The panels sectioning off the gallery were slightly ajar, so of course I peeked inside this fissure to see what I was missing. In addition to a reproduction of Repin’s Zaporozhtsy's Reply to the Sultan, I glimpsed part a large canvas which I later learned was Klaudii Vasilievich Lebedev's The Fall of Novgorod, today's feature for my Art for the Month of June.
I won't pretend to be one who’s heavy steeped in Russian history and culture, but I've always enjoyed the country's contribution to 19th century realism, not only in literature and but also the visual arts. There's something admirably gritty about the work of the Peredvizhniki, the collective of Russian realist painters who defied the academic restrictions of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. They remind me of French realist painters such as Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet who rebelled against the standards of the Académie des Beaux-Arts to create their own work which depicted everyday life and illustrated social issues. As much as I love what has been deemed "academic art", which was then all the rage of the Paris Salon, I must admit that playful allegories and handsome cupids couldn't have possibly stayed in fashion forever.
One might consider Ilya Yefimovich Repin the Leo Tolstoy of Russian realist painting, but there a several other figures, including Lebedev, whose work is definitely worth hunting down. I especially admire these large scale paintings, such as The Fall of Novgorod, which depict pivotal scenes from Russian history. I can’t be certain as to the possible political motives behind this painting’s execution, but its photo-realistic attention to detail, as well as the emotions expressed by subjects, makes for a work of art that is both captivating and overwhelming.
On an added note, the Chazen features a large collection of Russian art, including a neat selection of religious icons, all of which were gifted to the museum by Joseph E. Davies, who served as the 2nd U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.