Aleksandrovich Vrubel (Russian: Михаи́л Алекса́ндрович
Вру́бель; March 17, 1856 – April 14, 1910, all n.s.) is
usually regarded amongst the Russian painters of the
Symbolist movement. In reality, he deliberately stood aloof
from contemporary art trends, so that the origin of his
unusual manner should be sought in Late Byzantine and Early
Vrubel was born in Omsk, Russia, into a military lawyer's
family. His father was of Polish ancestry (Polish: Wróbel),
while his mother who was Danish died when he was three years
old. And though he graduated from the Faculty of Law at St
Petersburg University in 1880, his father had recognized his
talent for art and had made sure to provide, through
numerous tutors, what proved to be a sporadic education in
the subject. The next year he entered the Imperial Academy
of Arts, where he studied by direction of Pavel Chistyakov.
Even in his earliest works, he exhibited great talent for
drawing and an idiosyncratic style. He would later develop a
penchant for fragmentary composition and an "unfinished
In 1884, he was summoned to replace the lost 12th-century
murals and mosaics in the St. Cyril's Church of Kiev with
new ones. In order to execute this commission, he went to
Venice to study medieval Christian art. It was here that, in
the words of an art historian, "his palette acquired new
strong saturated tones resembling the iridescent play of
precious stones". Most of his works painted in Venice have
been lost, because the artist was more interested in
creative process than in promoting his artwork.
In 1886, he returned to Kiev, where he submitted some
designs to the newly built St Volodymir Cathedral. The jury,
however, failed to appreciate the novelty of his works, and
they were rejected. At that period, he executed some
illustrations for Hamlet and Anna Karenina which had little
in common with his later Demon and Prophet themes.
In 1905 he created the mosaics of the hotel "Metropol" in
Moscow, of which the centre piece of the facade overlooking
Teatralnaya square is occupied by the mosaic panel,
'Princess Gryoza' (Princess of Dream).
While in Kiev, Vrubel started painting sketches and
watercolours illustrating the demon, a long Romantic poem by
Mikhail Lermontov. The poem described the carnal passion of
"an eternal nihilistic spirit" for a Georgian girl Tamara.
At that period Vrubel developed a keen interest in Oriental
arts, and particularly Persian carpets, and even attempted
to imitate their texture in his paintings.
In 1890, Vrubel relocated to Moscow where he could best
follow the burgeoning innovations and trends in art. Like
other artists associated with the Art Nouveau style, he
excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such
as ceramics, majolics, and stained glass. He also produced
architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes.
It is the large painting of Seated Demon (1890) that
brought notoriety to Vrubel. Most conservative critics
accused him of "wild ugliness", whereas the art patron Savva
Mamontov praised the Demon series as "fascinating symphonies
of a genius" and commissioned Vrubel to paint decorations
for his private opera and mansions of his friends.
Unfortunately the Demon, like other Vrubel's works, doesn't
look as it did when it was painted, as the artist added
bronze powder to his oils in order to achieve particularly
luminous, glistening effects.
During 1896, he met the famous opera singer Nadezhda Zabela.
Half a year later they married and settled in Moscow, where
Zabela was invited by Mamontov to perform in his private
opera theatre. While in Moscow, Vrubel designed stage sets
and costumes for his wife, who sang the parts of the Snow
Maiden, the Swan Princess, and Princess Volkhova in
Rimsky-Korsakov's operas. Using Russian fairy tales, he
executed some of his most acclaimed pieces, including Pan
(1899), The Swan Princess (1900), and Lilacs (1900).
Vrubel was not only a painter. He was a master of majolica.
He created a majolica frieze for hotel Metropol in Moscow .
He was a member of Abramtsevo circle, creative community who
tried to create the total work of art. Vrubel also made some
architectural projects, such as project of the house of
Mamontov in Moscow.
In 1901, Vrubel returned to the demonic themes in the large
canvas Demon Downcast. In order to astound the public with a
spiritual message, he repeatedly repainted the demon's
ominous face, even after the painting had been exhibited to
the overwhelmed audience. At the end he had a severe nervous
breakdown and was hospitalized in a mental clinic. Vrubel's
mental illness was initiated or complicated by tertiary
syphilis. While there, he painted a mystical Pearl Oyster
(1904) and variations on the themes of Alexander Pushkin's
poem The Prophet. In 1906, overpowered by mental disease and
approaching blindness, he ceased painting. Vrubel died on
April 14, 1910.
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