Mikhail Vrubel


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(b Omsk 5 [17] Mar. 1856; d St Petersburg, 1 [14] Apr. 1910).

Russian painter and designer, the outstanding exponent of Symbolism in his country. His first important work was the restoration of murals in the 12th-century church of St Cyril, Kiev, and in his subsequent career he showed an affinity with the spirituality of medieval religious art. In 1889 he moved from Kiev to Moscow and there was taken up by the wealthy art patron Savva Mamontov; a portrait (1897) of him by Vrubel is in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. In 1890 he began to produce interpretations of Mikhail Lermontov's poem The Demon and the theme became central to his work. In treating it he passed from fairly naturalistic depictions to highly idiosyncratic anguish-ridden images rendered in brilliant fragmented brushwork that recalls the effects of medieval mosaics. The obsessive treatment of the theme reflected his own emotional instability: in 1902 the first symptoms of approaching insanity became apparent, in 1906 he went blind, and he died in a lunatic asylum. Although he was little appreciated for most of his career, he had become well known by the time of his death and had great influence on Russian painting in the early 20th century.

Subjects: Art.

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