Olga's Gallery

August 1, 2001
        Dear Friends of Art,

In this newsletter we are glad to introduce you to two Russian artists of the 19th century. One of them is Vasily Perov (1834-1882), genre painter and portraitist, who created the portraits of some outstanding representatives of Russian culture, among them Feodor Dostoevsky.

Feodor Dostoevsky and Petrashevsky's Case

In the beginning of 1849 a political scandal shook St. Petersburg: the Secret Police disclosed a conspiracy against the Tsarist government. A certain group of young men, headed by one Petrashevsky, studied and spread Socialism, liberation of the serfs, political freedom and other revolutionary ideas. Scared to death, the Emperor, Nicholas I, demanded an exemplary punishment for the members of the circle. 20 of them were sentenced to death by shooting. Among them was Feodor Dostoevsky, the author of the Poor People, Netochka Nezvanova, White Nights, works which were already well-known.


It hurt Dostoevsky to watch every day the effects of tyranny and slavery: the suffering of the poor, the oppression of the middle class, the cruelty to serfs found sympathy in him. He felt deep concern for his country. These feelings brought him to Petrashevsky’s group, where young people read aloud and discussed the works of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Robert Owen and the Belinsky’s Letter to Gogol, in which the critic reproached the writer in his latest views in support of tzarism and slavery. During one of the meetings Dostoevsky made a speech on Christian Socialism of Lamennais, whose views corresponded to his own. The listeners almost cried, hearing his inspiring, enthusiastic speech. Dostoevsky did not know that among the public present was an agent of the secret police and that very soon he would have to pay dearly for his calls for justice, freedom and brotherhood. April 23, 1849 he was arrested and put into prison. 


On December 22, 1849, twenty members of Petrashevsky’s group were publicly executed. In the center of the Semenovsky Plaza, surrounded by soldiers, a scaffold was mounted with 3 poles. Behind the soldiers crowded the people, no aristocracy was present. The accused were stripped and left to stand in their underclothes in the freezing temperature of -20C. The sentence was read  “… Dostoevsky, Feodor Mikhailovich… for participating in criminal plans and spreading of the letter written by Belinsky, which is full of impudent words against the Russian Orthodox church and Supreme power, and for the attempt at spreading other writings against the government… is deprived of all rights… and is sentenced to death by shooting.”
The first three of the accused were blindfolded and tied to the poles; Dostoevsky waited for his turn in the second group of three; the soldiers shouldered the arms. At that moment an official waved a white handkerchief. The execution was stopped, the official read a new sentence - the tzar's amnesty. Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years of penal servitude in Siberia and another four years of service as a soldier, also in Siberia.


That same day, later, he wrote to his brother, “I did not whimper, complain and lose courage. Life, life is everywhere, life is inside us… There will be people beside me, and to be a man among people is to remain a man forever… that is life, that is the task of life…”
The first four years were a nightmare. Four years in 10 pound shackles, hard work in mines and then at a brick factory.
Besides physical privations, diseases, insults and humiliations, Dostoevsky suffered from constant presence of other people, there was no privacy for a single minute. He was among killers, robbers, rapists and maniacs, and he was forced to communicate with them. They, in their turn, hated him, because he was the only nobleman among them. Dostoevsky was forbidden to write, he just had no opportunity, starting with having no pen…


Service as a soldier, although physically and morally hard, was a relief and almost happiness for him.
He was changed. He rejected his liberal ideas, which were the reason of his personal catastrophe. After coming in touch (and close contact) with real representatives of the Russian people, he renounced all his ideas idealizing the poor. More than before he left the necessity to believe in God; and Christ, who suffered for men, became for him the closest and most understandable character in the religion of all-forgiving and mercy.

The Petrashevky’s case changed the lives of many people, and our second artist, Pavel Fedotov (1815-1852), was among them. Fedotov was not a member of the group, but he personally knew some of them. And that cost him much; he was banned from society, all commissions were canceled, and there were no new ones; soon he became mentally unstable and died in a clinic for the poor, only thirty-seven years old.

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