How did the peasants of northern Russia paint the interiors of houses?
How did the peasants of northern Russia paint the interiors of houses?

Perhaps one of the main signs that distinguish a person from an animal is an incomprehensible need to perform unnecessary actions, to create the beauty and decoration of one's ecumene. The oldest monuments of world art show that primitive man tried to bring his personal harmony into the world, decorating the walls of caves, clothes, carving drawings on stones. And such a need will always be with us until humanity disappears.


The Russian people were absolutely no different in their need to create beauty.

Unfortunately, time has taken away almost all examples of folk art, and what remains is sheer little.

The once quite common interior painting of residential buildings has been preserved in single copies, and even then, for the most part, in the storerooms of museums. In the second half of the 20th century, the existing complexes of such paintings were either painted over and thrown away by the owners as unnecessary, or taken out by "lovers of antiquity" to private collections.

It is a great success to find now an untouched house, in which a painted golb, doors and furniture stands in its original place. This house, almost completely by accident, caught my eye during one of my trips to the Arkhangelsk region.


But when and how did this artistic tradition begin?

Yes, a very long time ago, it was born, but one must understand that all the information that has come down to our days concerns exclusively the description of various princely and boyar chorus. So, the historian N. Kostomarov, describing the life of the Russian people in the 16-17 centuries, noted: “On the pediments and on the walls near the windows, different images were made: rulers, leaves, herbs, teeth, birds, animals, unicorns, horse riders and others … In the 17th century, the taste began to paint ceilings, and sometimes walls."

What information Nikolai Ivanovich relied on when painting Russian houses so vividly is completely incomprehensible. But house paintings, of course, existed - in the documents of the 17th century, there are many references to "herbalists" - household painters who were engaged in decorative painting on wood and fabric.

The palace of Alexei Mikhailovich in Kolomenskoye, according to Simeon of Polotsk, was adorned with "a multitude of painted flowers and sharply sculpted with a cunning hand." And the attic windows of the tsar's palace in the Kremlin were lavishly decorated with "pink flowers painted outside on both sides."

In a petition to Tsar Alexei, the herbalist A. Timofeev and the icon painter G. Ivanov announced about their works: poles wrote … And in the church, doors and hawks were painted with herbs, and for the Tsar Tsarevich they wrote cut-out boards, and dummies wrote with hats with grasses, and pipes and stoves were written on Vorobyovy Hills, and pipes and stoves were written in Preobrazhensky."

In the text of the instruction for household painters of the 17th century, the items that were painted are listed in plain text: “If there is a lot of writing on wood with all sorts of paints, mix the whole egg with egg white and yolk. And to write: dishes, plates, spoons and glasses, bowlers, salt shakers, boxes, chests, mirrored boards, frames and tables, a tray and cups and a bed or something else to dry, it will be light and good."


But that's all with boyars and tsars, in a peasant house it will be difficult to admit anything like that, and that's why - window glass on an industrial scale began to be produced in Russia only at the end of the 18th century, and only rich peasants could afford to have one a sloping window in which glass or mica was inserted. Most of the houses of commoners had only drag windows and darkness reigned in them.

Until the first half of the 19th century, there were no available sawn boards with which to sheathe the walls, and it would never have occurred to anyone to draw on a ribbed smoked log surface.

Therefore, it is foolish to fantasize that peasant paintings are a thousand-year tradition, but it is interesting to find out by what years the oldest houses with them are dated. In the Northern Dvina and in the Urals, two houses with the simplest painting have been recorded, and both of them, by a strange coincidence, were built in 1853. In Povazhye, the house of 1856 in Ust-Fall had drawings. Two houses in Poonezhye (Pershlahta and Pachepelda), built in 1860 and 1867, respectively, were decorated with simple paintings.

Where did these drawings come from and where did they migrate to the walls of dwellings? It is not possible to give an exact answer, because there were plenty of decorated objects that surrounded the peasant of that time: painted dishes and household items, popular prints, chests, boxes, miniatures of books and manuscripts, advertising products of various goods, fabrics … We must not forget about the generously decorated with paintings the objects of worship are iconostases, frescoes, candle tables, kliros, "skinny candles" and doors.

There were many picturesque objects of the Russian peasant, and with the advent of "white" stoves and cabinet furniture, planes appeared on which to draw. There was little left to do - to find a master who knew how to draw and had paints. And such people, of course, appeared.

With the change in the economic model of farming from natural to commodity-money, huge masses of people withdrew from their places of residence and began to look for work in cities and other provinces. It is difficult to understand why, but the niche of the painting craft was firmly occupied by immigrants from the Kostroma and Vyatka provinces - annually tens of thousands of people from there dispersed throughout the country and were engaged in painting whatever. There were quite a few among them those who undertook not only to paint the walls monotonously, but also to decorate them with drawings and ornaments. Spreading the seeds of a new pictorial fashion, the "migrant workers", of course, produced imitators, and sometimes such that they surpassed the "teachers" by a head.


