Interesting facts, History, and description of the painting “Moscow Courtyard” by Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov

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“Moscow Courtyard” (Московский дворик) painted by Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov (Василий Дмитриевич Поленов) is considered as the pinnacle of his works. It is the embodiment of Vasily’s main idea that art should give happiness and joy, otherwise it is worthless.

“Moscow Courtyard” is an oil on canvas which combines landscape and genre themes painted. This painting of 64.5 X 80.1 cm is now at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Polenov was embarrassed by his painting “Moscow Courtyard” which represent an idyllic view of old Moscow, and apologized when he sent the landscape at the 1878 Travelling Exhibition .

Moscow courtyard by Vasily Polenov 1878 - Московский дворик
Московский дворик – Moscow courtyard by Vasily Polenov – 1878

But the painting had an unexpectedly great success with the public and Pavel Tretyakov immediately acquired it.

It became so famous that it was replicated on stamps and postcards and became a kind of Moscow emblem.

Vasily even made another version of this painting, which was close in composition to the 1877 sketch for the writer Ivan Turgenev, who lived in France and yearned for Russia. This painting is now in The Tretyakov Gallery.

Another repetition made in 1902 for the doctor and collector Ivan Troyanovsky is now in the State Russian Museum.

Repetition of “Moscow Courtyard” – 1902. Авторство: Adavyd. Собственная работа, CC BY-SA 4.0

Polenov was born in St. Petersburg, where he studied at the Academy of Arts and at the Faculty of Law in the University, then he lived abroad for 4 years. Many were surprised when Vasily returned to Russia thinking that with his noble roots and a diplomat father, it would have been more logical to stay in the same France. But no, Polenov was drawn to his homeland, particularly, to Moscow.

So, in 1877, Polenov came to Moscow, and went looking for an apartment. While visiting a potential apartment he looked through the window and immediately fell in love with the view sat down and drew it. This apartment which he rented was located at the corner of Durnovsky and Trubnikovsky lanes in Moscow. 

Polenov did not paint the painting that became so famous in 1877, but drew a vertical sketch, in a slightly different angle and with a less radiant colour.

Moscow courtyard by Vasily Polenov 1877
“Moscow courtyard” by Vasily Polenov – Oil on cardboard of 48.8 x 38.5 cm situated at the State Tretyakov Gallery

In late 1877 Polenov was on the Bulgarian front of the Russian-Turkish war , where he performed the duties of an artist at the headquarters of the Russian army but he returned to the “Moscow Courtyard” almost a year later, in March 1878, when he got back from the war. 

Vasily Polenov turned the picture over and saturated it with life, scattering figures on the canvas. He added an image of the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Plotnik. The houses that partially covered the Church of the Savior on the Sands were moved closer to the center of the canvas and the manor house also became more visible.

The main difference between the picture and the original version was the use of genre motifs, which gave the canvas a narrative without violating the integrity of the presented image. First the events of “yard life” is represented, then after that, the gaze is directed to another area, located in the depths of the courtyard and beyond then through the barn to other houses, a church with a bell tower and a blue sky where rare clouds float.

Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov also saturated his painting with light, which gave such a real feeling of summer air and such immediacy of happiness, which is even now experienced by the visitors of the Tretyakov Gallery.

Polenov was the first to abandon the dominant brown tone in Russian art to bring pure and bright colors, and everything depicted is immersed in a single air environment permeated by the sun.

On the green lawn, stretched between houses, sheds and wooden fences, children play.

Two young children are fiddling with a cat, and the third with a handkerchief on his head is crying, his mouth wide open and clenching his fists. 

In front of him and on the left is the older of the children who is fascinated by a plucked flower, and does not notice either the crying infant, or the clucking of chickens.

In the distance, close to the barn, a woman walks, carrying a bucket. We can see that it is hard for her because of her outstretched arm in opposition to the bucket. 

Chickens roam at the well, and at the right edge of the canvas there is a horse harnessed to a cart, patiently waiting for its owner. Behind the horse, there is laundry hanging on a rope is drying near the fence

With the addition of a woman, children and animals, the Polenov courtyard became truly “Moscow”. 

Behind the courtyard and adjacent buildings is a white five-domed church with a tent-type bell tower which is the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior on the Sands. It was built around 1711 and was preserved to this day  . On the right side of the canvas, the outlines of another temple with a bell tower are visible. It is the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Plotniki  . This church, built in 1691, was located on the Arbat , at the intersection with Nikolsky and was demolished in 1932 . To the right of it, the domes of another church located in Prechistenskaya are barely visible. 

On the left side of the canvas there is a fenced garden and an old manor house, the end of which faces the lawn.

I hope you enjoyed this painting as much as I did

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