Most Famous Paintings by Russian Artists

Russia, aside from its brilliant architects and engineers who created magnificent building and structures, like St. Basil's Cathedral. This largest country in the world has produced many very talented and accomplished artists when it comes to visual arts. 

In order to introduce you to Russia's great artworks, we made a list of the 19 most famous Russian painting that put a mark on history.

Let's get started to be mesmerized...

1. The Vision to the Youth Bartholomew

The Vision to the Youth Bartholomew (Russian: Видение отроку Варфоломею) is a painting by the Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov, the first and best known work in his series on Sergius of Radonezh, a medieval Russian saint. The painting illustrates an episode from "The Life of St. Sergius" by Epiphanius the Wise:

One day his father sent him to seek for a lost foal. On his way he met a monk, a venerable elder, a stranger, a priest, with the appearance of an angel. 
This stranger was standing beneath an oak tree, praying devoutly and with much shedding of tears. The boy, seeing him, humbly made a low obeisance, and awaited the end of his prayers. 

The venerable monk, when he had ended his prayers, glanced at the boy and, conscious that he beheld the chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, he called him to his side, blessed him, bestowed on him a kiss in the name of Christ, and asked: "What art thou seeking, or what dost thou want, child?" The boy answered, "My soul desires above all things to understand the Holy Scriptures. 
I have to study reading and writing, and I am sorely vexed that I cannot learn these things. Will you, holy Father, pray to God for me, that he will give me understanding of book-learning?" The monk raised his hands and his eyes toward heaven, sighed, prayed to God, then said, "Amen." 

Taking out from his satchel, as it were some treasure, with three fingers, he handed to the boy what appeared to be a little bit of white wheaten bread prosphora, saying to him: "Take this in thy mouth, child, and eat; this is given thee as a sign of God's grace and for the understanding of Holy Scriptures. Though the gift appears but small, the taste thereof is very sweet."

The image of St. Sergius of Radonezh, near and dear to the artist since childhood, was embodiment of the moral ideal for Nesterov. Particularly important role Nesterov gave St. Sergius in rallying the Russian people.

2. Morning in a Pine Forest

The Morning in a Pine Forest (Russian: Утро в сосновом лесу) is a painting by Russian artists Ivan Shishkin and Konstantin Savitsky. The bears were painted by Savitsky, but the art collector Pavel Tretyakov effaced his signature, stating that "from idea until performance, everything discloses the painting manner and creative method peculiar just to Shishkin", so the painting is now credited solely to Shishkin.

The Morning in a Pine Forest became very popular, being reproduced on various items, including the "Clumsy Bear" chocolates by Krasny Oktyabr. According to one poll, the painting is the second most popular in Russia behind Bogatyrs by Viktor Vasnetsov. Shishkin's similar paintings are the Forest in Spring (1884) and The Sestroretsk Forest (1896).

It is believed that Shishkin painted the pine trees near Narva-Jõesuu in Estonia, where he often enjoyed spending his summers.

3. Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, also known as Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto , (Ukrainian: Запорожці пишуть листа турецькому султану) is a painting by Russian artist Ilya Repin. The 2.03 m (6 foot 7 inch) by 3.58 m (11 foot 9 inch) canvas was started in 1880 and finished in 1891. 

Repin recorded the years of work along the lower edge of the canvas. Alexander III bought the painting for 35,000 rubles, at the time the greatest sum ever paid for a Russian painting. Since then, the canvas has been exhibited in the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.

It depicts a supposedly historical tableau, set in 1676, and based on the legend of Cossacks sending a reply to an ultimatum of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed IV.

4. The Ninth Wave

The Ninth Wave (Russian: Девятый вал, Dyevyatiy val) is an 1850 painting by the Russian Armenian marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky. It is his best known work.

The title refers to an old sailing expression referring to a wave of incredible size that comes after a succession of incrementally larger waves.

