Alexey Makhrov, Introduction to V.V. Stasov, 'On Ivanov's Significance in Russian Art'

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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Despite its considerable length, Stasov's article is one of the most interesting contributions to the debates about the significance of Aleksandr Ivanov in Russian art. It belongs to a long tradition of continuous reassessment of Ivanov and his major painting The Appearance of Christ to the People, discussed by most Russian intellectuals, such as Gogol', Turgenev, Kramskoi, Benua and others. The article addresses the complex relationship between the artist and the world and locates both Ivanov's work and his thinking in the context of his time. Stasov's objective in this article seems to have been to enlist Ivanov in the ranks of the predecessors of realist and nationalist art, and to demonstrate his affinities with Russian critical realism by stressing the depth of content of his works, his independence and nonconformism, and his continuous struggle for survival, emphasised by comparison with the spectacular successes of Karl Briullov. However, beyond this ideological agenda there appears a very potent image of the artist dedicated to his work despite the tragic circumstances of life. Stasov's erudition in Russian and European art and culture and his knowledge of the critical debates which surrounded Ivanov are impressive, and his observations of the perception of art by the Russian public and the influence of the press on public opinion is evidence of a deep understanding of the nature of art criticism. Ivanov's correspondence published in 1880 was thoroughly studied by Stasov and used in order to offer the reader a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most enigmatic Russian artists.