20.12.1868 - 19.02.1945
"The land created me... I grew up as a shepherd boy," Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky once wrote about himself. His smooth-sounding and apparently noble double-barrelled surname concealed a far from easy fate. He was the illegitimate son of an impoverished peasant, born in the village of Shitiki in the Belsky region of Smolensk province. The artist would add the second part of his surname – Belsky, taken from the place of his birth – to the original Bogdanov, when the Empress Maria Fyodorovna began acquiring his paintings. In his childhood, the peasant boy had no home of his own, few belongings, and no money. For many years the artist and his mother were looked after by relatives. However, during this time, new public schools were being opened for children in the Belsky region. The institutions were established by the local noble family the Rachinskies, who taught at them. One of the teachers, professor of biology Sergei Rachinsky, recognized the talent of the peasant boy and enrolled Bogdanov in his class. When he turned thirteen, Rachinsky sent him to the painting school of the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. There the future artist learned to paint icons using pure, local colours, approach each work carefully, and pay great attention to composition and image. At the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra the young Nikolai fell in love with church singing, and started to learn more about religious rites and rules. The young artist received a monthly scholarship of twenty five rubles, which was a huge sum for a peasant boy. After his graduation from the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra School, the young artist received a new chance to develop his talents at Moscow Art School. There, Vasily Polenov, Sergei Makovsky and Fyodor Pryanishnikov were among his teachers. His diploma work “The Novice” brought the artist real success, and he was awarded a Silver medal and the rank of “class artist.” The painting was purchased by the collector Soldatenkov, and later acquired by the Empress. Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky decided to move to St. Petersburg to enroll in the Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was a student of Ilya Repin. Bogdanov was only nineteen years old when he began to make his living as an artist and support his family. His popularity grew, and Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky had the opportunity to travel in the quest of inspiration. He visited France, Germany, and Italy. When he was thirty five, for his service to the arts, he was elected a full academician. In 1920, on the insistence of a close friend, Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky moved to Riga. He was unbelievably popular in Latvia: his paintings were displayed in major shows, demand for his paintings was high, and people would recognize him in the street. He lived in this way for almost 20 years until the outbreak of the Second World War. Already more than 70, Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky fell seriously ill and had to undergo complicated surgery in Germany. In 1945, at the age of 76, he perished during an air raid in Berlin.