Alexey Makhrov, Introduction to V.V. Stasov, 'Deplorable Aestheticians'

Copyright 2003; all rights reserved. Redistribution or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author(s).

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'Deplorable Aestheticians' offers an insight into the press polemics waged by Stasov against critics who published negative comments about Repin's works. Such a work was Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom, produced during Repin's stay in Paris as a pensioner of the Academy (1873-76) on the subject of the legendary adventures of a merchant from the medieval city of Novgorod (which also inspired an opera by Nikolai Rimskii-Korsakov). This text provides an insight into the nature of Stasov's art criticism: Stasov himself was not satisfied with Sadko; however, he considered it his duty to defend the reputation of the artist, whom he regarded as one of the foremost representatives of Russian realist art. Although the label of objectivity could not always be applied to Stasov's art criticism, he unfailingly proved himself to be a masterful polemicist and displayed a competent use of the language, both in delivering his ideas about art to the reader and in ridiculing his opponents. The article was published in the daily newspaper Novoe vremia, one of the most widely read periodicals in Russia in the 1870s and subsequent decades, alongside other features devoted to political, economic and other news. In contrast to the majority of Russian art critics of that period, Stasov succeeded in creating a style of writing about art which withstood the competition with other articles written on topical subjects. His unfailing enthusiasm and the strength of his convictions were matched by his deadly sarcasm. This article seems to support Ivan Turgenev's advice that it was beneficial to argue with all sorts of people, except Vladimir Stasov.