Vasily Polenov: “I love the Gospel narration immensely …”
Creating a cycle of paintings “From the Life of Christ” Polenov considered “the main work of his life.” This circumstance in itself prompted researchers to pay special attention to evangelical themes in the work of the artist. However, this series in its integrity is known only from reproductions in Polenov’s published album “From the Life of Christ”, which became a bibliographic rarity immediately after its appearance.
Back in 1994, the organizers of the personal exhibition of Polenov, dedicated to his 150th anniversary, sought to more fully present the works related to the cycle “From the Life of Christ” in order to show the diversity of the artist’s work, the versatility of his talents and searches. But this turned out to be quite difficult, since the paintings from this series, which included 65 works in 1909, have remained in an insignificant number in Russian museums and private collections. At the jubilee exhibition, only some of them were exhibited: “Christ in the desert” (“He was in the desert with beasts”) and “Golgotha” (“He gave up the spirit”) donated by Polenov to the Vyatka Art Museum at the time of its formation in 1911, a variant-repetition “Dreams” (1894, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Department of Personal Collections), “On the Lake of Gennesaret” (1888) and “Among the Teachers” (1896, both – the State Tretyakov Gallery), later included in the series in a reduced form , as well as sketches of future paintings – “And he was there,” “Martha took him to her house”, “James and John” (everything is the State Russian Museum), “He returned to Naz ret “,” Filled with wisdom “,” Brought children “(all – TG),” He taught “(Krasnodar Regional Art Museum. FA Kovalenko),” The Last Supper “(Tyumen Regional Museum of Fine Arts) and other works .
For a long time, there was a legend that most of the artist’s works were exported to the United States of America, and their current whereabouts are unknown. Hence, the huge interest in the paintings “Who among you is without sin” and “Guilty of death” from the above-mentioned series, which were exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery, is understandable. This exhibition-display of auction lots prompted to revert to materials that reveal the history of the creation and existence of works “From the Life of Christ.”
The history of the creation of Polenov’s paintings on gospel scenes covers several decades of the master’s creative journey. Inviting Sofia Andreyevna Tolstoy to visit a workshop in Moscow, the artist wrote to her in 1908: “I will be happy to show you my paintings from the life of Christ, my“ Gospel Circle, ”as I call them. I have been working on them for about forty years … I will ask you … to look at the work that I have devoted almost all my life. ”
Even in his youth, under the impression of Alexander Ivanov’s grand canvas, “Christ Appearing to the People” (1857, TG), he had a dream to become the successor of the great artist and “to create Christ not only to come, but to come to the world and make his way among the people “. Tangible features of this idea acquired from Polenov, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, in 1868 in the design of the painting “Christ and a sinner.” The first studies and sketches for it were made back in 1872 and 1876 during a pensioner’s business trip to Italy and France. In 1881 Polenov began work directly on the painting that captured him in the next six years. The greatest influence on the artist in his interpretation of the Gospel story was rendered by the book of E. Renan “The Life of Jesus”. Perceiving Christ after Renan as a historical person, Polenov wanted to “find out the historical truth”, believing that it was necessary “to give this living image in art as it really was.”
In order to recreate the “authenticity” of the situation in which events connected with the life and deeds of Christ took place, he took a trip to Egypt, Syria and Palestine from 1881 to 1882 with a stop on the way to Greece. Studying everywhere the nature of the area, types of people, architectural structures, as well as their relationship with the surrounding nature, the artist wrote many sketches during the trip and conveyed to them his own feeling of that peculiar light-air environment in the East, which will henceforth be present in his picture. marked by almost all the critics who wrote about it. The brought etudes were shown by the Polenov single collection at the 13th Mobile Exhibition in 1885. Ilya Ostroukhov recalled: “It was something full of sincere fascination with colorful beauty and at the same time resolving colorful tasks in a completely new way for a Russian artist. In these sketches, Polenov revealed to the Russian artist the secret of a new colorful force and awakened in him the courage of such a treatment with paint, which he had never thought of before. ”7 The entire collection directly from the exhibition was purchased by Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov.
Meanwhile, work on the painting continued: in the winter of 1883/84, the artist lived in Rome. There he made countless sketches for a future series, From the Life of Christ. Then, in 1885, in the estate near Podolsk, where he spent the summer, he finished the coal drawing on canvas in the size of the future canvas.