It’s All in the Past was painted by the Russian artist Vasily Maksimov (1844-1911). His friend Polenov described the scene: “An old lady of the manor is sitting by her porch, dreaming in an old armchair...while her housekeeper sits on a step knitting. Two marvelous figures, wonderfully true and alive.”
They’re living in the smaller house made of logs. Evidently it was built when the estate was first established, back when the fortune was growing. Now the mansion is in ruins. The patriarch is dead; the weeds have grown; the trees have died; and the windows are boarded up.
The old woman has a cane and reading glasses. She’s propped up on pillows with her aged dog beside her. But she retains her dignity. She drinks from the few pieces of fine china that remain from the old days. What is the housekeeper thinking as she looks down over her knitting? I don’t know, but she looks resigned.
The painting tells more than just an incident. It reads like an epic novel. It takes an original look at a universal story of our human experience, namely, how does someone respond with dignity to a reversal of fortunes?
Maksimov had a difficult life. He was born a peasant, was orphaned early, and he died in poverty. A.N. Benois wrote that, for Maksimov, “people and villages are not a collection of models and dead objects that only need to be copied carefully. He knew what he portrayed, and for this reason his complex scenes are not by their nature casual snapshots but typical social documents.”
The quotes are from Russia, the Land, the People: Russian Painting, 1850-1910. Smithsonian Institution.
Wikipedia on Maksimov