Ilya Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga 1870–1873

Peredvizhniki (Russian: Передви́жники [pʲɪrʲɪˈdvʲiʐnʲɪkʲi]), often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants in English, were a group of Russian realist artists who in protest at academic restrictions formed an artists' cooperative; it evolved into the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions in 1870.


In 1863 a group of fourteen students decided to leave The Imperial Academy of Arts. The students found the rules of the Academy constraining; the teachers were conservative and there was a strict separation between high and low art. In an effort to bring art to the people, the students formed an independent artistic society which was called Peredvizhniki. In 1870, Peredvizhniki created the Association of Travelling Art Exhibits to give a chance to people from provinces to follow the achievements of Russian Art, and to teach people to appreciate art. The society maintained independence from state support and brought the art, which illustrated the contemporary life of the people from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, to provinces.

From 1871 to 1923, the society arranged 48 mobile exhibitions in St. Petersburg and Moscow, after which they were shown in Kiev, Kharkov, Kazan, Orel, Riga, Odessa and other cities.[1]

Influence of literary critics

Peredvizhniki were influenced by the public views of the literary critics Vissarion Belinsky and Nikolai Chernyshevsky, both of whom espoused liberal ideas. Belinsky thought that literature and art should attribute a social and moral responsibility. Like most Slavophiles, Chernyshevsky ardently supported the emancipation of serfs, which was finally realized in the reform of 1861. He viewed press censorship, serfdom, and capital punishment as Western influences. Because of his political activism, officials prohibited publication of any of his writing, including his dissertation; but it eventually found its way to the artworld of nineteenth-century Russia. In 1863, almost immediately after the emancipation of serfs, Chernyshevsky’s goals were realized with the help of Peredvizhniki, who took the pervasive Slavophile-populist idea that Russia had a distinguishable, modest, inner beauty of its own and worked out how to display it on canvas.[2]

Subjects of the paintings

Peredvizhniki portrayed the many-sided aspects of social life, often critical of inequities and injustices. But their art showed not only poverty but also the beauty of the folk way of life; not only suffering but also fortitude and strength of characters. Peredvizhniki condemned the Russian aristocratic orders and autocratic government in their humanistic art. They portrayed the emancipation movement of Russian people with empathy (The Arrest of Propagandist; Refuse from Confession; Not Expected by Ilya Yefimovich Repin). They portrayed social-urban life, and later used historic art to depict the common people (The Morning of the Execution of Streltsy by Vasily Surikov).

During their blossoming (1870–1890), the Peredvizhniki society developed an increasingly wider scope, with more natural and free images. In contrast to the traditional dark palette of the time, they chose a lighter palette, with a freer manner in their technique. They worked for naturalness in their images, and the depiction of people's relationship with their surroundings. The society united most of the highly talented artists of the country. Among Peredvizhniki there were artists of Ukraine, Latvia, and Armenia. The society also showed the work of Mark Antokolski, Vasili Vereshchagin, and Andrei Ryabushkin. The work of the critic and democrat Vladimir Stasov was important for the development of Peredvizhniki's art. Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov showed the work of these artists in his gallery and gave them important material and moral support.[3]

Landscape as the most popular genre of Peredvizhniki

Landscape painting flourished in the 1870s and 1880s. Peredvizhniki painted mainly landscapes; some, like Polenov, used plein air technique. Two painters, Ivan Shishkin and Isaak Levitan, painted only landscapes of Russia. Shishkin is still considered to be the Russian "Singer of forest", while Levitan's landscapes are famous for their intense moods. The Russian landscape gained importance as a national icon after Peredvizhniki.

Peredvizhniki painted landscapes to explore the beauty of their own country and encourage ordinary people to love and preserve it. Levitan once said, "I imagine such a gracefulness in our Russian land – overflowing rivers bringing everything back to life. There is no country more beautiful than Russia! There can be a true landscapist only in Russia".5 Peredvizhniki gave a national character to landscapes, so people of other nations could recognize Russian landscape. The landscapes of Peredvizhniki are the symbolic embodiments of Russian nationality.[4]

Reproduction of works

Even though the number of travelling exhibition visitors from the provinces was increasing during the years, the main audience was the urban elite. Local photographers created the first reproductions of Peredvizhniki's paintings, which helped popularize the works and could be bought at exhibitions. The Niva magazine also published illustrated articles about the exhibitions.3 Since 1898 the landscapes of the society have been used in the postcard industry. Various books of poems were published with the illustrations of landscapes. Ordinary Russian people at that time could not afford to go to Moscow or Saint Petersburg, so popularization of Russian art made them familiar with a number of Russian art masterpieces. Even now publishers use the reproductions in textbooks as a visual icon of national identity.[5]

Sunset of creativity

As the authority and public influence of the society steadily grew, government officials had to stop their efforts to repress the members. Attempts were made to subordinate their activity, and raise the falling value of Academy of Arts-sanctioned works. By the 1890s, the Academy of Arts structure was including Peredvizhniki art in its classes and history, and the influence of the artists showed in national art schools.

In 1898, their influence began to be superseded by Mir iskusstva, which advanced modern trends in Russian art. Some of the members of Peredvizhniki became more conservative, but some remained radical as their predecessors. Some of the artists began showing socialist ideas, which reflected the development of a working-class movement. Many of the Peredvizhniki entered the Soviet art culture bringing the realistic traditions of the 19th century to Socialist realism.

The 48th exhibition of Peredvizhniki in 1923 was the last one. Most members joined the Association of Artists in Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR). Its members built on the traditions of Peredvizhniki and aspired to create works of art accessible to the common people and faithfully reflecting the righteousness of Soviet society.[6]

Members of The Peredvizhniki

Peredvizhniki (from left to right): Grigoriy Myasoyedov, Konstantin Savitsky, Vasily Polenov, Sergey Ammosov, Alexander Kiselev, Yefim Volkov, Nikolai Nevrev, Vasily Surikov, Vladimir Makovsky, Alexander Litovchenko, Ivan Shishkin, Carl Lemoch, Ivan Kramskoi, Nikolai Yaroshenko, Ilya Repin, Pavel Bryullov, Ivanov, Nikolay Makovsky, Alexander Beggrov
The Bridge in the Woods, by Rafail Sergeevich Levitsky, c. 1885–1886. The Stavropol Regional Museum of Fine Arts, Stavropol, Russia

Peredvizhniki artists include:[6]


  1. ^ Ely, Christopher (2000). "Critics in the native soil: landscape and conflicting ideas of nationality in Imperial Russia". Ecumene. 7 (3): 253–270.
  2. ^ Sartorti, Rosalinde (2010). "Pictures at an exibition: Russian land in a global world". Studies of East European thought. 62 (3/4): 377–399.
  3. ^ Brooks, Jeffrey (2010). "The Russian nation imagined: the peoples of Russia as seen in popular imagery, 1860-1890s". Journal of social history. 43 (3): 535–557.
  4. ^ Ely, Christopher (2000). "Critics in the native soil: landscape and conflicting ideas of nationality in Imperial Russia". Ecumene. 7 (3): 253–270.
  5. ^ Brooks, Jeffrey (2010). "The Russian nation imagined: the peoples of Russia as seen in popular imagery, 1860-1890s". Journal of social history. 43 (3): 535–557.
  6. ^ a b Donnelly, Michael E. "The Immortal Itinerants (Peredvizhniki)". Russian Paintings Gallery. Retrieved 2009-02-12.

Further reading