Photo Friday: 19th Century Russian Paintings of the Caucasus

A number of 19th century Russian artists painted landscapes of the Caucasus. They were fascinated with the region’s rugged mountains— many of them topped with glaciers— and its wild, exotic, fierce inhabitants. The paintings often evoke, directly or indirectly, the wars which ran from 1813 to 1864 in which the Czarist armies displaced the Persian rulers of this region and subjugated the native populations. But the paintings do not simply celebrate Russian conquests. Instead, they underscore the heroism and endurance of the fighters on both sides. Seeking to impress viewers with the dramatic mountains, the artists often exaggerated the height and form of the mountains.

Many of the artists were radicals who opposed the rigid hierarchies of Czarist Russia. Some of them traveled to the Caucasus as exiles from the major Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Among these was the Romantic writer Mikhail Lermontov, known for his poetry and his early novel The Hero of Our Age, and who also produced landscape paintings (the first in the series below is one of his). He was exiled twice, the first time for writing a poem critical of high officials, the second for insulting another publicly.

Other artists had rebelled against the major artistic institutions of Czarist Russia, and the formalism that these institutions promoted. Several of the paintings included below were produced by members of the group The Wanderers, students who left the Imperial Academy of Arts, located in St. Petersburg, in 1863 in frustration at the academy’s deliberate lack of attention to Russian culture. They dedicated themselves to depictions of daily life, showing common people, often in outdoor settings.

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More 19th century Russian paintings of the Caucasus, many of them depicting glaciers, can be found here.