One of the most inspired paintings of Serov, full of dynamics and life, was at one time as little appreciated as his other works, recognized today as the best. She was ordered by Serov for the publishing house Knebel, who produced a series of historical paintings-manuals for schoolchildren. He wrote it during the autumn and winter of 1907. But gradually the temperamental sketch turned into a real monumental canvas, producing the impression of a giant fresco with figures in full size.
In the center of the composition is depicted the figure of the “fearless king” Peter the Great. With a club in his hand, Peter walks along the shallows, heading to the construction site of his brainchild – St. Petersburg. Head with hair flying in the wind and burning eyes convey that
The figure of the king – the only one written down clearly and honed. Following the tsar, several people dressed in foreign dresses are depicted in common silhouette forms – “noble masters of all arts” who were “discharged from behind the sea” for the construction of a new capital. Condensed flowery scale allows you to perceive them as a single crowd and contrast the lonely and self-sufficient figure of the king.
Great monumentality to the picture gives an unusual foreshortening of the composition: the viewer as if looks at the depicted people from the bottom up. This is facilitated by a low horizon line and muted colors. In the background, construction is in full swing in the distance. In the foreground – water. Originally it depicted a large boat with rowers – tortured peasants in ragged shirts, which should remind the viewer what price the great city was built. But the overall impression of the picture was spoiled: the boat brought something from a cheap illustration, and the artist was striving for monumentality.
Preparation for the image of the king was so enthralled by Serov that the personality of Peter I became the subject of a number of sketches and drawings written later (Peter the Great in Monplaisir, Peter the Great, Descent of the Ship by Peter the Great, eagle “and others).