July 25, 2016

Vasnetsov, Painter and Planet: An Art Gallery

Vasnetsov, Painter and Planet: An Art Gallery

You’ve got to paint some really good landscapes to get a planet named after you. Apollinary Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov was born on July 25, 1856, and Planet 3586 was christened Vasnetsov in September of 1978. What happened in between those two birthdays was a fruitful painting career that spanned two centuries and vast political change throughout Russia.

Vasnetsov is known for a unique painting genre in which he recreated historical landscapes of Russia’s past based on information from history books and archeological records. Many of his most renowned works use nineteenth-century painting techniques to bring medieval Moscow to life in an unprecedented way.

In the below image of Moscow’s most famous square, for example, although the familiar domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral loom in the background, if you’re used to Red Square being red, the white walls of the Kremlin may surprise you. The style of dress and stalls in the marketplace – unlike booths today selling matrioshkas painted like Putin or The Beatles – indicate Vasnetsov’s imagination in portraying a time long gone.

Red Square in the Second Half of the XVII Century (1925)

While Vasnetsov's Red Square takes on perhaps the most famous site in the Kremlin, Vasnetsov’s paintings of the past lead viewers all over Moscow, creating a visual map of the city’s past.

Heralds, Early Morning in the Kremlin, Beginning of the XVII Century (1913)
Old Moscow. Street in Kitai Gorod at the Beginning of the XVII Century (1900)

Vasnetsov specialized in representing Russia’s past, as the above images demonstrate. Yet his prowess in painting architecture transcends the limits of centuries in his portrayals of landmarks that remained constant, at least during his lifetime.

The Kremlin (1892)
Blagodat Hill (1890)

Though scenes of cities, past and present, make up much of Vasnetsov’s body of work, he is also known for his landscapes and representations of nature. His paintings of the countryside capture the vastness of the Russian expanse, while also picking up on unique elements within the chosen field of vision. Clearly, Apollinary knew just how to find the right spot to sit down for a paint.

Grey Day (1883)
After the Rain (1887)

In After the Rain, the light streaming through the clouds suggests that calm and hope have returned, perhaps following a violent storm. The rays shining just in front of the walker in the center of the canvas indicates that he still has a long way to go, but his destination will be worth the trek.

Though Apollinary Vasnetsov was a skilled painter in his own right, he was often overshadowed by his more famous brother, Viktor Vasnetsov. Apollinary, eight years Viktor’s junior, studied under his brother, so similar methods and themes can be seen in the siblings’ paintings. Both had a fascination with depicting history in a way that made it feel present to the viewer.

While Apollinary specialized in city scenes and landscapes, Viktor was more interested in the mythological past and visualizations of folklore. Bogatyrs, one of his most famous paintings, shows three knights from Russian myth on the lookout for new adventure.

Bogatyrs (1898)

The Vasnetsov brothers captured the beauty of Russian nature, history, and mythology. The planet Vasnetsov is named in honor of both of them. While the planet too distant to see with the naked eye, if the brothers had been around to spot it through a telescope when it was discovered in 1978, they surely would have expanded their artistic abilities to new frontiers. Still, when they died – Viktor in 1926 and Apollinary in 1933 – they left a shared legacy of exploring new horizons through their artwork.

All works pictured are in the public domain in Russia and accessed via wikimedia.org.

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