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The Most Significant Paintings by the Russian Artist Ivan Kramskoy

Ivan Kramskoy, a Russian self-taught painter, the main ideologist of the “Wanderers”, the teacher of Ilya Repin, was able to leave his mark in Russian oil painting and illustrate moral challenges of a common man.

The painting “Christ in the Desert”

We have selected for you two most famous, but at the same time not always unequivocally perceived by viewers, paintings by the Russian master of genre, historical and portrait painting Ivan Kramskoy.

“… There is a moment in a life of every person, who was more or less created in the image and likeness of God, when he is overcome by a thought – whether to take a ruble for the Lord or not to give up a single step to evil.”

Ivan Kramskoy

An Evangelical story, when Jesus Christ was in the desert and he was tempted by the Devil, for Kramskoy became a reflection of life itself. In the temptation of Jesus Christ Kramskoy saw a common situation that happens to people: the situation when you are faced with a difficult choice.

Originally, Jesus Christ was painted by Ivan Kramskoy without any noticeable background, and the figure of Christ took the whole picture. But without a background the painting appeared to Kramskoy not so expressive, and the artist redid it. To do this, he made ​​a special trip to the Crimea in order to experience a deserted mountainous terrain. He also visited European galleries in search of inspiration for the image of Christ, which he conceived, but he didn’t find anything. Plus, Christ in the first version of the painting was the God, not a man, which is not something that Ivan Kramskoy originally decided.

And in the new painting these were the rocks, gray brutal rocks of the desert that became a wonderful contrast to the moral choice of an individual. When there is nothing and no one. And the drama of this choice is not unique to Jesus Christ, but also to every human being. Ivan Kramskoy, who for several years literally lived and breathed the idea of the painting, wanted to show this anguish (“For five years relentlessly he [Jesus Christ] was standing in front of me, I had to paint him to be get rid of it…”).

Russian Artist Ivan Kramskoy Christ in the Desert, oil on canvas (1872)

Christ in the Desert, oil on canvas (1872)

“… nothing more than a person.”

Ivan Kramskoy

Jesus Christ of Ivan Kramskoy has turned out very human. In that moment Christ is not God, but simply a man, the same as all the people.

“This is the best Christ that I know.”

Leo Tolstoy

The painting was enthusiastically received by the audience, but at the same time you could not find two people who would have the same opinion about it. For the painting Ivan Kramskoy was awarded professorship by the Academy of Arts, but as a leader of the “Wanderers”, who at some point left the Academy in protest for its conservatism, he refused the title.

Continuing the evangelical theme, Ivan Kramskoy conceived the painting “Laughter”

Laughter (Rejoice, king of the Jews)

“Imagine, really: there is a guy who says – only I know where salvation is. Well … fine, let’s dress him up as a jester-king … and seeing this show, everyone, everyone who was there roared with laughter … It’s not that hard which is hard, but that is hard, that they are laughing. “

Ivan Kramskoy

The painting “Laughter” was written by Ivan Kramskoy using a well-known evangelic story. After the trial and scourging of Jesus Christ, the Roman soldiers dressed him as a jester king.

«And having made a wreath out of blackthorn they put it upon his head, and gave him a reed in his right hand; and, standing before him on their knees they mocked him, saying: Rejoice, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and taking his reed they struck him on the head.”

Matt. 27: 28-30

And again Ivan Kramskoy in a biblical story shows the collision of a highly spiritual person with immorality of power and the crowds led by it, which spread as a disease.

In his painting Kramskoy shows a problem of moral choice: preserve your ideals, or abandon them under the influence of circumstances, even under such severe as pain, humiliation and a threat of death. Whatever ideals people had, whatever country it happened in.

Ivan Kramskoy considered “Laughter” equally important, if not more important than the “Christ in the Desert.” But being drowned in orders – the need to feed a large family – dissatisfaction of many of Kramskoy aquaintances with his work on “Laughter” – all of that affected how fast he could work on the painting. The painting was never finished.

Russian Artist Ivan Kramskoy - Laughter (Rejoice, king of the Jews), oil on canvas (1877 - 1882)

Laughter (Rejoice, king of the Jews), oil on canvas (1877 – 1882)

Indeed, the problem of morality remains of low demand in the modern world as well.

“While we are not seriously talking about goodness, honesty – we are all friendly, but try to implement serious Christian ideas in life, and see what laughter it will start around.”

Ivan Kramskoy

And you, our reader, have you ever been faced with a moral choice: to maintain your moral ideals or abandon them?

See also:

Kramskoy “Portrait of an unknown woman”

Ivan Kramskoy “Contemplator”

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