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Vereshchagin, Vassili Vassilievich

VERESHCHAGIN, VASSILI VASSILIEVICH (1842-1904), Russian artist and traveller, was born at Tcherepovets, in the government of Novgorod, on the 26th of October 1842. His father was a Russian landowner of noble birth, and from his mother he inherited Tatar blood. When he was eight years old he was sent to Tsarskoe Selo to enter the Alexander cadet corps, and three years later he entered the naval school at St Petersburg, making his first voyage in 1858. He graduated first in the list from the naval school, but left the service immediately to begin the study of drawing in earnest. He won a medal two years later, in 1863, from the St Petersburg Academy for his "Ulysses slaying the Suitors." In 1864 he proceeded to Paris, where he studied under Ger&me, though he dissented widely from his master's methods. In the Salon of 1866 he exhibited a drawing of " Doukhobors chanting their Psalms," and in the next year he accompanied General Kauffmann's expedition to Turkestan, his military service at the siege of Samarkand procuring for him the cross of St George. He was an indefatigable traveller in Turkestan in 1869, the Himalayas, India and Tibet in 1873, and again in India in 1884. After a period of hard work in Paris and Munich he exhibited some of his Turkestan pictures in St Petersburg in 1874, among them two which were afterwards suppressed on the representations of Russian soldiers " The Apotheosis of War," a pyramid of skulls dedicated " to all conquerors, past, present and to come," and " Left Behind," the picture of a dying soldier deserted by his fellows. Vereshchagin was with the Russian army during the Turkish campaign of 1877; he was present at the crossing of the Shipka Pass and at the siege of Plevna, where his brother was killed; and he was dangerously wounded during the preparations for the crossing of the Danube near Rustchuk. At the conclusion of the war he acted as secretary to General Skobelev at San Stefano. After the war he settled at Munich, where he produced his war pictures so rapidly that he was freely accused of employing assistants. The sensational subjects of his pictures, and their didactic aim the promotion of peace by a representation of the horrors of war attracted a large section of the public not usually interested in art to the series of exhibitions of his pictures in Paris in 1881 and subsequently in London, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna and other cities. He aroused much controversy by his series of three pictures of a Roman execution (the Crucifixion), of sepoys blown from the guns in India, and of the execution of Nihilists in St Petersburg. A journey in Syria and Palestine in 1884 furnished him with an equally discussed set of subjects from the New Testament. The " 1812 " series on Napoleon's Russian campaign, on which he also wrcte a book, seem to have been inspired by Tolstoi's War and Peace, and were painted in 1893 at Moscow, where the artist eventually settled. Vereshchagin was in the Far East during the ChinoJapanese War, with the American troops in the Philippines, and with the Russian troops in Manchuria. He perished in the sinking of the Russian flagship, " Petropavlovsk," on the 13th of April 1904. His last work, a picture of a council of war presided over by Admiral Makaroff, was recovered almost uninjured.

See E. Zabel, " Wereschtschagin " (1900), in Knackfuss's Kuns Uermpnographien (Bielefeld and Leipzig). The finest collection of his pictures is in the Tretiakov gallery in Moscow.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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