It depicts a sea after a night storm and people facing death attempting to save themselves by clinging to debris from a wrecked ship. The debris, in the shape of the cross, appears to be a Christian metaphor for salvation from the earthly sin. 

The painting has warm tones, which reduce the sea's apparent menacing overtones and a chance for the people to survive seems plausible. This painting shows the destructive side, and beauty of nature.

5. Religious Procession in Kursk Province

Religious Procession in Kursk Province (also known as Easter Procession in the District of Kursk or A Religious Procession in Kursk Gubernia') (Russian: Крестный ход в Курской губернии) is a large oil on canvas painting by the Russian realist painter and sculptor Ilya Repin (1844–1930). 

Completed between 1880 and 1883, the work shows a seething, huddled mass attending the annual religious procession (crucession) carrying the famous icon Our Lady of Kursk from its home at the Korennaya Monastery to the nearby city of Kursk in western Russia.

The procession is led through a dusty landscape by robed, Orthodox priests holding icons, festoons and banners over their heads. Behind them follow a crowd mostly of peasants, but ranging from beggars and cripples, police and military officers to figures from the provincial elite. Religious Procession led to controversy when first exhibited due to the icon being held by a man who appears to be drunk.

6. Suprematist Composition

Suprematist Composition (blue rectangle over the red beam) is a painting by Kazimir Malevich, a Russian painter known as a pioneer of geometric abstraction. The painting represents a constellation of geometry and color in space with remarkable austerity.

Malevich's masterpiece was sold at a Sotheby's auction for $60 million to an anonymous buyer; it is the most expensive work in the history of Russian art.

The painting was created in 1916 and stayed with the artist until June 1927. Malevich exhibited his work in the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung in Berlin, but was soon to leave for the Soviet Union. 

The painting soon went to German architect Hugo Häring, who then sold it to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. It stayed there for the next 50 years. It has been shown at various expositions, mostly in Europe. After an extended legal battle over the painting's ownership, which endured for 17 years, the painting was returned to heirs of the artist. In November 2008 they sold it at auction.

7 . Christ in the Desert

Christ in the Desert, or Christ in the Wilderness (Russian: Христос в пустыне, tr. Khristos v pustyne) is a painting by Russian artist Ivan Kramskoi, reflecting the Fasting of Christ. 

Kramskoi was offered a professorship for the painting by the Russian Academy of Arts Council, but having learned that in the beginning of 1873, rejected it (he had been expelled from the Academy earlier, and chose to keep his "youthful commitment to independence from the Academy"). 

Subsequently, it became one of the favourite paintings of Pavel Tretyakov, who bought it for his gallery in the year the painting was finished.

Christ in the Desert is one of Kramskoi's Jesus-themed paintings, the other being Rejoice, King of the Jews and Herodias. Kramskoy used primarily cold colors to reflect the chill dawn in the background. The thoughtful figure of Christ, wearing a dark wrap and red tunic underneath is slightly shifted to the right of the center. 

8. I and the Village

I and the Village is a 1911 painting by the Russian-French artist Marc Chagall. It is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The work is Cubist in construction and contains many soft, dreamlike images overlapping one another in a continuous space. In the foreground, a cap-wearing green-faced man stares at a goat or sheep with the image of a smaller goat being milked on its cheek. In the foreground is a glowing tree held in the man's dark hand. 

The background features a collection of houses next to an Orthodox church, and an upside-down female violinist in front of a black-clothed man holding a scythe. Note that the green-faced man wears a necklace with St. Andrew's cross, indicating that the man is a Christian. As the title suggests, I and the Village is influenced by memories of the artist's place of birth and his relationship to it.

The significance of the painting lies in its seamless integration of various elements of Eastern European folktales and culture, both Russian and Yiddish. Its clearly defined semiotic elements (e.g. The Tree of Life) and daringly whimsical style were at the time considered groundbreaking. 

Its frenetic, fanciful style is credited to Chagall's childhood memories becoming, in the words of scholar H.W. Janson, a "cubist fairy tale" reshaped by his imagination, without regard to natural color, size or even the laws of gravity.

