Viktor Vasnetsov, a painter of extraordinary talent, became famous thanks to his series of paintings inspired by Russian folk tales. The illustration for the tale Sister Alionushka and Brother Ivanushka, created in 1881, is a vivid example.
Who among us, when we were young, did not listen, moved, to the story of this courageous young girl in search of her little brother, undeterred by the length of her journey, the impenetrable forest and the wicked witch? It is perhaps the reason why Alionushka became one of the most recognizable and popular Russian paintings of the nineteenth century. The painter surprised her at the moment when, exhausted after her long and vain searches, she sat down for a moment of repose. It seems that all nature around has immobilized to preserve the tranquility of this brief moment. It is impossible to remain unmoved in front of this painting, which reflects the sadness and weariness of this girl with an incredible sensibility and technique. Alionushka sits at the water’s edge in her old dress, disheveled, barefoot, while thinking about the fate of her brother Ivanushka. Swallows above his head bear hope – they are harbingers of a happy ending for this sad story of brother and sister. The realism of the girl and the surrounding nature gives an impression that it is enough to take a step to meet her, smell the lake and engage in a conversation. It stands to reason that this canvas is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Russian art.
Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926) was a painter and architect specializing in historical and mythological representations. He was born in the village of Lopyal in the province of Vyatka, in the family of an Orthodox priest. After finishing his studies in the small seminary of Vyatka he entered the ecclesiastical seminary in the same city. With the blessing of his father he abandoned the seminary before the beginning of his last year, and went to St. Petersburg to study at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. At the age of 21 he began to exhibit his paintings, first at the Academy, then at the exhibition of Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers).
Alionushka is a painting in which Vasnetsov was able to most fully and soulfully embody the lyrical poetry of his native people. «It seemed as if Alionushka lived inside my head for a long time, the artist later said, but really I saw her when I came across a young girl with disheveled hair who instantly captured my imagination. There was so much grief, loneliness and Russian melancholy in her eyes… Somehow she simply embodied the Russian soul.»
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