This is one of the examples of the artist’s appeal to historical subjects, which caused him associations with the events of modern Russian life. For the first time the thought of writing a sad episode from the life of Ivan IV the Terrible came to Repin in 1882 after the Rimsky-Korsakov concert at the Moscow exhibition.
On the one hand, Repin wanted to create something similar to the music he heard on the strength of her tragedy. On the other hand, the picture was a direct response to March 1, 1881 – the assassination of Emperor Alexander II. The artist himself was impressed by this and wrote: “Some kind of bloody band passed this year.” The bloody event on March 1 all excited. “
An excellent portraitist, in this picture Repin achieved an unattainable height of psychological expressiveness. The faces of Tsar John IV and his son are distinguished by their emotionality, amazing vitality, their ability to transmit momentary conditions. The face
of the tyrant depicts the moment when a person awakens in him, when the shell of the beast flew from him and he is in a fit of grief of his father. On the face of the son – a half-smile of a man at death, which forgives his father and wants to ease the consciousness of his deed and guilt. The pose of the son is similar to the figure of Christ in the canvas of El Greco’s “Descent from the Cross.”
Writing the painting took a lot of strength from Repin. He walked the streets, searched for images, did etudes. In the apartment, 1 room was allocated to the “apartment of the king.” When the little daughter Vera fell from the trapeze, and her nose blew, the artist asked not to stop her immediately and watched, remembered the direction of the streams and the color.
The picture stirred up society. In the Tretyakov Gallery were going to watch massively only her. In the hall where she was exposed, put a red carpet, as if continuing the drawing and introducing the viewer into the murder room – the prototype of a modern installation. Meanwhile, in the Academy of Arts, she was criticized
for errors against the laws of proportions and anatomy, the Emperor Alexander III was condemned for his bare realism and the tendency of denunciation. In the end, according to the royal decree, the picture was banned for display.
A few months later it was again exhibited, but its fate is tragic. On January 16, 1913, a young icon painter from the Old Believers Abram Balashov came to the gallery and applied a picture of 3 large cuts with a knife. The restoration of the painting was carried out successfully, but the original Repin’s letter was lost.