Painting by Nesterov “Great tonsure”

Only in 1905 Nesterov finished the third “chapter” – the painting “Beyond the Volga” (Astrakhan Picture Gallery), which tells about the moment of parting of the main characters. This work was, perhaps, the only one in the pre-revolutionary stunt creativity of the artist, where he decided to show a sharp dramatic conflict. The motive of confrontation, discord literally permeates the fabric of the work. This is felt not only in the interpretation of the characters’ characters, as if descended from the pages of Gorky novels and plays, but also in the composition and coloristic solution of the picture, built on a contrasting comparison of dark and light spots.

The fourth “chapter” – “Great tonsure” – was written by the artist a few years earlier, and for it he received the title of academician. In this work, Nesterov traces the fate of the heroine, who has not found her happiness “in the world” and

is now looking for oblivion in the silence of the Old Believer skete, lost in the forest wilderness.

Here the artist managed to find some enchanting lyrical intonation, some amazing compositional rhythm, as if making the clear ringing of church bells ringing, feel the barely audible tread of a sad procession, accompanied by the old nuns under the hands, is tonsured by the heroine of the amorous drama. The famous opposite of this woman, already reconciled with her destiny, is the girl-novice in the lead with a candle – a “pure dove”, as Nesterov himself spoke about this image. Her look, marked by a gentle, youthful beauty, as if symbolizes an undying hope. The expressiveness of the images echoes the expressiveness of the spring landscape – one of the best in the master’s heritage. Some tried to interpret the meaning of the picture as the apology of female monasticism, as a poetic legitimization of female suffering, but this is not so. The main theme of the picture is a requiem for unfulfilled happiness.

“Great tonsure” was, of course, a great creative achievement of Nesterov. It is not surprising therefore that the last, the fifth, “head” of the novel, where the heroine, not having found comfort in the monastery, had to rush to the Volga, was never written by the artist. After the subtle, poetic symbolism of the “Great Vigil” such an outcome might seem too literary, far-fetched and even vulgar.

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Painting by Nesterov “Great tonsure”