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 artistic ideals.
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.
1903. Oil on cardboard. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
1893. Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
1901. Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.