Alexei Savrasov's "Sunset Over the Marsh"

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Recently, I discovered Alexei Savrasov's 1871 painting, "Sunset Over the Marsh," and it has quickly become a favorite of mine. Today, we'll take a look at Savrasov who, despite being the "father of Russian landscape painting," is not very well-known in the U.S.

1. In 1838, at the tender age of 8, Alexei Savrasov enrolled at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, where he immediately began to specialize in landscape painting. Just four years into his studies, the report of the Council of the Moscow Art Society mentioned Savrasov as the best pupil in the perspective and landscape class. He graduated from the school at age 20, in 1850.

2. Savrasov became head of the landscape class at the Moscow School in 1857, a position he held until 1881. That same year, he married Sophia Karlovna Hertz, the sister of a prominent archaeologist and art historian. As a result, their home became a gathering place for artists.

3. After viewing the International Exhibition in England in the 1860s, Savrasov wrote, "No academies in the world could so advance an artist as the present world exhibition." On the same trip, sponsored by the Society of Art Lovers, he also visited Copenhagen, Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Paris, and Munich, with two months spent in Switzerland. He was most influenced by the work of John Constable in England and Alexandre Calame in Switzerland.

4. Savrasov was friends with the artist Vasily Perov; the two collaborated on Savrasov's "Volga near Yuryevets" and Perov's "Bird Catcher" and "Hunters on Bivouac." When Perov founded the Peredvizhniki group, also known as The Wanderers or The Itinerants, in 1870, Savrasov followed, breaking away from government-sponsored academic art. The group was a realist artists' cooperative formed in protest of academic restrictions, and it later evolved into the Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions.

5. In 1871, Savrasov's daughter died, which began a downward spiral for the artist. He became an alcoholic shortly after her death. By the 1890s, Savrasov was basically homeless, wandering from shelter to shelter. Upon his death in 1897, only the doorkeeper of the Moscow School and Pavel Tretyakov, the founder of the Tretyakov Gallery, were present at his funeral.

A larger version of "Sunset Over the Marsh" is available here.

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April 24, 2008 - 10:42am
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