"Those whom the gods love die young" - the Russian lyrical landscape painter Fyodor Alexandrovich Vasilyev

22 February 1850, the Russian lyrical landscape painter Fyodor Alexandrovich Vasilyev was born in Gatchina near St Petersburg.

“(He) was destined to introduce into the Russian landscape what it had always lacked—poetry as well as naturalness of execution“ (Ivan Kramskoi)

Fyodor Vasilyev’s “Thaw” from 1871, now at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow 

It was a stroke of luck for young Fedya that he had a beautiful sister. The teenaged post office clerk from Gatchina, 20 miles south of St Petersburg, with artistic talent by the sack was the sole supporter of his family after the death of his parents and what might have become a sad artist novel right from the start suddenly changed when Ivan Shishkin came along, a well-connected and already quite popular painter and designated professor for painting at the Imperial Academy. He promptly fell in love with Jenja Vasilyeva, honourable intent and all. The newly minted brother-in-law took Fedya by the hand as well, taught him a few things and the most unfair thing said about Fyodor Vasilyev’s early landscape paintings was that it looked a bit inferior in regards to the masterpieces of the French School of Barbizon, what? But that was soon about to change. A few months later, Fedya became the “boy wonder” of a group of artists calling themselves the Peredvizhniki, the Wanderers, Repin, Shishkin and Surikov among them, who set the hare running away from imperial academic distinction between high and low art and official support and painted Russia in her picturesque beauty, naming and shaming conditions, often with the same brushstroke. But none captured the lyrical aspect as well as young Fyodor Vasilyev who was then not yet 20.

Fyodor Vasilyev's "Illumination in St Petersburg" (1869)
Fyodor Vasilyev's "Illumination in St Petersburg" (1869)

His short live became an artist’s novel anyway. Travelling with Repin and Makarov along the Volga in 1870 and painting picturesque scenes en plein air like true Peredvizhniki should, the trio returned to St Petersburg and their pieces became a smashing success, especially Vasilyev’s. In 1871, “Thaw” finally made his fame, a moody piece of nature about to cast off winter without the promise of spring uttered yet. The Tsar’s family ordered a print and a British correspondent from the “Morning Post” wrote that Vasilyev was just the chap who should paint the thawing snow in the streets, eh, but before an invitation to go west could reach him, the artist was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to the Crimea for therapy. And while the litterateurs of the first half of the 19th century, Pushkin and Lermontov among them, found Yalta and her surroundings quite inspiring, Vasilyev was just alienated, the treatment did not take the desired effect and the painter wandered the Crimean landscape away from the maddening crowd of the “Magic Mountain” atmosphere of the spa town, painted, suffered and died there, at the age of just 23, leaving the promise of becoming one of the greatest artists of landscape painting only half fulfilled.

More about Fyodor Alexandrovich Vasilyev on:




and a monographic show of his oeuvre can be found here: