Vasily Perov
Biography of Russian Genre Painter & Portrait Artist.

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Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky
(1872) Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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Vasily Perov (1833-82)

One of the most important Russian artists to follow the socially sympathetic but non-political generation of subject/genre painters such as Alexei Venetsianov (1780-1847) and Mikhail Shibanov (1749–1790), Vasily Perov pioneered the new style of critical realism in Russian art which was later greatly advanced by the likes of Ilya Repin (1844-1930), Konstantin Savitsky (1844-1905), Nikolai Kasatkin (1859-1930) and Sergei Ivanov (1864-1910). A founding member of the Wanderers (Itinerants) artist group, Perov painted a number of famous genre paintings (all purchased by Pavel Tretyakov for the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) including: Easter Procession in the Country (1861), The Last Farewell (1865), The Drowned Girl (1867), and Hunters at Rest (1871). But Perov was by no means restricted to genre painting. He also produced outstanding landscapes such as The Last Tavern at the Town Gate (1868, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow); works of portraiture such as Portrait of the Playwright Alexander Ostrovsky (1871 Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), Portrait of the Author Ivan Turgenev (1872 Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), and Portrait of the Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1872 Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow); and history paintings like The Condemnation of Pugachev (1879, The History Museum, Moscow). Lastly, he was an excellent teacher at the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture, whose pupils included Isaac Levitan (1860-1900) and Abram Arkhipov (1862-1930).

For earlier genre-paintings,
see: Russian Painting, 18th Century.

Hermitage Gallery St Petersburg
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

For a list of the best examples of
Fine Art Painting, by the
world's top artists, see below:
Greatest Modern Paintings
Oils, watercolours, mixed
media from 1850-present.

For a list of painters like
Vasily Perov, see:
Modern Artists.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

Early Life

Vasily Grigoryevich Perov (born Vasily Grigorevich Kridener in Tobolsk, Tyumen) was the illegitimate son of the lawyer Baron G. K. Kridener. In 1846, he received his first art training at the provincial Arzamas School of Art run by the realist painter Alexander Stupin. After this, from 1853 to 1861, he trained at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, during which time he received a number of gold and silver medals for his art. Then, in 1861, for his composition Sermon in a Village (1861, Tretyakov Gallery), Perov was awarded a Major Gold Medal and an overseas study scholarship by the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts.


However, while one of his religious genre paintings was being praised by the Academy, another was causing a scandal. His Easter Procession in a Village (1861, Tretyakov Gallery) was banned from the Exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of Artists due to its insulting content, namely its depiction of drunken priests. This work was a landmark in the establishment of the new socially-aware style of critical realism and marked the beginning of a new period in which life was replicated 'warts and all'. The style found its ultimate expression in works such as Krestny Khod Religious Procession in Kursk Gubernia (1883, Tretyakov Gallery) by Ilya Repin, and Poor People Collecting Coal in an Abandoned Pit (1894, Russian Museum, St Petersburg) by Nikolai Kasatkin (1859-1930).



Perov set off for Europe in 1862 - the same year as Ivan Shishkin (1832-98), the great landscape painter who also won a study scholarship from the Academy. Perov visited Germany, then France, capturing a variety of street scenes in works like Merrymaking in Paris (1863-64, Tretyakov Gallery), Savoyard (1863-64, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), Organ-Grinder in Paris (1864, Tretyakov Gallery), and Paris Rag-Pickers (1864, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg).

Genre Paintings

Returning to Moscow in 1864, Perov spent his 30s on the development of his genre painting, as exemplified by works as follows (all Tretyakov unless stated): A Meal in the Monastery (1865-76, Museum of Russian Art, Kiev, Ukraine), The Last Farewell (1865), Troika: Apprentice Workmen Carrying Water (1866), Lent Monday (1866), Arrival of a New Governess in a Merchant House (1866, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), The Drowned Girl (Found Drowned) (1867), Teacher of Drawing (1867), Hunters at Rest (1871), and Old Parents Visiting the Grave of Their Son (1874). In 1866, he was elected a full member of the Imperial Academy of Arts.


In 1871, Perov, together with other progressive painters like Nikolai Gay (1831–1894), Grigory Miasoyedov (1834–1911) and Ivan Kramskoy (1837–1887), became a founder member of the Itinerants Society of Travelling Exhibitions, known also as the Wanderers (peredvizhniki). In the same year, Perov was appointed a Professor at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture; his future pupils would include: such luminaries as Nikolai Kasatkin (1859–1930), Konstantin Korovin (1861–1932), Isaac Levitan, Abram Arkhipov, Mikhail Nesterov (1862–1942) and others. He also visited the Abramtsevo estate of Savva Mamontov (1841-1918), the great patron of Russian art.


During the late 1860s and 1870s, Perov turned increasingly to portrait art. One series of his portraits featured mostly peasants, as in works such as Thomas the Owl (1868), Lad of Seventeen (1869), Girl with a Pitcher (1869) and Wanderer (1870) (all in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg). Another series featured important cultural figures, as exemplified by: Portrait of Yelena Perova, née Scheins, The Artist's First Wife (1869, Art Museum of Belarus, Minsk), Portrait of the Composer Anton Rubinstein (1870, The I. M. Glinka Central Museum of Musical Culture, Moscow), Portrait of the Playwright Alexander Ostrovsky (1871 Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), Portrait of the Author Ivan Turgenev (1872 Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), and Portrait of the Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1872 Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). Full of individual character and insight, these paintings rank alongside the finest examples of 19th century Russian painting.

History Painting

As well as portraiture, Perov also began to explore history painting in works such as Condemnation of Emelyan Pugachev (1879, The History Museum, Moscow), First Christians in Kiev (1880, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), and Nikita Pustosviat: Dispute on the Confession of Faith (1880-81 Tretyakov Gallery). It's possible that this genre gave Perov greater freedom to pursue his personal aesthetic, while still demonstrating his sympathy with peasants and workers. The point was, Perov was a mid-19th century painter, with a solidly realist style but without the bold expressive or interpretative ability possessed by his younger contemporaries.

Perov passed away in June 1882, at the comparatively young age of 49. He was buried in the Donskoe Cemetery. His works hang in the best art museums throughout Russia.

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