July 01, 2002

The Patriarch of Russian Painting

Mikhail Nesterov, born 140 years ago this month, boasted an enviably long creative life. Born under Tsar Alexander II, he survived the reigns of Alexander III, Nicholas II, Vladimir Lenin and most of the rule of Josef Stalin, never compromising on his artistic principles. He died in wartime Moscow, shortly after receiving the Order of the Red Banner and the Stalin Prize on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov was born on May 19, 1862, in the city of Ufa, Bashkiria, the tenth child of the respected merchant Vasily Nesterov and his wife Maria. Little Mikhail’s health was quite fragile, and his parents feared he would not survive. So, in keeping with local customs, they cured him by placing him inside a huge piece of bread and warming him in the open oven. The Nesterovs had two more children after Mikhail, yet of the twelve children, only Mikhail and his sister Maria survived.

Mikhail’s grandfather, Ivan, had been a serf for the famous Demidov family in Novgorod. His masters transferred him to the Urals to work in their metallurgical plants, and he displayed an uncommon business talent. Subsequently, he was freed to become an independent merchant. Ivan Nesterov went on to become quite succesful in business and politics, serving for 20 years as the golova (mayor) of Ufa.

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