Mikhail Vrubel died 100 years ago this month. His work remains compelling and spectacular.
In 1890, fellow-painter Valentin Serov discovered Vrubel living in Kiev and rescued him from a penurious life of fresco-restoring. In the same year, Vrubel painted his famous 'Seated Demon', inspired by Mikhail Lermontov's epic poem 'The Demon'. His personal brand of experimental realism forms a crucial transition from the highly figurative art of the 19th century to the extremes of boundary-breaking modernism.
Serov introduced him to the art patron and railway tycoon Savva Mamontov. Vrubel lived for several years in Mamontov's influential creative colony at Abramtsevo, 60 kilometres north of Moscow. Even here he stood apart from the other artists, experimenting with metallic glazes and the brooding colours of Byzantine frescoes while they pursued more conventional trends in the new worlds of Symbolist painting and Russian revivalist folk art.
There is no house-museum dedicated to Vrubel, although the art gallery in his native Omsk is named after him. Moscow-based fans need to search for his work, scattered through museums and monumental buildings across the city.