The painting “Menshikov in Beryozov”, Vasily Ivanovich Surikov – overview

The painting “Menshikov in Beryozov”, Vasily Ivanovich Surikov – overview
The painting "Menshikov in Beryozov", Vasily Ivanovich Surikov - overview - 1

  • Posted by Vasily Ivanovich Surikov
  • Museum: Tretyakov Gallery
  • Year: 1883

Overview of the painting :

Menshikov in Beryozov – Vasily Ivanovich Surikov. 1883. Oil on canvas. 169 x 204 cm

   This is one of the most famous and popular paintings by the master of multi-figure, complex compositions. It reflects the fate of the favorite of Peter I, who, after the death of his great patron, could not cope with the desire to intervene in state affairs and with his own greed. As a result of court intrigues, a brilliant courtier, a native of the lower classes of society, who managed to rise to the very top, was cast down from it, and ended up in exile with his family in the Russian North.

   The picture depicts the usual day of the family, yesterday the former popular, fashionable and incredibly rich. On the way to the link, Menshikova’s wife died, so he is gloomy and immersed in his difficult and difficult thoughts. It seems that he is trying to realize how it happened that he, a well-known court intriguer, himself turned out to be a cunning and treacherous court policy entangled in the shadows.

   Next to his father are three children. Fate is also not merciful to them. The eldest daughter Maria is a pale, bewildered, wrapped in all black – the former bride of Emperor Peter II, who at once lost everything – wealth, high position and her brilliant future of the Russian empress. The black color of Maria’s robe is like a prophecy of her sad fate. Six months will not pass, as she will die from smallpox, without surviving to eighteen. Less than a month after it, Menshikov himself will die.

   In the long run, the son of the courtier, Alexander, is immersed in himself and contemplating candles in front of him. He will be lucky much more, he will survive in exile and become an angel general, but his life will not be too long – he will die at the age of 50.

   A bright colored spot, a ray of light in this gloomy and miserable hut is the youngest daughter of Menshikov, Alexander. She will survive the death of her mother, sister and father, remain alive in exile and even return to the court. There she will make such a brilliant career that was only available to a woman in those days. Alexander will, by the will of Empress Anna Ioannovna, become the wife of Gustav Biron, the brother of that same Biron, who actually ruled Russia under Anna Ioannovna. But it was like a curse on her – Alexandra dies at 23 years old during childbirth with a newborn.

   But so far all these events are yet to come and only God knows about them. Alexandra, young and beautiful, in a modest court-like dress, but rich in exile dress and warm shower, reads a book in dim northern light, barely breaking through a muddy and small window of an hut. She alone seems like a bright spot in this gloomy scene of humility and gloomy despair.

   It is difficult to call Menshikov’s life in exile beggar – there is a warm skin on the floor, a rich tablecloth on the table, icons and candles, they are warmly dressed and shod. But these people are torn out of their natural habitat. These young creatures have the most place in the court balls, where they have recently shone, and not in a wretched village hut, without occupation, and most importantly – without hope for the future.

   The most expressively depicted is the face of Alexander Danilovich himself. Of course, a talented person, inventive and smart, he did not cope with his excessive ambitions and ambition, having acquired many open enemies and secret ill-wishers. In the picture, he is clearly burdened by thoughts about how he, a loving husband and father, involuntarily destroyed his own family with his own hands. For the father, there is nothing worse than the realization of his fatal role in the fate of children.

   The picture makes us think not only about the historical Russian realities, but also about the fate of an individual who has fallen into the hard wheels of history. According to the reviews of numerous contemporaries of Surikov, as well as criticism of Stasov, this canvas is one of the best of those released from under his brush.