Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904) is one of the most famous Russian war artists. He is notorious for his graphic nature which ultimately lead many of his paintings to never being printed or exhibited. He had active service with the Russian army sporadically throughout the 1860’s and 1870’s. He also traveled extensively both independently and with the Russian military throughout Central Asia and the Ottoman Empire. His travels in these areas of the world inspired many of his paintings.
They are Triumphant — 1872
This painting depicts Russian soldiers heads being put onto pikes in the Uzbek city of Bukhara. The Emir of Bukhara and the nobles of the city watch the ongoing process. This painting was very controversial when it was first released due to the unsavory depiction of Russian soldiers.
The Road of the War Prisoners — 1879
This painting depicts an event during the Russo-Turkish War where prisoners that were taken captive ultimately froze to death overnight. Vereshchagin fought and was badly wounded in the Russo-Turkish war. It is likely that he referenced his personal experiences to create this painting.
These paintings, and in particular this artist, really spoke to me because in my view, they revealed certain truths about warfare. Vereshchagin was not a propaganda artist that painted pro Russian works of art. His artwork pertains a degree of realism not only in the literal image itself, but also in the theme that the work is trying to reveal.
He sends important messages to the viewer:
- They are Triumphant — 1872: The more powerful and well equipped military’s don’t always win.
- The Road of the War Prisoners — 1879: Many times in war soldiers die accidentally (i.e. do to exposure). They don’t always die gallantly like in many popular war paintings.
In my mind, these points of view make his works very original and interesting to look at.