Mikhail Vrubel

From New World Encyclopedia

Self-portrait, 1885

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel (Russian: Михаил Александрович Врубель; March 17, 1856 - April 14, 1910, all n.s.) is usually regarded as the greatest Russian painter of the Art Nouveau movement, an art movement that peaked in popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century which is characterized by highly stylized, flowing, curvilinear designs often incorporating floral and other plant-inspired motifs. In reality, Vrubel's work deliberately stood aloof from contemporary art trends; the origin of his unusual style is more likely to be found in the Late Byzantine and Early Renaissance painting.

Early life

Vrubel was born in the Omsk, (Siberia), in a military lawyer's family. He graduated from the Law Faculty of St Petersburg University in 1880. The following year he entered the Imperial Academy of Arts, where he studied under direction of Pavel Tchistyakov. Even in his earliest works, he exhibited a striking talent for drawing and a highly idiosyncratic outlook. Although he still relished academic monumentality, he would later develop a penchant for fragmentory composition and the "unfinished touch."

In 1884, he was summoned to replace the lost twelfth-century murals and mosaics in the Saint Cyril church of Kiev with the new ones. In order to execute this commission, he went to Venice to study medieval Christian art. It was here that, in the words of an art historian, "his palette acquired new strong saturated tones resembling the iridescent play of precious stones." Most of his works painted in Venice have been lost, because the artist was more interested in the creative process than in promoting his artwork.

In 1886, he returned to Kiev, where he submitted some monumental designs to the newly-built Saint Volodymir Cathedral. The jury, however, failed to appreciate the striking novelty of his works, and they were rejected. At that period, he executed some delightful illustrations for Shakespeare's Hamlet and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina which had little in common with his later dark meditations on the "Demon" and "Prophet" themes.

In 1905 he created the mosaics on the hotel "Metropol" in Moscow; the center piece of the facade overlooking Teatralnaya Ploschad (Theater Square) is taken by the mosaic panel, 'Princess Gryoza' (Princess of Dreams).

Controversial fame

While in Kiev, Vrubel started painting sketches and watercolors illustrating the Demon, a long Romantic poem by Mikhail Lermontov. The poem described the carnal passion of "an eternal nihilistic spirit" to a Georgian girl Tamara. At that period Vrubel developed a keen interest in Oriental arts, and particularly Persian carpets, and even attempted to imitate their texture in his paintings.

In 1890, Vrubel moved to Moscow where he could better follow innovative trends in art. Like other artists associated with the Art nouveau, he excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such as ceramics, majolics, and stained glass. He also produced architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes.

It is the large painting of Seated Demon (1890) that brought Vrubel notoriety. Most conservative critics accused him of "wild ugliness," whereas the art patron Savva Mamontov praised the Demon series as "fascinating symphonies of a genius" and commissioned Vrubel to paint decorations for his private opera and mansions of his friends. Unfortunately the Demon, like other Vrubel's works, doesn't look as it did when it was painted, as the artist added bronze powder to his oils in order to achieve particularly luminous, glistening effects.

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel

Nadezhda Ivanovna Zabela-Vrubel

In 1896, he fell in love with the famous opera singer Nadezhda Zabela. Nadezhda Ivanovna Zabela-Vrubel (Russian: Надежда Ивановна Забела-Врубель April 1 [OS 20 March] 1868, Kovno – July 4 [OS 21 June] 1913, St. Petersburg) was a Russian opera singer. Vocally, she is best described as a lyrical (coloratura) soprano, with a particularly high tessitura.

In 1891 she graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, having been in the class of Natalia Iretskaya. She also studied in Paris with Mathilde Marchesi. She sang her debut in 1893 at the I. Setov operatic troupe in Kiev. In the season 1894-1895 she sang in Tiflis, in 1895-1896 in the Saint Petersburg Private opera, and in 1896-1897 in Kharkov. During 1897-1904 she was a leading soprano in Savva Mamontov’s Private Russian Opera. In 1904-1911 she became the soloist of the Mariinski Theater in St. Petersburg.

In 1896 she and Vrubel were married and settled in Moscow, where Zabela was invited by Mamontov to perform in his private opera theater. While in Moscow, Vrubel designed stage sets and costumes for his wife, who sang the parts of the Snow Maiden, the Swan Princess, and Princess Volkhova in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas. Falling under spell of Russian fairy-tales, he executed some of his most acclaimed pieces, including Pan (1899), The Swan Princess (1900), and Lilacs (1900). He also created a series of portraits of his wife.


The Mikhail Vrubel Fine arts museum in his native city Omsk.

In 1901, Vrubel returned to the demonic themes in the large canvas Demon Downcast. In order to astound the public with an underlying spiritual message, he repeatedly repainted the demon's ominous face, even after the painting had been exhibited to the overwhelmed audience. At the end he had a severe nervous breakdown, and had to be hospitalized in a mental clinic. While there, he painted a mystical Pearl Oyster (1904) and striking variations on the themes of Pushkin's poem The Prophet. In 1906, overpowered by mental disease and approaching blindness, he had to give up painting.



ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Allenov, Mikhail Mikhailovich. Mikhail Vrubel, Slovo, 1996. ISBN 5850501193
  • Isdebsky-Pritchard, Aline. The Art of Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910, UMI Research Press, 1982. ISBN 0835713636
  • Greenfield, John and Valery Dereviaghin, Mikhail Vrubel / [selection, introduction, and biographical outline by Mikhail Guerman; catalogue compiled by Alla Gaiduk… et al.] Aurora Art Publishers, 1985.

External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2022.


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