Ravine. 1879 - Russian impressionism museum
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Ravine. 1879

Vasily Polenov

Oil on canvas

At a casual glance this may seem like an ordinary gulley - but just look at the beauty hidden within. Those plain wildflowers so refined in form, and the small puddle reflecting the bottomless blue sky. Vasily Polenov was one of the first Russian artists who became familiar with impressionism as early as the 1870s. His trip to Europe left the artist disturbed - he found Russian realism very “dull” compared to the French “rave” of colour and light. Never an impressionist, Polenov started a serious quest for colour and “paved the way for the first flush of noble, free art”, as Alexander Benois once put it. “The colours of nature are mysterious and subtle!” Polenov once said to his student, Konstantin Korovin. He liked to focus on his palette and study the various ways of combining whites and blues to achieve stunning shimmering effects, or to see how direct rays of sunlight could highlight the vividness of colour. Vasily Polenov was one of the most popular professors at the Moscow School of Arts, Sculpture and Architecture. A person of many talents, accomplished, intelligent and passionate about art in all its forms, he attracted talented people everywhere he went - there was no end to singing, painting, rehearsing and music in his company… There was a time when Vasily Polenov himself sang in the student choir of the Academy of Arts, and that passion for music-making remained forever an important part of his life. The Polenov family home on Kryvokolenny lane in Moscow became a true “oasis in the art desert” for young people. Members of the Abramtsevo circle of artists left a description of their honoured professor Polenov caught while he was creating stage sets: “… he was all covered in whitewash, soot, red ochre and sienna, right up to his eyes, learning the role as he went along.”