Russian painter Ivan Kramskoy
From faithful portrayals of Ivan Kramskoy we know the prominent Russian people, such as authors Lev Tolstoy, Ivan Goncharov, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Nikolai Nekrasov, the art collector Pavel Tretyakov, the painters Ivan Shishkin, Vasily Vasnetsov, Mikhail Antokolsky, and Ilya Repin, and scientists Dmitry Mendeleyev, and Sergey Botkin. By creating his outstanding portraits of the leaders of Russian democratic culture and science Kramskoy asserted the high ideals in the minds of people.
Ivan Kramskoy was one of the first Russian artists to paint portraits from democratic intelligentsia, the “new people” as Nikolai Chernyshevsky called them, typical of this period in the Russian social liberation movement. Besides, the artist painted peasants. They are strong characters, independent, fighting against hardships of life and social injustice. Peasant theme is a natural element of his art, inseparable from the search of a “positive hero,” typical of Russian democratic art of the 1870s—80s, since the progress of social system in Russia was then considered deeply connected with peasant movement.
Russian portraiture of the second half of the nineteenth century, the works by Kramskoy including, is noticeable for its social orientation and profound moral significance of themes depicted. The artists strove to establish a true-to-life pictorial ideal, which was borrowed from real life. Masterful and full-blooded depiction of strong and positive personalities had its impact on the spectators and through them influenced the social atmosphere.
In his other pictures Kramskoy followed either the way of direct reflecting of life or lyrical and romantic interpretation of it. The Mermaids are fraught with the warmth and stillness of an enchanted Ukrainian night; delicate intonations akin to Chekov’s can be heard in Vewing an Old House; mysterious, enigmatic and magnificent is the Unknown Woman; touching is the grief of a woman who has lost her child in Unconsolable Grief.
Intent on the quality of his works, Kramskoy always persisted in developing his professional skill bringing it to perfection. He had an amazing feeling of form and line though sometimes he failed to blend artistic truth with pictorial beauty and exquisiteness, which was to come to the following generation of artists, most of whom were Kramskoy’s disciples. He had done much for the thriving of Russian art in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. But it is not only for that we appreciate the artist; for his best works still retain artistic value of their own. The quality of his works is so high that the most severe critics could but admire them.
When only a youth, during his years in the Academy of Arts, enchanted by Alexander Ivanov’s Christ’s First Appearance to the People Kramskoy became aware of the role art played in moral perfection of man. It was then that he understood the enormity of the social responsibility of the artist and his duty to people.
Kramskoy personifies a new type of Russian painter, adherer of the principles of realism and high ideals of national art. The humanism of his ideas, his deeply critical mind, his sincere compassion to people and readiness to help them, his truly public spirit and superior professionalism made Kramskoy an outstanding public leader.
The name of Kramskoy is to a great degree connected with the growth and success of the democratic Russian art of the second half of the nineteenth century, which is a truly important and uncommon artistic phenomenon in the world culture of that period.