Mikhail Nesterov Winter, 1910

Both in pre-revolutionary and Soviet Russia Mikhail Nesterov was renowned for his portraits and his landscapes. These genres merge in a number of paintings in which Nesterov immerses women in rural settings which are immediately recognizable as quintessentially Russian. The women in question are dressed in traditional Russian clothing.

Winter is a particularly fine example of this trend within Nesterovs oeuvre. This 1910 canvas depicts a woman who moodily stares in front of her, oblivious of the fairytale-like Russian winter landscape against which she is set. The snow-white of the fields merges perfectly not only with the soft tones of the twilight sky, but also with the womans pale face and faded shawl.

If the central figure in this painting pays no attention to  

the sparkling Russian winter scene around her, then Nesterov himself consciously stresses its beauty throughout several of his paintings. Just how much Russias natural splendors meant to him can be inferred from a letter in which he claims to love the Russian landscape: against its background one somehow clearer feels the meaning of [] the Russian soul.

In his canvases Nesterov expressed this thought in to use his own words a well-balanced oneness of his female figures with the Russian countryside surrounding them. While before him painters such as Venetsianov had already portraid Russian peasant women in harmony with a typically Russian rural setting, in Nesterovs works the symbolical implications of this harmony becomes particularly significant: they were painted in a period when a vivid public debate developed in which Russia itself was equated to a woman longing for a better future. Given both Nesterovs women paintings and personal utterances in which he repeatedly compared Russia to a woman, an interpretation of the languishing figure in this canvas as an embodiment of Russias alleged female soul is far from unlikely.

picture: mikhail nesterov's painting winter (1910)