January 01, 2012

A Soup for Seminarians

A Soup for Seminarians

Vasily Perov was an important member of the Peredvizhniki group of Russian artists, known in English as The Wanderers or The Itinerants for the traveling exhibitions they organized throughout the countryside. In 1863 the group broke away from the Russian Academy of Arts in order to focus on paintings that had more relevance to the people. They wanted to democratize art by moving it out of the realm of elite museums, and their realistic portraits focus on the common man, on dramatic events in Russian history, and on the Russian landscape.

Like Dostoyevsky, the Wanderers, and Perov in particular, frequently portrayed poverty and human suffering, subjects that were anathema to high art. The dark palette of his iconic Last Journey (1865) underscores the desperation of a ragged family transporting a coffin to its final resting place.

Another favorite subject for Perov was the clergy. Here, however, he often indulged in mockery as he showed the banality and sometimes venality of their lives. A local priest staggers, drunk, in Perov’s Easter Procession in a Village (1861); in A Meal in a Monastery (1876) the clergymen are corpulent and ruddy from too much food and drink, oblivious to the destitute pilgrims begging for alms.

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