It is impossible now to say for sure whether the Kostroma and Vyatka migrant workers gave an impetus to the appearance of house paintings in the North, or their appearance was independent and just such a time has come when the fashion for house paintings became in demand and the birth was natural. The seeds of the new fashion fell on the generously fertilized soil, because centuries before that moment, the Russian North had already been the largest producer of art, jewelry, copper smelting, icon painting and carved products.

Many local "painters" certainly had a level much higher than those who came there with their brushes and paints. Nevertheless, newcomer artists “brought new artistic proposals to the patriarchal North, bright coloring, brush painting of facades and interiors of peasant houses” (Ivanova Y.B. “Paintbrush painting on wood of Vologda province. Second half of the 19th - beginning of the 20th centuries ")

There was some incomprehensible division of artistic niches - a powerful tradition of painting spinning wheels and household items existed in Uftyug, in Mokra Edom, on the Northern Dvina and Vaga, but in the interior paintings, no features of local artistic traditions can be traced, but on the contrary, they are always executed in the free-hand technique of "otkhodniki". Quite a lot of signatures of folk artists have survived on furniture and golbtsy, and almost always these are the names of Vyatichi and Kostroma.

By the end of the 19th century, the popularity of house painting reached its peak:

“… love for the pattern is felt to this time. I saw huts where literally everything was painted with patterns, albeit the latest ones: cabinets, doors, shelves, a couch, - everything where it was possible to paint "(I. Ya. Bilibin), "… the high porch with chiseled posts and railings give a special beauty to the hut … bright original coloring according to the valances, hoops, skates, fenders, shutters, platbands … The shutters of the windows are painted with trees, grasses, patterns, and occasionally figures of animals …" (FN Berg).

“Nowhere else in the region have I seen so many folk paintings.Affected painting latrine trade. Opechek, golbets, bowl, paneled cupboard, cradle, etc. often painted with flowers, vases with a flower and a bird, lions, etc. In one village there is a curious depiction of lions and horses on the gate of the courtyard in four hallmarks, and on the door of the porch there is a figure of a soldier with a naked saber. The inscription reads: "Don't go, I'll hack to death!" (V.I.Smirnov).

The migrant workers usually went in small artels, taking on any work in their specialty. Most often, they were engaged in simple painting of houses, but having received an order for painting, of course they took on it. Since fashion is a rather imitative matter, areas with house painting sometimes existed separately from each other. Some richer owner spent money on a painter and after him his neighbors began to hire the same master, so that their house was no worse than that of a neighbor. At the same time, the population was quite conservative, and the folk artist, having received and completed the order, became in demand in that area.

A typical example of such a "fashionable artist" was Vyatich Ivan Stepanovich Yurkin, who for decades came to the banks of the Uftyuga and received orders there. As a result, Yurkin, a resident of the Vyatka province, became a trendsetter of tastes among local customers, although Uftyug itself had a very rich local tradition of painting spinning wheels and tues.


The otkhodniks worked quickly, they didn’t take much for labor, but not every peasant could afford it (the inscription on the floor in the house of the village of Smolyanka, Kich-Gorodetsky district, was preserved: “This house belongs to the peasant Trofim Vasilyevich … painted in 1895 June 25 days … The price is 10 rubles 50 kopecks.”Approximately, this is the cost of a pood of butter, 350 eggs or 30 kilos of sugar).

Each painter had his own style and technique - someone worked without soil at all, someone primed using flour glue, someone fish, Almost always oil paints were used, drying oil for which was cooked right in the yard of the house immediately before use. Pigments were both purchased and local - for example, white clay (kaolin) was used for bleaching ogives.

Each master adhered to his own style, plot and color scheme. Drawings, as a rule, were performed using the technique of free brush writing, which made it possible to apply one layer of paint on top of another, using both rough strokes of pasty writing and glazing. In addition to brushes, “mushrooms” and stamps were used to apply paint, and the shape of the smear was refined with a finger or an improvised tool.

The level and quality of the work varied greatly - despite the striking naivety of some drawings, they were all made by professionals, just some of them were masters who value their names, while others were simple hacks. Oh, and were popular in those days dysyulnye ditties like: “Vanya painted Kostroma, painted with paint Basque. Vanechka went home - here's the beauty!"

Nevertheless, one should not think that ridiculous lions and crooked flowers were painted by the peasants themselves - simple dyers who did not find talents in themselves took on this, and they did not mind cutting down the money. An ordinary householder had nothing to paint with - they did not sell paints in cans, they had to be done on their own, and even to buy expensive pigments. That is why otkhodniki was so developed - artisans were engaged in their professional work, using shop knowledge and secrets.


The house in the photographs was painted in 1915. The master left the signature: "1915 painted Alexey Vas Gnevashev". Whether this artist was a local resident or a visitor is not clear. The surname Gnevashev is quite common in neighboring villages, but such a person does not appear on the 1917 census papers. Either the First World War and the stormy events of those years tore the man from his native place, or he really was a visitor …

His technique is typical just for the Kostroma otkhodniks, moreover, no more similar drawings have survived in this volost.

And maybe they have survived.But who will let him into his house or tell the “visiting person” that he has a painted golbets and a wardrobe ?!

Only crazy. These drawings have been hunted for a long time - they cost a lot, and the fully preserved interior is of great value in modern times.

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