation. Two years before his death, in 1931, he was the only Moscow painter who came out against the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. He expressed his disapproval in an open letter in Izvestia newspaper.