The Death of the Russian landscape painter Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov

8 October 1897, the Russian landscape painter Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov died at the age of 67 from the consequences of alcoholism, house- and friendless, in Moscow.
“Neither rich nature, nor splendid composition, nor striking illumination, nor miracles are necessary for me. Give me a dirty puddle, in all her truth and poetry. Poetry can be found in everything, this is the business of the artist" (P.M. Tretyakov)

Savrasov's  last work, “Rasputitsa”, the mud season in autumn and spring, here presumably spring (1894)

It took European artists a while until they adopted painting en plein air on a larger scale, and the invention of the French field easel and ready-made paint in tubes during the 1870s advanced the approach rapidly. Before that, landscape painting pioneers like Constable and later Corot and Millet during the first half of the 19th century remained more or less unique with creating their masterpieces on site. Russian artists did not constitute an exception in this regard, save that landscape painting in the wake of pan-European Realism was a revolutionary idea with a highly political component in contrast to conventional classicist enunciations of visual art. A group of painters calling themselves the Peredvizhniki, the Wanderers, Repin, Shishkin and Surikov among them, set the hare running away from imperial academic distinction between high and low art and official support and painted their Russia in her picturesque beauty and naming and shaming conditions, often with the same brushstroke. Savrasov was one of them and, without being overly political, went out into the open after breaking with the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and struggled with the form to express his perception of the landscape and the country for decades.

Alexei Savrasov: “The Rooks Have Come Back” (1871)

What started with post-classicist attempts of illustrations broadened in a few years to late-Romantic lights and landscapes strongly reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich until Savrasov found his expression in what is indeed best described as lyrical landscape style, influenced by Constable and the Swiss painter Alexandre Calame whose works he studied in England and Switzerland. Savrasov’s visual poetry is pointedly laconic though, celebrating the triumph of an overwhelmingly bleak nature over humanity’s insignificance, man making an appearance only through architectural accents blending with the landscape and, en passant, creating the most dreary and bleak accounts of depicting spring in the entire history of art. And even if Savrasov’s work at its artistic climax is in many ways a stylistic exception, he is one of, if not the, foremost Russian landscape artists, rivalled only by the early ripened and deceased Fyodor Vasilyev.

Alexei Savrasov: "Spring Day" (1873)

Leaving the “Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture” and painting scenes along the Volga en plain air might have done wonders for Savrasov’s development as an extraordinary artist and some of his works were exhibited on world’s fairs, Vienna in 1873, Paris in 1878, and the All-Russia Exhibition of 1882, but he never found the recognition he probably deserved. After the dead of his daughter in 1871, he lost himself more and more, his art and civic existence declined as results of his alcoholism to the point of becoming homeless and wandering the streets of Moscow by day and spending the nights in the various lower depths of the capital’s shelters. Only the porter of his old school and the famous patron of art and philanthropist Pavel Mikhaylovich Tretyakov attended his funeral in Moscow’s Vagankovo Cemetery.

A chronological and quite comprehensive monographic show of his works can be found on:

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