What paintings of Russian classics were banned from showing, and for what reason they fell out of favor with censors
We used to associate censorship prohibitions with forbidden books or films. But even in such a seemingly harmless genre of art as painting, artists could go against the ideological principles of power, which is why these or those paintings were not accepted for display at public exhibitions. Several such stories occurred in the Russian Empire, and they are associated not with some little-known artists, but with universally recognized brush masters.
One of the most famous wanderers, Ilya Repin, by the 1880s, was an artist with great experience. His paintings were bought by Pavel Tretyakov, cultural figures such as the writer Turgenev and composer Mussorgsky posed for him. In addition to portraits and a social theme (for example, “Barge Haulers on the Volga”), Repin was always interested in historical subjects. The legend that Tsar Ivan the Terrible, in a fit of anger, dealt a mortal blow to his son Ivan by a staff, was known thanks to historical work, although it is difficult to judge how true it is.
There was another interesting source of inspiration for the artist. Repin recalled that the idea of a painting came to him after the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881. During a trip to Europe, he noted that “bloody paintings” are quite popular at Western exhibitions. “And I, having probably been infected with this bloody one, upon arrival home, immediately set about the bloody scene“ Ivan the Terrible with his son, ”” Repin wrote.
The first spectators of the picture were Repin’s comrades in the art workshop, he showed them the finished canvas in his workshop. The guests were stunned by the result and were silent for a long time. Nevertheless, the risky work was included in the 13th exhibition of the Association of Wanderers, which opened in 1885 in St. Petersburg. Ober-Prosecutor of the Holy Synod Konstantin Pobedonostsev called the picture “fantastic” in a negative sense and “simply disgusting.” And the emperor Alexander III who saw her said that she should not be shown in the province.
Nevertheless, the picture was taken to Moscow and included in the local exhibition … until the reaction of official censorship followed. “Ivan the Terrible” was demanded to be removed and not to show to the public in the future. The ban did not last long – from April to July 1885. The artist Alexei Bogolyubov, who had connections at the court, interceded for the disgraced picture and achieved the lifting of the ban. However, the story of the scandals surrounding the picture did not end: in 1913 and 2018, she was attacked by vandals.
The paintings of the artist Nikolai Ge, like Repin, were frequent guests of the exhibitions of the Wanderers. One of the iconic themes for Ge is the religious, Christian theme. For three decades, the artist wrote biblical scenes paintings “Christ in the Wasteland”, “The Last Supper”, “Calvary”, “In the Garden of Gethsemane” and others. But only one picture, “What is the truth?”, Caused an ambiguous reaction up to the ban.
The painting depicts an episode of dialogue between the procurator of Judea Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ. She accurately enough conveys a fragment from the New Testament, where Pilate throws the phrase: “What is truth?”, And, not waiting for Christ’s answer, she goes to the exit. At the same time, the very atmosphere of Ge’s painting was completely different from the traditional perception of this plot by contemporaries. Jesus Christ is depicted as a tormented and depressed man, he is hidden in the shade, while Pilate rises above him and is shined with the sun.
In this, of course, there was no insult to the feelings of believers. On the contrary, the picture conveyed the tragedy of the situation much better, when Pilate, who was triumphant in his conviction, like many contemporaries of Christ, could not see at all what was the truth in this situation. He simply could not discern the true God in the darkened figure of a man.
The painting was shown in 1890 at the exhibition of the Wanderers, and the Holy Synod decided to remove it from the exhibition. The collector Tretyakov also did not appreciate the work and did not want to buy it. His opinion was influenced by the letter of Leo Tolstoy, in which he accused the collector’s lack of foresight: “You collected a bunch of manure in order not to miss the pearl. And when an obvious pearl lies right in the middle of manure, you take everything, but not it. ” Tretyakov changed his mind and bought the painting. More than a century has passed, and now it is obvious that in front of us is yet another pearl of Russian painting.
Vereshchagin was not a Wanderer, although he was also interested in relevant social and historical subjects. In the 1880s he wrote The Trilogy of Executions, three paintings united by the theme of the death penalty. Together with the canvases “Crucifixion at the Cross by the Romans” and “The Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the British,” Vereshchagin turned to the Russian story – the executions of the five People’s Revolutionaries who killed Alexander II.