OCTOBER 26, ON THIS DAY
\’Observing life through all my various travels, I have been particularly struck by the fact that even in our time people kill one another under all possible pretexts, and by every possible means. Wholesale murder is still called war, while killing individuals is called execution. Everywhere the same worship of brute strength, the same inconsistency; on the one hand men slaying their fellows by the million for an idea often impracticable, are elevated to a high pedestal of public admiration: on the other, men who kill individuals for a crust of bread, are mercilessly and promptly exterminated – and this even in Christian countries, in the name of Him whose teaching was founded on peace and love. These facts, observed on many occasions, made a strong impression on my mind, and after carefully having thought the matter over, I painted several pictures of wars and executions.\’
Vereshchagin is known for his insightful, sometimes painfully scenes depicting and interrogating the nature and behaviour of mankind. The decision by Vereshchagin to depict the death of man\’s Saviour at the hands of the saved on such a grand scale and with such virtuosity is the culmination of his life\’s philosophy—an ever-present contrast to the loss of human life. Of course, his renowned work The Apotheosis of War clearly articulates this philosophical perspective. Russian painter Vasily Vereshchagin is regarded as one of the most eminent battle painters of his time. He painted the graphic nature of grotesque realist scenes to capture the horrors of war and to depict Britain\’s brutal colonial rule in India.
Vereshchagin was born on October 26, 1842 in the city of Cherepovets in the Vologda region of Russia. Despite graduating from Naval School in 1860, Vereshchagin was determined to follow his artistic dreams. He enrolled in the Academy of Arts instead of continuing his naval career. Vereshchagin became famous for his realistic battle scenes and depictions of the people of Asia. In one of his first major paintings, The Apotheosis of War (1871), Vereshchagin painted hundreds of skulls on top of each other, creating a pyramid. In the corner of the painting as a protest against the war he wrote, “to all conquerors, past, present and to come.”
At the Fortress Wall and They Entered are a pair of interconnected combat paintings by Vereshchagin. These paintings from the early 1870s depict the siege of the Uzbek citadel of Khiva. At the Fortress Wall, the first artwork, depicts a column of nervous but orderly Russian soldiers beginning their assault. The aftermath of the attack is depicted in the second work, They Entered: dead men lie on the ground, and the survivors are seen groggily trudging out into the distance. The disciplined power seen in the prior painting is not as apparent here; rather, conflict is portrayed as brutal and callous. Suppression of the Indian Revolt, painted by Vereshchagin in 1884, is perhaps his most well-known work depicting British India. This piece depicts the barbaric procedure of shooting condemned mutineers to death using field guns. Many individuals deny the reality of this, claiming the guys were just shot or hanged. The State Procession of the Prince of Wales into Jaipur offers another view of India under British control. A documentary style is used in this gigantic artwork, one of the biggest in the world. It resembles a contemporary photographic record in many ways when seen from a distance.
The greatest Russian combat painter of all time, Vereshchagin, once said of war: \”Does conflict have two sides—one that is pleasant and lovely, and the other that is ugly and repulsive? No, there is only one war, in which the stronger side punishes the weaker until the latter begs for mercy, in an effort to make the other side kill, maim, or capture as many people as possible. Vereshchagin achieved an international reputation via remarkable tenacity; during the final ten years of his life, he participated in more than thirty solo exhibits, half of which were overseas. Vereshchagin utilised his work to speak for people who were unable to speak for themselves and to raise issues that no one else felt comfortable addressing.