Though I know of some of the Russian painters associated with the group known as the Peredvizhniki (“itinerants” or “wanderers”), Alexei (Aleksey) Kondratyevich Savrasov was one with whom I was not very familiar until recently (see my recent post Picturing Winter on Tor.com).
With a little digging, I’ve found that he was actually one of Russia’s most important and influential landscape painters, and creator of the style known as “lyrical landscape” or “mood landscape”.
Self-taught initially, selling small paintings to street vendors as an adolescent, he went on to study at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He traveled and painted for a time, and returned to become an instructor at the Moscow School, where his students included Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan and Konstantin Korovin.
in the early 1860′s, he traveled Europe extensively, and in England in 1862 attended the International Exhibition, of which he wrote: “No academies in the world could so advance an artist as the present world exhibition.” He came away particularly impressed with the work of John Constable and Swiss landscape painter Alexandre Calame.
In the 1870′s Savrasov became one of the founding members of the Peredvizhniki, a group of like-minded Russian artists who rejected the restraints of officially approved academic painting and took their work on traveling exhibitions (hence the name, “itinerants”).
His painting The Rooks Have Returned (above, top with detail, large image on Google Art Project) was part of their initial exhibition, and became very much noticed and influential (as did Savrasov himself) for embracing an approach in which truth to nature was utilized to convey emotion, a style known as “lyrical landscape”.
The end of his life was marked by tragedy, following the death of his daughter, an artistic crisis and a descent into alcoholism, leaving him destitute and homeless until his death in 1897. Reportedly only the doorkeeper of the Moscow School of Painting and Pavel Tretyakov, founder of the Tretyakov Gallery, attended his funeral.