Art and Faith

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Meet the Artist: Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

A Portrait of Tsar Aleksandr Aleksandrovich

Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky




Born: 1 April 1837

Died: 21 April 1898

For ten years of the most creative period in his life (1875-1885), Nikolai Dmitrievich lived in Paris. Unfortunately, most of what he produced was sold to anonymous buyers, and it’s been lost to subsequent generations. This was a great loss to art history. However, what’s come down to us from the hand of N D Dmitriev-Orenburgsky speaks volumes about the talent of this worthy Russian artist. Although he prepared for a career as a military officer, art connoisseurs convinced his parents that he had the talent to enter the Academy of Fine Arts, where he became a student of the famous Russian artist Fyodor Bruni. At first, Nikolai Dmitrievich received numerous medals and awards for his figures from nature and his picturesque études. However, he didn’t do so well at the competitions held during the final years of his study at the Academy. His paintings Grand Princess Sofia Vitovtovna Pulls off the Belt of Prince Vasili Kosy (1861) and Riot of the Streltsy (1862) didn’t find favour with the faculty of the Academy. Apparently, he went against the accepted standards of the time in his historical paintings, and, increasingly, he turned to depicting the lives of simple people. He made many illustrations for the works of the writers Nikolai Alekseyevich Nekrasov (1821-78) and Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-83), and he spent his summers studying peasant life in the villages of rural Russia. Because of this, he produced genre canvasses such as The Drowned Man in the Village (1867) that won him acclaim at exhibitions and gained for him the title of Academician of Painting. He started to sign his works with his full dual surname at this time, a habit he retained for the remainder of his life.

Although he lived in Paris for a decade, Nikolai Dmitrievich didn’t lose touch with his Russian motherland. Every summer, he returned and painted many pictures of Russian village life. He also was active in organising the Mutual Aid and Charity Society for Russian Artists in Paris. Art dealers sought his paintings, they hung them in their galleries, and they sold well. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, which was fought to release the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans from the Turkish yoke, he accompanied the Russian army. His battle canvasses are excellent, and they were highly praised by V V Vereshchagin (a well-known artist who painted military scenes). In subsequent years, military themes predominated in his work. However, his personal favourites amongst his works of the 1880s were Near the VillageAn EncounterA Peasant Girl, and Sunday in theVillage. Unfortunately, the fate of these particular canvasses is unknown. Nikolai Dmitrievich worked right up to his final days. His love for his motherland, his admiration for the lives of simple people, and his praise for the native genius of Russia is reflected in his paintings.

Мы – русские. Какой восторг!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Ilya Repin. For the Motherland! A Hero of the Recent War. 1878

For the Motherland! A Hero of the Recent War

Ilya Repin



Of course, everyone is talking of the recent unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo by the UÇK terrorists. This painting reminds us that Russia has deep and lasting ties to the region, ties which are all the stronger due to the shared Orthodox faith of Russians and most native Balkan peoples. America has no such ties, and it has no special interests in the region, despite the recent blatherings of neocons in Washington. The subject in the painting above is an ordinary soldier of the Russian army at the time of the Russo-Turkish War in the late 1870s. The fronts were in the Balkans and on the Caucasian border. Orthodox Russian warriors freed most of the Balkans from the oppression of the Ottomans. Sadly, at the Congress of Berlin, some of the other European powers (shades of Kosovo!) forced Russian troops to withdraw from some regions and the Ottoman persecutors returned to power in those localities until the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. The ordinary people of the Balkans have never forgotten that Russia freed them from the Ottoman yoke, and I can assure you that Russian forces today would be welcomed in the region, despite what a few Westernised politicians and intellectuals say. Serbia and Russia share a particularly deep and abiding bond. The casus belli for the Russian-Turkish War was that Russian volunteers were serving alongside their Serb brothers in the fight against the Ottoman oppressor. In 1914, Russia went to war rather than to see Serbia humiliated by the Catholic Hapsburg aggressor. In 1999, Russia supported Serbia, but, the effects of the smuta following the collapse of the Soviets prevented effectual aid. In 2008… Russia is ready, America isn’t. America’s going to be awakened from its opium dream of “the only superpower” soon. God willing, it won’t take a war to do it.


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