Religious procession in Kursk province | Illya Repin | 1883
The Ukrainian Illya Repin specialized in painting icons, portraits of saints that are considered sacred to the Russian Orthodox Church. He then distanced himself from this type of painting and started working on larger and more complex canvas. He won a scholarship to study art in France and, although he became interested in the Impressionism, he maintained his own style when he returned home.
He moved to St. Petersburg in 1882, where he joins the Peredvizhniki School, or “The itinerants”, a society of artists who were devoted to “critical realism”. They painted exclusively Russian motifs in their canvases and used to take them to the provinces for the people to enjoy. For this reason, they won the sympathy of the peasants and workers, which made them known across the country.
Particularly Repin, was devoted to portraits and landscapes in an innovative way. Among all the people who posed for him, we can find personalities as Leo Tolstoy, one of my favorite writers; and the composer Modest Mussorsgsky.
Last week, reading a book called History of Christianity, I see Repin’s painting, with no mention of its author nor its title. Immediately I began to look as I found the painting superb. Religious procession in Kursk province is not only a masterpiece for its complexity and technique, but also for its unusual composition, with the vanishing point to the far left.
In the painting we see a procession of the Orthodox Church. The priests carry a figure while the people walk after them. The landscape is arid and desert, typical of the Russian steppe. All the people walk together through the dust. We can see clerics, soldiers and landowners dressed in Western fashion, in a scene that, far from being peaceful, looks chaotic and disordered; not without violent scenes, like the man in the foreground with a stick punishing a girl, or the man in white to the right hitting one of the walkers. All these elements create a great tension in the painting, which makes it vibrant and dynamic. That’s why I like it.