Vassili Verechtchaguine

1842-1909

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Status, estimation and price of the artist Vassili Verechtchaguine

Price of a painting: 1,500 – 440,000 €.

Price of a drawing: 1,500 – 5,300 €.

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A passion for realism

Vassily Verechtchaguine was a Russian painter born on 26 October 1842 in Cherepovets who died on 13 April 1909 near Port Arthur in China. He is famous for his battle paintings. In his honour, in the Perm Krai, the town of Verechtchaguino was named after him.

The son of nobles, Vassili Verechtchaguine studied at a naval college and joined the naval cadet corps in St. Petersburg and made his first voyage in 1858. He served on the frigate Kamchatka which sailed to Denmark, France and Egypt. He then turned to painting, which he studied in St. Petersburg. He won a medal from the St. Petersburg Academy for his film Ulysses Slaying the Suitors in 1863. He completed his apprenticeship in Paris where he studied with the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme from 1864. Vassili Verechtchaguine travelled extensively, particularly in Europe, but also in Palestine, Syria, India (1874), the United States (1902) and Japan. As an official army painter, he accompanied the Russian troops in their campaigns in Central Asia (1867-1869) and then in the Balkans (1877-1878). He lost his life when the battleship Petropavlovsk sank during the war against Japan. His last work was found almost intact, depicting a council of war presided over by Admiral Makarov, who had invited the painter to join him on the ship. Vasily Verechtchaguin painted many works on the theme of war, but no longer with the aim of denouncing this “great injustice” but rather of encouraging or glorifying it.

Anger and censorship

Most of his works were neither exhibited nor printed, being too graphic and realistic. General Moltke forbade German soldiers from going to his exhibitions and the Austrian War Minister did the same. His most famous work, The Apotheosis of War, depicts skulls flown over by crows in a desert landscape. He also painted landscapes and monuments seen on his travels, thus contributing to the vision of an attractive colonial Central Asia. He also painted a Turkestan Series comprising about 250 drawings and paintings of Russian Turkestan landscapes. The region entered the world of Russian art in 1874 in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Vasily Verashchagin did not hesitate to denounce the war and its consequences and produced works that displeased the Russian General Staff. One of his canvases, entitled “The Forgotten One”, depicts the corpse of a Russian soldier abandoned in the desert. The generals are furious and accuse him of sullying the honour of the army. Mad with rage, Vassili Verechtchaguine takes down the canvas and burns it. The musician Modeste Moussirgski composes a melody in an attempt to recreate the painting, but with sounds, which will be banned by the censorship. His representations of the Orient are realistic and in the critical spirit of the artistic movement of The Wanderers. His works are also used to illustrate the eastern regions of the Russian Empire.

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