Historic Painting: Maslenitsa by Boris Kustodiev, 1919.

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I’m not even sure how I stumbled onto this fascinating and beautiful painting, but it caught my eye immediately, not just because of its artistry but because of its resemblance to certain kinds of Norwegian folk art. This painting is called Maslenitsa and it was created by Boris Kustodiev, a Russian folk painter, in 1919, just after the Russian Revolution. Maslenitsa is a traditional Russian holiday that is essentially the Eastern Orthodox equivalent of what Mardi Gras (and its related holidays that are not called Mardi Gras, like Carnival) are in Catholic countries. Essentially it’s the last bacchanalia before everybody gives up everything fun for Lent, so “Cheese Week” or “Crepe Week” as it’s sometimes known is full of dancing, festivals, sweets, games for children, and drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.

This wonderful painting shows a lot of that. We’ve got Russian peasants, a carnival for the kids, a woman selling something (probably edible treats of some kind), people sleighing, and marketplaces filled with goods. It’s not clear what the storefront under the pig’s head at left is–it could be a butcher shop or general-purpose market, but I definitely see wine bottles in the window. The clothes, horses and houses very much resemble Scandinavia and in a painting like this you can see the cultural connections between Russia and the Scandinavian countries further west.

Boris Kustodiev, the artist, had an interesting life. He went to seminary and studied to be a priest, but then in the 1890s began to turn to art as a form of expression. The art scene in late Imperial Russia was very vibrant and interesting, reflecting centuries of tradition of artists working for patrons, usually church or political figures, or wealthy collectors. He was deeply moved by the revolutionary fervor of 1905. Kustodiev’s health was never good and in fact he became partially paralyzed in 1916, but he continued painting. Joining a group of socialist painters after the revolution of 1917, he turned out scenes like this of traditional Russian village life. He died of tuberculosis ten years after the revolution, in 1927.

Fascinating stuff you can find in art!

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for profiling this painting and its artist. It is nice to see a droplet of kindness in the sea of Russophobia that has unfortunately engulfed the West as of late. The pig’s head adorns a food store, the writing on the window says “Cheese / Caviar”. In the middle of the painting, there is “Bakery”. And on the right of the picture, under “THEATER” there is a poster advertising “Wrestling”.

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