Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov was a Russian artist who specialized in mythological and historical subjects. He is considered the co-founder of Russian folklorist and romantic modernist painting and a key figure in the revivalist movement.
Viktor Vasnetsov was born in a remote village Lopyal of Vyatka guberniya in 1848, the second of the six children. From the age of ten, Viktor studied in a seminary in Vyatka, each summer moving with his family to a rich merchant village of Ryabovo. During his seminary years, he worked for a local icon shopkeeper. He also helped an exiled Polish artist, Michał Elwiro Andriolli, to execute frescoes for Vyatkas Alexander Nevsky cathedral. Having graduated from the seminary, Viktor decided to move to Saint Petersburg to study art. He auctioned his paintings of Woman Harvester and Milk-maid (both 1867) in order to raise money required for the trip to the Russian capital.
In August 1867 Viktor entered the Imperial Academy of Arts. Three years later, the Peredvizhniki movement of realist painters rebelled against the Academism. Vasnetsov befriended their leader Ivan Kramskoi, referring to him as his teacher. He also became very close to his fellow student Ilya Yefimovich Repin.
In the early 1870s he executed a lot of engravings depicting contemporary life. Two of them (Provincial Bookseller from 1870 and A Boy with a Bottle of Vodka from 1872) won him a bronze medal at the World Fair in London (1874). At that period he also started producing genre paintings in oil. Such pieces as Peasant Singers (1873) and Moving House (1876) were warmly welcomed by democratic circles of Russian society.
In 1876 Repin invited Vasnetsov to join the Peredvizhniki colony in Paris. While living in France, Viktor studied classical and contemporary paintings, academist and Impressionist alike. At that period, he painted Acrobats (1877), produced prints, and exhibited some of his works at the Salon. It was in Paris that he became fascinated with fairy-tale subjects, starting to work on Ivan Tsarevich Riding a Grey Wolf and The Firebird. Vasnetsov was a model for Sadko in Repins celebrated painting Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom. In 1877 he returned to Moscow.
In the late 1870s Vasnetsov concentrated on illustrating Russian fairy tales and bylinas, executing some of his best known pieces: The Knight at the Crossroads (1878), Prince Igors Battlefield (1878), Three tsarevnas of the Underground Kingdom (1879–1881), The Flying Carpet (1880), and Alionushka (1881).
In 1884-1889 Vasnetsov was commissioned to paint frescos in the St Vladimirs Cathedral of Kiev. This was a challenging work which ran contrary to both Russian and Western traditions of religious paintings. The influential art critic Vladimir Stasov labelled them a sacrilegious play with religious feelings of the Russian people. Another popular critic, Dmitry Filosofov, referred to these frescoes as the first bridge over 200 years-old gulf separating different classes of Russian society.
In 1885 the painter travelled to Italy. The same year he worked on stage designs and costumes for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakovs opera The Snow Maiden. The following two decades were productive for Vasnetsov. He increasingly turned to other media during this period. In 1897 he collaborated with his brother Apollinary on the theatrical design of another Rimsky-Korsakov premiere, Sadko.
Between 1906 and 1911, Vasnetsov worked on the design of the mosaics for Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Warsaw; he was also involved in the design of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Moscow. In 1912, he was given a noble title by Czar Nicholas II. In 1914, he designed a revenue stamp intended for voluntary collection for victims of World War I.
Even prior to the Russian Revolution, Vasnetsov became active as a regent of that gallery. He allocated a significant portion of his income to the State Historical Museum, so that a large part of the museums collection was acquired on Vasnetsovs money. After the October Revolution he advocated removing some of the religious paintings (notably those by Alexander Ivanov) from churches to the Tretyakov Gallery.