Self-portrait, 1893

Nikolai Ge is a deeply religious artist who was accused of nihilism

Self-portrait, 1893
Self-portrait, 1893

Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge was born on February 15, 1831 – died on June 1, 1894) – Russian artist of the 19th century, a talented portrait painter, master of the religious genre. Nikolai Ge’s work has earned mixed reviews from critics. Pictures on the gospel stories more reflected a philosophical view than church canons. The biography of the painter largely explains what influenced his worldview and why he interpreted biblical events in this way.

Nikolai Ge fervently supported the Itinerants. His supporters noted the relationship between the desire to display realism in the history of the earthly life of Christ and active participation in educational exhibitions designed to bring art to the masses. He wanted to return the ideas of Christianity to a society ready to bow to nihilism and denial of faith.

Nikolai Ge, Achilles mourning Patroclus
Achilles mourning Patroclus

Biography of Nikolai Ge

Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge is the son of a Voronezh landowner, a descendant of a French émigré who fled to Russia in 1789 from the nightmare of the French Revolution. Little Kolenka appeared in the family in the winter of 1831 – on February 15. The central provinces at that time were suffering from a cholera epidemic. His mother died of a fierce illness, leaving a helpless three-month-old baby.

The selfless care of two women, a grandmother and a serf nanny, saved the life of the future painter. He grew up in a village, received his initial education in a private boarding school, after which, at the age of 9, he entered the gymnasium of the city of Kiev. Already there, teachers noticed his talent for drawing.

The fate of the future artist did not turn out the way he wanted. His father insisted on the physics and mathematics faculty, where the young man safely entered in 1847. He did not dare to contradict his parent, even moving to St. Petersburg, continued to study mathematics, in his free time visiting the Hermitage and copying the works of famous masters.

Nikolai Ge, Conscience, Judas, 1891
Conscience, Judas, 1891

Painting training and career

Only in 1850, at the age of 19, Nikolai Ge was able to fulfill his dream – to enter the Imperial Academy of Arts. He studied painting with the famous professor Pyotr Basin. But the strongest impression on him was made by the work of Karl Bryullov, whose manner he tried to imitate all his life.

At the age of 24, the artist got married, and a year later his graduation work “Saul at the Endor Enchantress” brought a high award, allowing him to go on a trip abroad at public expense.

Perhaps the reason for this was his French roots, but abroad had a great influence on the painter. The masters were especially impressed by the next Parisian Salon and the skill of Paul Delaroche. Amazing places, the Mediterranean coast, colorful pictures of everyday life prompted him to create many amazingly transparent landscapes.

Nikolai Ge, Peter I interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich in Peterhof
Peter I interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich in Peterhof

Religious themes

The religious theme, on which all the famous masters of France and Italy worked, stimulated Nikolai Nikolaevich to make many sketches. The result was The Last Supper, written by him in Florence. He started it in 1861, and upon his return to Russia, in 1863, he presented it at the autumn St. Petersburg exhibition.

Critics accused the author of nihilism, a penchant for materialism, censorship forbade copying the painting, but the Russian emperor favored the interpretation of The Last Supper, buying it for his collection. The academic authorities took this as a sign, conferred the title of professor on the author, making him a full member of the IAH.

Since 1869, the artist took an active part in traveling exhibitions, painted portraits of famous contemporaries, pictures of historical and religious themes. He actively supported the idea of ​​cultural enlightenment of the common people, but in 1875 he unexpectedly moved from St. Petersburg to the Chernigov province, buying a farm called Ivanovsky, not far from the railway.

Nikolai Ge, Portrait of A.A. Potekhin, 1876.
Portrait of A.A. Potekhin, 1876.

In the last years of his life, Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge visited Moscow, made friends with Leo Tolstoy, wrote his most famous self-portrait. Since 1894, he stopped all trips from Ivanovsky, due to ill health. The painter died on June 1, 1894, and his ashes were buried here, on the territory of his possessions.

The most famous paintings by Nikolai Ge

Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge’s paintings can be seen in many world museum collections. The most famous of his works:

  1. “Oaks and plane trees. Frascati ”(1855) – strikes with the elaboration of details, visible even in reproductions. A classic work, which shows the outstanding talent of a landscape painter.
  2. “The Bridge at Vico” (1858) is one of the realistic landscapes created by the author during his trips abroad. Critics note the lightness of the brush strokes and the filling of the scene with sunlight.
  3. “Portrait of a wife with children” (1861-1866) – the author refers to the theme of the family many times. In this work, the influence of the artist’s idol, Karl Bryullov, is especially noticeable.
  4. Massa Carrara. Loading marble “(1868) – created according to sketches of trips abroad. Shows the author’s ability to see beauty in everyday hard work.
  5. “Peter I interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich in Peterhof” (1871) – one of the significant historical works. The image of the rebellious prince 60 years later served the actor Nikolai Cherkasov when creating the character of the film “Peter the First” in 1937.
  6. The Bust of Leo Tolstoy (1890) is a rare example of sculpture created by the artist.
Nikolai Ge, Portrait of the artist's wife A.P. Ge, 1858.
Portrait of the artist’s wife A.P. Ge, 1858.
What is Truth, Christ and Pilate
What is Truth, Christ and Pilate
Transportation of marble in Carrara, 1868
Transportation of marble in Carrara, 1868
Portrait of the writer Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy
Writer Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy
Portrait of the poet N.A. Nekrasov, 1872.
Portrait of the poet N.A. Nekrasov, 1872.