9. Trinity

The Trinity (Russian: Троица, tr. Troitsa, also called The Hospitality of Abraham) is an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. It is his most famous work and the most famous of all Russian icons, and it is regarded as one of the highest achievements of Russian art. 

Scholars believe that is it one of only two works of art (the other being the Dormition Cathedral frescoes in Vladimir) that can be attributed to Rublev with any sort of certainty.

The Trinity depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1–8), but the painting is full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity. At the time of Rublev, the Holy Trinity was the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility.

10. Brig "Mercury" Attacked by Two Turkish Ships

Brig "Mercury" Attacked by Two Turkish Ships (Russian: Бриг "Меркурий", атакованный двумя турецкими кораблями) is an 1892 oil on canvas painting by Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky (1817–1900). Aivazovsky painted over 6,000 works, more than half of which are seascapes.

It depicts three ships in close combat on a rough sea; as the name suggests, the battle occurs between two Turkish warships, and another ship referred to in the painting's title as the Russian brig Mercury. 

While Aivazovsky painted many seascapes, often involving ships and boats of various descriptions, and many showing ships that were damaged or shipwrecked, few of his works featured ships in close naval combat.

11. White on White

Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918) is an abstract oil-on-canvas painting by Kazimir Malevich. It is one of the more well-known examples of the Russian Suprematism movement, painted the year after the October Revolution.

Part of a series of "white on white" works begun by Malevich in 1916, the work depicts a white square, portrayed off centre and at an angle on a ground which is also a white square of a slightly warmer tone. 

Although the artwork is stripped of most detail, brush strokes are evident in this painting and the artist tried to make it look as if the tilted square is coming out of the canvas. Malevich intended the painting to evoke a feeling of floating, with the colour white symbolising infinity, and the slight tilt of the square suggests movement.

A critic from the rival Constructivist movement quipped that it was the only good canvas in an exhibition by Malevich's UNOVIS group: "an absolutely pure, white canvas with a very good prime coating. Something could be done on it."

12. The Demon Seated

The Demon Seated (Russian: Демон сидящий) is an 1890 symbolist piece by Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel.

The painting depicts a demon sitting atop a mountain. His flexed musculature and wrought hands contrast vividly with his slumped figure and sad facial expression. 

He appears at once passive, introverted, proud and solitary. His body shows contrasting masculinity and femininity with his long hair and indolent gaze. His face seems desperate for love in his cold surroundings.

The painting's background is a mountainous area in a scarlet sunset. The composition emphasizes the constraint of the demon's figure, as if pressed between the upper and lower bars of the frame. 

The painting is created in Vrubel's unique style with the effect of crystal edges, which makes his paintings look like stained glasses or panels. That effect was achieved with plain strokes made with a painting knife.

13. La Mariée

La Mariée (French for "The Bride") is a painting in oil on canvas, 68×53 cm, created in 1950 by Russian-French artist Marc Chagall. It is held in a private collection in Japan.

Chagall paintings often feature young women or couples, but in La Mariée the focus is on a singular young woman in quasi-wedding attire with a bouquet of flowers. Described by a Chagall fans as "an ode to young love", the woman is presented to the viewer in a bold and conspicuous fashion, as if the viewer is the one marrying her.

14. Girl with Peaches

Girl with Peaches (Russian: Девочка с персиками, Devochka s Persikami) is an 1887 painting by the Russian painter Valentin Serov.

It is considered to be one of Serov's greatest works and one of his most famous. Serov's friend and biographer, Russian art historian Igor Grabar acclaimed it as "the masterpiece of Russian painting". 

According to the book 1000 Drawings of Genius, although the style of the painting (and Serov's early style in general) "has much in common with the French Impressionists, [Serov] did not become acquainted with their work until after he had painted [it]".

The painting depicts 12-year-old Vera Mamontova, a daughter of Russian entrepreneur and patron of the arts Savva Mamontov.

