Emanuel von Baeyer


Vasily Vereshchagin (Василий Верещагин)
1842 Cherepovets – 1904 Port Arthur

Oil on canvas. 27.5 x 36.5 cm.

Vereshchagin is one of the most important Russian painters of Orientalist and battle scenes. He came to fame witnessing the Russian invasion of Central Asia in the period 1867–69 and during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–78. Most of his paintings were commissioned by the Russian army. Vershchagin was close to the Russian Realist group the Peredvizhniki, whose members included Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin and Viktor Vasnetsov. In works like the Apotheosis of War, 1871, he drew attention to the brutality and injustice of war. Vereshchagin died in 1904 on the flagship Petropavlosk during the Russo-Japanese War.

Travelling extensively, Vereshchagin documented his journeys in drawings, oil sketches and photographs. In addition to landscapes, monuments and figures, there are also several interiors of the same canvas size and technique as our oil sketch (Before the Confession in the Village Church, c. 1891, Hermitage St. Petersburg; Interior of a Kirghiz Yurt, Veresdajin Museum, Cherepovets, Russia). We do not know exactly which interior is depicted here. To judge from the furniture and interior decoration, this was probably a temporary accommodation during a stay in France. Vershchagin first stayed in Paris while studying at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Gérôme in the years 1864–65. After a long journey to India he came back to Paris in 1876 and thereafter returned regularly for exhibitions (1888, 1897, 1900). It was at that time that Verechshagin set up a large studio in Maisons-Laffitte, a small town on the outskirts of Paris (1). The artist is said to have had a weakness for and a large collection of exotic costumes, which he not only used for his paintings but also wore himself. The clothes hanging on the back wall remind us of the traditional silk robes of Central Asia.

A comparable image can be found in the drawing A Hotel Room before Departure (2). This interior from the drawings collection of the Tretjakov Gallery underlines Vereshchagin’s interest in his immediate and intimate surroundings. As far as we know, such insights into his life are rare and our sketch adds to an understanding how contemporary artists lived and worked (3).

(1) Lebedev 1958, p. 212; Exh. Cat. Grafton 1899, Nr. 124
(2) V nomere gostinici pered otjezdom, 11.7 x 17.5 cm. exh. cat. Tretjakov Gallery, inv. no. 2256. (Lit: Exh. Cat. Tretjakov Gallery 1992: A.K. Lebedev, 1958, no. 341
(3) Exh. cat. Grafton 1899; Lebedev 1958; exh. cat. Tretjakov Gallery 1992.