“Elevate the soul by grandiose images beyond all everyday pettiness.“ (Mikhail Vrubel)
|Mikhail Vrubel: "The Demon Seated" (1890)|
If it was tertiary syphilis or tuberculosis that finally did for him, both admittedly afflictions befitting his rank as extraordinary late 19th century artist, is not quite clear, but legend has it, that Vrubel, then patient of a mental clinic for several years, deliberately caught a cold and, thus, committed suicide. His mental state always gave reason to worry. Vrubel suffered from wild mood swings and was a bit of a maniac, climaxing in a continuous rework of his painting “The Demon Downcast”, up to 40 times a day, even when the work already hung in the exhibition hall. But he and his art were extraordinary anyway. Having a determining influence on Symbolism and Art Nouveau in Russia, he wittingly kept himself apart from contemporary art trends and drew his inspiration from Byzantine and Renaissance paintings, ornamenting the interior of churches as well as creating stages sets for Moscow and St Petersburg operas and theatres.
|Nadezhda Ivanovna Zabela-Vrubel as "Swan Princess" (1900)|
Besides eternalising his wife, the then famous opera singer Nadezhda Ivanovna Zabela-Vrubel, in fairytale-like costumes in her lead roles of fairy-tale operas, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Swan Princess from the “Tale of Tsar Saltan” or the Snegurochka from the “Snow Princess”, Vrubel found profound equivalents for his art by illustrating literature, “Hamlet”, “Faust” as well as “Anna Karenina”, but the deepest influence came from the tales of Mikhail Lermontov. Vrubel’s interpretations of the Byronic “Demon” and his fatal relationship with the beautiful Tatiana set in the dramatic scenery of the Caucasus Mountains are certainly a congenial approach in depicting one of the Romantic masterpieces of world literature. The topic engaged Vrubel for decades even beyond his terminal breakdown in health that provided for his institutionalisation late in 1903.
|Mikhail Vrubel: "The Six-Winged Seraph" (1905)|
Depicted above is another approach of Vrubel’s of one of the masters of Russian Romantic literature, the six-winged seraph from Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Prophet”, the second version of the sujet from 1905, reflecting Vrubel’s state quite aptly:
Alexander Pushkin, “The Prophet”
Parched with the spirit's thirst, I crossed
An endless desert sunk in gloom,
And a six-winged seraph came
Where the tracks met and I stood lost.
Fingers light as dream he laid
Upon my lids; I opened wide
My eagle eyes, and gazed around.
He laid his fingers on my ears
And they were filled with roaring sound:
I heard the music of the spheres,
The flight of angels through the skies,
The beasts that crept beneath the sea,
The heady uprush of the vine;
And, like a lover kissing me,
He rooted out this tongue of mine
Fluent in lies and vanity;
He tore my fainting lips apart
And, with his right hand steeped in blood,
He armed me with a serpent's dart;
With his bright sword he split my breast;
My heart leapt to him with a bound;
A glowing livid coal he pressed
Into the hollow of the wound.
There in the desert I lay dead,
And God called out to me and said:
'Rise, prophet, rise, and hear, and see,
And let my works be seen and heard
By all who turn aside from me,
And burn them with my fiery word.'
More about Mikhail Vrubel on
and a monographic show can be found on