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“Talented, very quiet and reserved, Andrey Petrovich
Pyabushkin seamed to be carrying within himself some closely-guarded secret,
and only on rare occasions was the veil briefly lifted to reveal strong
passions behind it”.
Andrey Petrovich Ryabushkin encountered far more trials and hardships than
joys in his short life. Very modest, gentle and retiring, he was, however,
a man of great courage and fortitude. Though his art was largely misunderstood
and his contemporaries only too often received it with undisguised hostility,
he continued to work stubbornly, searching for a poetic embodiment of his
Ryabushkin’s artistic tastes began to form early. He was born in the village
of Borisoglebskoe (Tambov province) in 1861. His father and brother were
well-known as icon-painters, and he started to draw in his early childhood;
he had a good ear for music and sang in the local choir as a boy. A painter,
Preobrazhensky, who used to spend the summer in the village, happened to
see the boy’s drawings and was greatly impressed by them. He started to
give him lessons and later helped him to enter the Moscow School of Painting,
Sculpture and Architecture. Ryabushkin was then aged 14. The impressionable
youth was deeply affected by Moscow, with its Kremlin and countless churches
and monasteries, its profusion of streets and crooked alleys, its imposing
residences and gardens behind iron railings, all still bearing the imprint
of the past. Ryabushkin stayed for 7 years (1875-82) in the Moscow School
, but after the death of his teacher, painter Vasiliy Perov, he moved to
St. Petersburg, in 1882, and entered the Academy of Arts. The classes soon
disappointed him, however, and he began to spend more and more time either
in the library of the Academy or sketching in the streets. Five years later
the Academy professors were deeply impressed by the historical accuracy
and psychological authenticity in his treatment of biblical subjects.
His studies at the Academy came to an end; he did not receive an award
for his diploma work, as was expected, because he did not follow the approved
project. But the work was so good that the President of the Academy, Grand
Duke Vladimir Konstantinovich, provided Ryabushkin with a stipend for travel
and studies abroad from his own means. Instead of going to Italy or Paris,
Ryabushkin chose to make a tour of ancient Russian towns. The inhabitants
of them became his first models and his first critics. He studied the old
architecture, items of folk crafts, old weapons, fabrics, tapestries, embroidery,
icons, etc. He read ancient books, collected folklore.
The deep study of history made his paintings very reliable, but they did
not evoke any sympathy in his contemporaries. Unlike Vasiliy
Surikov, who used the dramatic historical episodes as his subjects,
Ryabushkin painted everyday life. His works lack action, they do not depict
social conflicts, as the democrats liked. On the other hand they are not
so “beautiful” as the works of ‘Russian Alma-Tademas’, G. Semiradsky or
S. Bakalovich, to reflect the tastes of the rich conservatives. Nobody
knew where to place Ryabushkin’s paintings and just did not accept them.
In 1903, Ryabushkin became seriously ill. The trip to Switzerland, via
Dresden and Munich where he visited the museums, brought only temporary
relief. The same year he did his last oil, A
Moscow Girl of the XVII Century.
Ryabushkim was 43 years old when he died. During his brief life he created
works of rare charm and permanent value, which have earned for him a firm
reputation as one of the most original and attractive Russian painters
of the late 19th century.
Ryabushkin. Russian Painters series. Aurora. Leningrad. 1973.