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Yermak’s Conquest of Siberia. 1895

Surikov Vasily,
Oil on сanvas
285 x 599

State Russian Museum


The painter has been working on this colossal painting for four years and event undertook long trips to the places relevant for the topic of the picture. Surikov was born and spent his early years in Siberia, and its unkind nature, brave and free-spirited people that carefully preserved ancient traditions were especially close for him. He was proud of his ancestors, Don Cossacks that, according to the legend, came to Siberia with Yermak in the 16th century. The painting depicts the final battle of Yermak’s brigade with the vast hordes of enemies under the command of khan Kuchum in 1582. Surikov sees this battle as an act of people’s heroism and connects Yermak’s campaign as a part of national liberation struggle of the Russians against the conquerors. The artist shows the culmination of the battle to add a more dramatic edge to this historical event. In the left one can see the avant-garde of the Cossacks that is given special compositions emphasis. The Cossacks form a powerful wedge-shaped group that literally cuts into the enemy’s ranks. Surikov underlines a strong connection between Yermak and his soldiers and depicts them in a single battle urge. Kuchum’s patchy army is pressed to the clayey river bank, and we can see panic growing among the soldiers. Surikov pays special attention to character development. In the diverse crowd one can distinguish Cossacks with sharply delineated faces and fiery eyes. The artist viewed these brave, composed, and confident people as an ideal historical type that Siberia has brought up in him. Repin wrote: “The impression from this picture is so unbelievably mighty…The viewers are just stunned, and their imagination is defied”.

Author's Biography

Surikov Vasily

Surikov, Vasily Ivanovich
184 8, Krasnoyarsk -1916, Moscow
Studied in Krasnoyarsk, at the School of Drawing, Society for the Encouragement of Artists (1869) and under Pavel Chistyakov at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1869-75). Member of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (from 1881) and the Union of Russian Artists (from 1908). Full member of the Imperial Academy of Arts (1893), academician (1895). Visited Western Europe and Siberia. Lived in Moscow (from 1877).

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