Self-portrait on the background of «The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak”.
Surikov was born in Krasnoyarsk in 1848. For many years historians have argued about the kin of the famous artist.
Vasily Ivanovich himself accurately described the origin in response to inaccuracies in the article about him published in the period of his life in Moscow:
«I have read the article about me in “the Journal for all». I do not like to write, but I have to correct one mistake, which I have often noticed.
Somehow people think that I am a descendant of the exiled strelets. Although it is very romantic, but it is not truth. I descended from the Cossack. 20 years ago I could not refute the fact about my strelets origin, but now I can. I have information about my kin since 1765. Two years ago I found an article «Krasnoyarsk rebellion in 1695″of Ogloblin (May 1901) in “the Journal of the Ministry of Education”. In this article I found that the Cossacks Elijah and Peter Surikov participated in a rally against the governor. So this Peter is my ancestor.”
Among the ancestors of Surikov there is a Cossack of superhuman strength, about whom the legends were told. The island on the Yenisei was named after him. After Ivan Vasilyevich Cossack’s glory was extended by great-grandchildren: director Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky.
The first drawings Surikov created in a provincial school in Krasnoyarsk. After graduating from college he went to the provincial government to work as a clerk. After the death of his father his family had to lease part of the house, because they needed money. So Surikov could only dream about the study.
But fate was merciful: the governor saw the drawings of young Surikov. Thus, in the artist’s life a period of active development of talent began. Pyotr Kuznetsov (a friend of governor, a merchant and manufacturer of gold mines) had paid Surikov’s study in the Academy of Fine Arts.
So Surikov moved to St. Petersburg. He had been studying in a local drawing school for two years. Then he became a free listener, and then was a student in the Academy. During the studying in Academy he created the first large-scale painting «View of the Monument to Peter I on Senate Square”.
Surikov had a famous teacher — Peter Chistyakov, who also taught Wrubel, Vasnetsov and Repin. Education gave several silver medals and cash prizes to Surikov, and also the title of «the artist of the first degree.»
Already after 2 years not only the teacher has noticed the talent of young artist. Surikov was entrusted with creating the frescoes in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Travel to the capital was not the most pleasant event, because the artist loved his homeland so much. He even went to Krasnoyarsk when there was any opportunity. Here in Moscow he married and got two daughters. During a couple of years he had created “Morning of Streltsy’s execution”. Also he joined the Society of Traveling Art Exhibitions.
The first pictures were bought by Pavel Tretyakov, who was a collector of the best works of Russian painting. Thanks to fees for picures, Surikov was finally able to travel with his family across Europe, to visit the exhibition’s greatest works of art, including the Louvre. After A couple of years Surikov finished the painting «Boyarynya Morozova», dedicated to noblewoman with old believing Feodosia Morozova, who was arrested for her devotion to old believe and was exiled to a monastery. The old believers still revere her as a saint.
After the death of the his wife he left Moscow and went to his native Krasnoyarsk for two years, where he created «The Capture of Snow Town» and «The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak”.
In search of solace and inspiration for new creations Surikov travels to Siberia, and then the Caucasus, where he sees Borjomi. In Borjomi he settled for two months, the inspiration hadn’t left him for a moment — the artist could not hide his admiration for the amazing combination of warmth and natural beauty. After the cold of Siberia, he warmed with pleasure at this resort and made a few sketches with the views of Borjomi.
In letters to his brother, he mentions:
Hello, dear Sasha!
We travel to the Caucasus, and tomorrow we leave for the Georgian Military Road in Borjomi, where we think to spend a month or even two. The weather is rainy, but I think that in the Caucasus the weather will be hot; at least I want it to be hot. I am also informing you that I have sold painting «Snow City» in Moscow in May for 10 thousand. The buyer gave me some part of money. The rest money he is going to give me in September. But do not tell anyone about it until I get all the money. Thank God for everything. Be healthy. We will write to you from Borjomi. Kisses.
Your Vasya. Borjomi. June 17, 1899
Hello, our dear Sasha!
Now we live in Borjomi: Transcaucasian railway of Borjomi, Church Lane, house No 98, Zachariya Daneliya. This place is known as a resort where people take waters. Thanks God, we are healthy and we live here because the area is very beautiful and it is not so hot here. We also were on the Georgian Military Way and it made an impression upon me, although I have seen Switzerland and Siberia. The water here is from the source and it tastes good and helps with the stagnation of the stomach and other diseases.
Art and nothing but art
When Surikov returned to Moscow, the chief director of the Moscow School of Painting proposed him to be a lecturer at the request of the Board of Teachers College and Repin.
However, Surikov habitually refuses:
I have received your notification and I thank you for the honor of choice, but I cannot accept it.
I was even surprised by your choice, because I think many artists know that I refused a professorship at the Academy many times. I am an artist and consider freedom above all else.
Surikov got used to follow his own way. He painted in the way he wanted and saw. Freedom in creativity, the freedom to create according to your heart didn’t allow authority to prevail and to impose standards, as it was demanded by the traditional school of painting.
And this choice of free creativity was correct. Already during his lifetime he was called a person of natural gifts and very eccentric. Even the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II bought his painting «Suvorov Crossing the Alps».
Surikov’s desire to express the time period, buildings and even the details of clothes is really amazing even nowadays. All artist’s works look like photos of the time that we can see only through his paintings. Like a photographer of the past, he showed momentous historical events, spectacular locations and bright images, giving them a new life for many centuries through his paintings. Now the Moscow Art Institute has its name. There is the monument to him in his homeland. On Mars there is even a single crater named after Surikov.And how do you think, it is right to obey the usual principles, made by established formats of learning and teaching, or is it better to follow your own way?