Vasily Ivanovich Surikov: Morning of the Execution of the Streltsy

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Surikov’s work was the culmination of Russian historical painting of the second half of the 19th century. The artist was interested in the turning points in the fate of the nation. As he said, “I do not understand the actions of separate historical figures taken apart from the people, without the crowd; I have to pull them out onto the street.” The theme of the painting is Peter the Great’s suppression of the Streltsy uprising of 1698 in Moscow and the execution of the rebels. Peter and his close associates personally took part in the execution. Surikov intentionally defied reality and brought St Basil’s Cathedral closer to the Kremlin walls, making the space of Red Square compacted and oppressive. This enhanced the basic psychological collision depicted in the canvas – the duel of views between Peter and the Strelets with a red beard. But the closer you come to the figure of the tsar, the more obvious it is that the energy of opposition here cancels itself out. The logic of history is on the side of Peter. “The distant past is good, God be with it,” as Surikov used to say.

1881. oil on canvas 223 x 383,5
The State Tretyakov Gallery

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