Description of the picture:
Menshikov in Berezovo – Vasily Ivanovich Surikov. 1883. Oil on canvas. 100 sixty nine x two hundred four cm
This is one of the most recognizable and favorite paintings of the master of multi-figured, complex compositions. It reflects the fate of the winner of Peter I, who, after the death of his own majestic patron, could not resist the zeal to intervene in municipal affairs and his greed. As a result of court intrigues, the brilliant courtier, a native of the lower classes, who was able to rise to the very top, was overthrown from it, and ended up in exile with his own family in the Russian North.
The picture depicts an ordinary day of a family that had been popular yesterday, prestigious and indescribably rich. On the way to exile, Menshikov’s wife died, because he is gloomy and immersed in his difficult and difficult thoughts. It seems that he is trying to understand how it turned out that he, a recognizable court intriguer, himself turned out to be discussed, entangled in the snares of a cunning and tricky court policy.
Next to dad are his three kids. Fate is also not merciful to them. The eldest daughter Maria – pale, absent-minded, wrapped in everything dark – the ex-wife of the ruler of Peter II, who at once lost everything – wealth, highest position and her brilliant future for the Russian empress. The dark color of Mary’s vestments is as if a prediction of her sad fate. Not six months will pass before she dies from smallpox before she reaches the age of eighteen. Less than a month after it, Menshikov himself will die.
In the distant plane, the contemplation of the candle in front of him is immersed in itself, the offspring of the courtier – Alexander. He will be lucky much more, he will survive in exile and become an general-chef, and his life will not be very long – he will die at the age of 50.
A colorful color spot, a ray of light in this dark and miserable hut – this is the youngest daughter of Menshikov, Alexander. She will survive the death of her mother, sister and father, she remains alive in exile and even returns to the court. There she will make such a brilliant career, which was only available to the lady in those days. Alexander, by the will of Empress Anna Ioannovna, will become the wife of Gustav Biron, a brother of the very Biron, who practically ruled Russia under Anna Ioannovna. And it was as if a curse lay on her – Alexandra dies at 20 three years old during childbirth coupled with a newborn.
But while all these actions are still ahead and only God knows about them. Alexandra, young and beautiful, in a dress modest by court standards, but rich in exile and a warm murderer, reads a book in the dim northern light, a little breaking through the muddy and tiny window of the hut. She alone seems to be a bright spot in this dark scene of humility and dark despair.
It’s hard to call the life of the Menshikovs in exile poor – there is a warm hide on the floor, a rich tablecloth on the table, there are icons and candles, they are warmly dressed and shod. But these people are torn from their own natural habitat. These young creatures have the very place at the court balls, where they shone quite not so long ago, and not in the wretched village hut, without occupation, and most importantly – without hope for the future.
More expressively depicted is the face of Alexander Danilovich himself. Certainly a professional person, inventive and intelligent, he could not cope with his excessive ambitions and ambition, having acquired an abundance of open opponents and secret detractors. In the picture, he is obviously burdened by thoughts about how he, a loving spouse and father, unwittingly ruined his family with his own hands. For a father, there is nothing worse than understanding your own fateful role in the fate of babies.
The picture makes you think not only about historical Russian realities, but also about the fate of an individual who has fallen into the hard wheels of history. According to the reviews of numerous contemporaries of Surikov, also a critic of Stasov, this canvas is one of the best that came out from under his brush."