15. At the Dressing-Table

At the Dressing-Table. Self-Portrait (Russian: За туалетом. Автопортрет) is a 1909 painting by Russian painter Zinaida Serebriakova. The painting is in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery. Its size is 75 × 65 cm.

"At the Dressing-Table" was drawn by Serebriakova in 1909 while she was living near Neskuchnoye, Kursk Governorate (now is a part of Kharkiv Oblast of Ukraine). According to Serebriakova, the winter came early in that year, there was a lot of snow, but it was warm in the house, so "she started to paint herself in the mirror, entertaining by drawing different small things from her dressing-table".

On the insistence of Eugene Lanceray, her brother, Serebriakova sent "At the Dressing-Table" to Saint-Petersburg. It was exhibited at the 7-th exhibition of Union of Russian artists, which moved from Moscow in the beginning of 1910. The painting was well received by the public and art critics. 

In particular, a painter Valentin Serov called it "very cute and fresh thing", while a painter and critic Alexandre Benois wrote that Serebriakova "gave to Russian public such a wonderful gift, such a "smile from ear to ear", that one cannot fail to thank her for it". Right after the exposition the painting was bought by the Tretyakov Gallery.

16. The Swan Princess

The Swan Princess (Russian: Царевна-Лебедь) is a 1900 painting by Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel, based on the opera The Tale of Tsar Sultan by Rimsky-Korsakov (which was based on the fairytale of the same name by Pushkin). 

Vrubel designed the decor and costumes for this opera. The part of the Swan Princess was performed by his wife, Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel.

Vrubel drew inspiration for this piece from a Savva Mamontov private opera that premiered on 21 December 1900. Vrubel was the costume designer for the opera, while his wife played the part of the Swan Princess. 

It is interesting to note, however, that the face of the Swan Princess in the painting does not resemble that of his spouse, as evidenced by a photo taken at the time the opera was shown.

The art critic Nikolai Prakhov opined that the painting drew upon the likeness of his sister, Elena Prakhov. It is possible that Vrubel combined the likeness of Elena and his wife, or an unknown lover. The artist painted this piece at the farm of his parents in Chernihiv oblast, in present-day Ukraine, in the summer of 1900.

17. Cornflowers

Cornflowers is a painting by the Russian artist Sergei Ivanovich Osipov (1915–1985), executed in 1976 and related to his most famous works in the genre of still life.

Still life Cornflowers is a laconic composition of the three items easily located on the surface of a table. This allowed the artist to effectively determine their shape, texture and color properties. 

In this work, Osipov certainly reaches a new quality of his painting. Polished surface of the table from which the artist took off the cloth, discovers interesting new features, giving the composition of the picture more depth.

18. The Appearance of Christ Before the People

The Appearance of Christ Before the People or The Apparition of the Messiah (Russian: Явление Христа народу) is an oil painting on canvas, measuring 540 cm × 750 cm, by the Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806–1858).

The painting has been called his magnum opus and took 20 years to complete (1837–1857). The narrative of the painting is based on the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, also described in the first chapter of the Gospel according to John.

The painting alludes to several stories in the Bible. In the center of the painting John the Baptist, wearing an animal skin, is standing on the banks of the River Jordan. He points towards a figure in the distance, approaching the scene.

To the left stands the young John the Apostle, behind him St. Peter, and further on Andrew the Apostle and Nathaniel. In the foreground we see people who watch the scene unfold but are undecided what to do, both young and old men. 

In the center there is a wealthy man who was too rich to follow Christ and a slave, about whom Ivanov remarked that he meant to depict people who experienced, after a life in despair and suffering, "joy for the first time". 

To the right there is a figure, that stands nearest to Jesus, who was depicted as the painter's good friend, the writer Gogol. Before the wanderer with a staff seated not far from John, is a figure seated with a red headgear. The figure is a self-portrait; the artist has captured his own features on the canvas.

Source: Wikipedia