Sunday, 2 July 2017


“To live without hope is to cease to live.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky 

Sergey Vasilyevich Ivanov (Russian: Сергей Васильевич Иванов; 1864-1910) was a Russian genre and history painter, known for his Social Realism. His father was a tax collector for the Customs Service. Sergey displayed an early talent for art, but his father was opposed on the grounds that it would not be a secure way to make a living so, at the age of eleven, he was enrolled at the Konstantinov Land Surveying Institute.

Surveying was not to his liking and he was an indifferent student, so a family friend who was an amateur artist encouraged his father to send him to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (MSPSA). With a recommendation from Vasily Perov, he began attending classes there in 1878; studying with Illarion Pryanishnikov and Evgraf Sorokin. He left there in 1882 to attend the Imperial Academy of Arts.

Dissatisfaction with the Academy’s administration, as well as financial difficulties forced him to return to Moscow in 1884. He went back to the MSPSA and graduated in 1885. At that time he started work on a series of paintings devoted to “Pereselenchestvo”, the process of resettling peasants to outlying, vacant areas (mostly in Siberia) in an attempt to ease overcrowding in the villages after the Emancipation reform of 1861. The move was often very arduous and many died on the way. From 1885 to 1889, he toured the provinces of Samara, Saratov, Astrakhan and Orenburg, documenting the migrants’ lives. This was followed by a series on convicts.

In the mid 1890s, he began to focus on historical works. In 1899, he became a member of the Peredvizhniki, but was soon dissatisfied with their emphasis on “lovely scenes”. In 1903, he was one of the founders of the “Union of Russian Artists”, temporarily replacing the better-known “Mir Isskutsva”. In 1905, the Imperial Academy conferred on him the title of “Academician”. Later that year, during the Moscow Uprising, he made numerous sketches while also helping the wounded. From 1903 to 1910, he taught at the MSPSA. He was also known as an illustrator, creating drawings for classics by Gogol, Lermontov and Pushkin, among others. He died of a heart attack at his dacha near the Yakhroma River.

The painting above is “Death of a Migrant” from 1889. The stark realism of this work draws attention to the plight of the countless peasants who were resettled willy-nilly to the under-populated Siberian plains. Many did not make it and Ivanov records in this painting the fate of the hapless family who have lost father and husband on the migration route.

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