Art and Faith

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Meet the Artist: Konstantin Alekseyevich Vasiliev

A Self-Portrait

Konstantin Vasiliev



Born: 3 September 1942, Maikop, Adygeya (Cherkess) Autonomous Oblast

Died: 29 October 1976, Vasilyevo, Tatar Autonomous SSR

This Russian artist left a creative heritage of more than 400 works, both paintings and drawings. His range of works included portraits, landscapes, realistic compositions, Russian epics, mythological scenes, and battle paintings. He was born in 1942 in Maikop, in the southwest of Russia. His mother was Klavdia Shishkina and his father Aleksei Vasiliev was an engineer. Konstantin Alekseyevich had two younger sisters, Lyudmilla and Valya. In August 1942, the Nazis occupied Maikop, and his father fought as a partisan until February 1943, when the city was liberated and he could return home. In 1946, the family moved to Kazan, and, from 1949, he lived in the village of Vasilyevo, which was near the city of Kazan.

From a very young age, Vasiliev’s parents noticed that their son had great artistic talent. Therefore, they did their utmost to see that he received the education necessary to develop this gift. Between 1954 and 1957, he studied at an art boarding school in Moscow, and he became familiar with the aesthetic traditions of his Motherland. In the mid-1950s, the school changed its orientation and it became more ridden with communist ideology. Vasiliev wasn’t comfortable with the conditions placed on his artistic output by the school; he didn’t care for Socialist Realism at all.  Therefore, he decided to move his studies to the Kazan Artistic School (1957-61). His teachers were P. Speransky, V. Timofeyev, and N. Sokolsky, all of whom were exponents of the school of Classical Russian Realism that would form the stylistic foundation of Vasiliev’s œuvre.

Vasiliev finished his studies with distinction, graduating from the faculty of theatre and stage scenery with distinction. His graduation project was a presentation of a series of sketches for the scenery and stage settings for a production of the musical drama Snegurochka by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, set to the music of Pyotr Chaikovsky. However, just when he had finished his studies, his father died of a heart attack. After graduation, he received a recommendation to work in the theatre in Menzelinsk, but, he did not get the job. Then, he worked as a teacher of art and drawing in a local secondary school and as a layout artist/graphic designer in a factory. The creative legacy of Vasiliev is extensive, comprising paintings, drawings, studies, illustrations, and sketches for the painting of a church in Omsk. In the early 1960s, his work began to take on influences from surrealism and even abstract expressionism. In the late 1960s, his abandoned artistic formalism and turned to a more mannered realism.

Vasiliev turned for inspiration from Russian folklore sources, to Russian songs, epics, fairy tales, Scandinavian and Irish sagas, and the poetry of the Edda. He produced works with motifs drawn from mythology, the Slavic and Scandinavian epics, and the Second Great Patriotic War (World War II on the Russian front). He didn’t neglect portraiture and landscape work. In addition, he created graphic cycles of great composers (1961-62) and on the Wagnerian operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen (1970s).

Vasiliev participated in many exhibitions, such as “The Artist-Satirists of Kazan” (Moscow, 1963) and other shows in Zelenodolsk and Kazan (1968-76). Many posthumous exhibitions of his work took place throughout Russia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Spain in the 1980s and 90s. A memorial museum was opened in the village of Vasilyevo in 1996, a special gallery was dedicated in Kazan (1996), and a special museum dedicated to his work was opened in Moscow in Lianozovksy Park (1998). Also, his cycle of World War II paintings received the M. Dzhailiya Award of the Tatar ASSR Komsomol in 1988.

Konstantin Alekseyevich perished tragically with a friend when they were hit by a passing train at a railway crossing on 29 October 1976. He was buried in his home village, which was renamed in his honour. His grave is in a birch grove, where he greatly loved to climb in the trees when he was a youngster. A minor planet, 3930 Vasiliev, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmilla Zhuravlyova in 1982, is named after him.,_%D0%9A%D0%BE%D0%BD%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BD_%D0%90%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%81%D0%B5%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87 (in Russian) (in English) (in Spanish)

Editor’s Note:

The Wikipedia English article is only a stub, so, I translated the fuller material found in the Spanish and Russian editions and I conflated it all together into a coherent whole. Vasiliev is like Norman Rockwell. One either loves his work for its immediacy or one vilifies him as a “mere illustrator”. I’m of the former persuasion, as you can no doubt guess. His early death was a real tragedy for the art world… what could he have created?

Konstantin Vasiliev. The Reaper. 1966

The Reaper (Konstantin Vasiliev, 1966)

Konstantin Vasiliev. Swans. 1967

Swans (Konstantin Vasiliev, 1967)

Konstantin Vasiliev. An Oak. 1967

Filed under: fine art,landscape/nature,Russian,Soviet period — 01varvara @ 00.00

An Oak (Konstantin Vasiliev, 1967)

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