Sunday, January 9, 2011

It’s All in the Past

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.”
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The quotes are from Russia, the Land, the People: Russian Painting, 1850-1910. Smithsonian Institution.
Wikipedia on Maksimov

9 comments:

Scorchfield said...

It is great!
Like in Pushkin Museum...

http://www.museum.ru/gmii/defengl.htm

etc, etc said...

and (Job) said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."

=shane white= said...

How strange. Either my eyes are playing tricks on me or the drawing seems off on this. The samovar seems to be at a different angle than the tea sets on the table. Even the ceramic pieces below that seem off.

It's been a long day...maybe it's fine. :\

Still no denying, the level of story is rich in the details.

=s=

James Gurney said...

Shane, I agree. The brass object has ellipses that should be flatter.

maxwest said...

I recall fantasy illustrator Gary Lippincott said that any good painting (or illustration, etc.) should tell a story of some kind. You should be able to gage a lot about a character and their setting through a well-constructed image.

David Glenn said...

Pretty cool painting, but I was under the impression that the person sitting in the chair was a man (because the hair reminded me of old fashioned wigs.

Petr Mores said...

The mood of the image reminds me of short stories of Ivan Bunin, one of my favorite writers. Bunin, who grew up in the milieu of impoverished aristocracy, trained to become a landscape painter and only later changed his mind to become a writer. His melancholy stories, mostly about love and death, are spiked with gorgeous passages of lyrical descriptions of nature's moods that betray the eye of a painter.

newleafcreative said...

The old woman knitting, upon closer inspection, is knitting in the round (with four dual ended needles). She's likely knitting stockings or socks because that's typically what you do in the round. Maybe her expression is concentration more than resignation. It's a complicated process using very fine thread. At her age, her eyes are likely weak in the dimmer light of the house's shadow, she's probably trying to see what the heck she's doing. Just my own take...from experience (knitting, that is).

Aaron Miller said...

How do you think he went about creating this painting? With what he available then would this have been a complied painting from drawings? photography? from life? maybe a little bit of everything? Could we possibly assume this is a portrait of someone he knew who he may have encountered living like this or is it a fabricated social statement. The process would be an invaluable insight.