Who is depicted in the painting by Ivan Kramskoy
In the beginning you notice the raggedness of the man, who is freezing in the cold in old worn out duds, in straw shoes instead of felt boots. And he is standing there looking forward. But his eyes … are frozen, wide open. He’s not just looking, he is absorbing.
Maybe the beauty, or maybe just a branch or glistening hoarfrost on a branch.
This man just dissolved into the surrounding world. As eastern teachers would say today, he attained enlightenment in his ability to dissolve in the world.
And it is a great comfort for simple men, who in those days had very little opportunity to change anything in their lives. And even living on extremely modest means, they were able to feel the being by dissolving their mind in it, which most people are not able to achieve their whole life.
And it explains why, in Russia there are still simple men in remote villages who are willing to be content with very little, but who have realized something that most of us cannot comprehend over their whole lives. And this is a hidden power of Russia, which in the moment of danger demolishes everything in its way, not asking for anything in return.
Contemplator, oil on canvas (1876)
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky saw other horizons as well in the painting by Ivan Kramskoy.
Fyodor Dostoevsky about the painting of Ivan Kramskoy “Contemplator”
Fyodor Dostoevsky in his novel “The brothers Karamazov” describes Smerdyakov, using the painting of Ivan Kramskoy:
“The artist Kramskoy has one amazing painting which is called “Contemplator”: it shows the forest in winter, and in the woods, on the road, in a ragged frock and straw shoes alost man is standing absolutely by himself; he is standing there as if lost in thought, but he is not really thinking, he is “contemplating” something. If you could just push him, he would flinch and looked at you as if just woken up but not understanding anything.”
The brothers Karamazov / Book Three / Chapter VI. Smerdyakov
Here, Dostoevsky gives a disparaging characterization to contemplators: “There are more than enough contemplators out there.”
That is, these people live in the world, but do not even understand what they live for. They are not bad, not evil, but there is not much benefit from them either. They simply go with the crowd, occasionally throwing out “tricks” that affect others. As Dostoevsky wrote, he can almost become a saint, and can also burn a village. Or even first set fire to a village, and then immediately go to atone for the sins to the Holy Land.