Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov was born into the family of a merchant on May 1862 in the city of Ufa in the Urals, Russia. In 1874, his parents brought him to Moscow to study in a technical college, where he caught the attention of K. Trutovsky, an artist and inspector of the Moscow School of Art. This was an important meeting, the turning point in his life. In 1876 on the recommendation of K. Trutovsky he entered the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture; he studied in the classes of
Perov, Savrasov and Pryanishnikov. In 1881, he entered St. Petersburg Academy of Art, studio of professor Pavel Tchistyakov (1881-84), actively participated in the Itinerants’ Society of Traveling Exhibitions (the society organized the traveling exhibitions through all Russia).
First he tried himself in the genres of historic and everyday scenes, but later, in the 1890s, he became interested in religious themes. In technique his religious pictures are much influenced by style modern. In the 1890s-1900s, he fulfilled paintings in the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev, mosaics in the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in St. Petersburg (1894-96), paintings in the Church of Alexander Nevsky in Abastuman, Georgia (1899-1904), frescoes in Marfo-Mariinsky Cloister in Moscow (1907-11). His other works of the period are also connected with religion: Hermit (1889), Vision to Youth Bartholomew (1889-1890), Youth of Saint Sergey Radonezhsky (1892-1897), Tzarevich Dmitry (1899), Philosophers (Portrait of Pavel Florenskiy and Sergey Bulgakov) (1917), Archbishop (Portrait of Antoniy Volynskiy) (1917) and many others.
In 1885, he married Maria Ivanovna Martynovskaya. Unfortunately, she died next year after giving birth to their daughter, Olga. “The death of Masha made me an artist”, Nesterov wrote later. His paintings, which according to his own judgment had lacked feelings, now obtained them. From now on he depicted moods, not events. One of his most lyrical works is Portrait of Olga Nesterova, known as Woman in a Riding Habit (1906), which personifies a typical Russian girl from an upper-middle class family.
In the ‘Soviet’ period of his creative work Nesterov paints portraits, mostly of his colleagues, Portrait of Ivan Shadr (1934), Portrait of Vera Mukhina (1940) etc. There are several interesting portraits of outstanding people of his time: Portrait of Sergey Yudin (1935), Portrait of Ivan Pavlov (1935), etc.
Mikhail Nesterov by A. Rusakova. Aurora. Leningrad. 1990.