Explore the Realistic, Harrowing Style of Vasily Vereshchagin

The Apotheosis of War (1871) is one of Vasily Vereshchagin's most famous photos.

One of Russia’s most revered war artists, known for his realistic and sometimes graphic style, is being celebrated with an expansive collection of works in Moscow.

Visitors will be able to experience the full effect of Vasily Vereshchagin through a showing at Moscow’s New Tretyakov Gallery until July.

Vereshchagin was not only one of the most famous Russian war artists, but also one of the first Russian artists to be recognised internationally.

Active for three decades in the late 19th century, Vereshchagin’s work largely focused on conflict with incredibly realistic detail.

He courted controversy in the 1880s with graphic pieces which featured a Roman execution, brutal depictions of revolt in India, as well as the execution of nihilists in St Petersburg.

Perhaps one of the reasons Vereshchagin could depict war so strikingly was his own involvement in conflict. The artist served with the Imperial Russian Army in the Russo-Turkish War from 1877 to 1878. He was present at battle scenes such as the crossing of the Shipka Pass and at the Siege of Plevna, where his brother was killed.

The graphic and realistic depiction of many of his war scenes lead to the works not being printed nor displayed at the time.

Not that it seemed to bother the artist, as he wrote on his style in the book 1812, Napoleon I in Russia: “Realism is not antagonistic to anything that is held dear to the contemporary man – it does not clash with common sense, with science, nor with religion.”

The exhibition aims to explore the unique personality of the artist, according to the gallery website, exploring the fact Vereshchagin “was both a warrior and a pacifist, an eager explorer of new lands and people, a painter who radically changed the genre of battle painting.”

In the end, it was the artist’s proximity to war which ended his life. During the Russo-Japanese War, he was invited to join aboard a warship off the Chinese coast. In April 1904, the ship struck two mines and sank, taking with Vereshchagin with it. He was 61.

His influence remains to be felt in Russian and international art today, with a legacy which includes a minor planet named in his honour.

For more information on the exhibition, visit the Tretyakov gallery’s website.

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