Alexey Gavrilovich Venetsianov was born to the family of a merchant of Greek origin. He entered the state service in early 1800s and was transferred to St. Petersburg, where in his spare time he began to study art; he copied pictures in the Hermitage, painted friends. He got acquainted with the outstanding painter of his time Vladimir Borovikovsky and for some period lived in his house as a disciple. He tried to work as a freelance portraitist, but had little commissions. In 1811, the Board of the Academy of Arts awarded him the title of an Academician for his 2 works: Self-Portrait. and Portrait of K. I. Golovachevsky and the Younger Pupils of the Academy.
In 1819, wishing to devote himself wholly to art, Venetsianov left the service, bought the village of Safonkovo in the Tver province, and settled there. He decided to paint the surrounding life as it was. In the 1820s, he created many canvases in which he followed his idea. These works determined his contribution into Russian art. He painted portraits of peasants, scenes of rural life; he depicted them truthfully, with kindness, but rather sentimentally. With his pictures In the Fields. Spring. (1827), Harvesting. Summer. (1827), Sleeping Herd-Boy. (1824) and others he was the first to depict peasants’ life in Russian art. His works were of great success at the exhibition of 1824, and enjoyed good critics in press.
Venetsianov’s ambition was to become a professor in the Academy of Arts, but the academicians did not approve of him: he was a stranger, he lacked, unlike them, academic training. But Venetsianov was a naturally born teacher. At the end of the 1810s he began to attract young people from commonerss with low means and even serfs (all of whom, in most cases, he was able to emancipate from bondage) to teach them painting. In the mid-1820s, he had a group of disciples. Thus he started his own school of painting. Tzar Nicholas I, who liked to stimulate ‘national trends’, expressed his approval to the artist and appointed him a court painter. This title gave him financial support, necessary for running the school, where tuition was practically free.
Venetsianov died in an accident in 1847: his horses dashed off and his carriage fell down from a steep slope.