Yuri Vasnetsov and his hometown, Vyatka. Childhood that inspired him all his life.

Yuri Vasnetsov family. Vyatka.

Vasnetsov's family. Yuri is the boy in the middle of the left. His father was a priest (on the left) and so were his uncles and grandfather. 

Yuri Vasnetsov. Painting. Parents' House

My Parents' House. 1928. Yuri Vasnetsov

Yuri Vasnetsov was born on the 22nd March 1900 in the old Russian town of Vyatka. It stands on the banks of the river Vyatka, about 900km North-East of Moscow. During the Soviet times, in 1934, the town was renamed Kirov.

All his life Yuri Vasnetsov spoke about his home town with incredible love and admiration. The childhood memories of the town, its life and people, beautiful rural countryside surrounding it gave Vasnetsov endless inspiration throughout his artistic life. 

Yuri Vasnetsov was a humble person and never wrote any memoirs. However, there are a number of books published in Russia about his life and artistic career which are based on the memories of people who knew him, numerous letters he wrote and notes written down from his own words by his wife, Galina.

As a child I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother at their flat in St Petersburg and still remember a pile of little pieces of paper on the kitchen table next to Grandmother's chair. She always had them ready just in case she needed to write something down. And just like that, she used that same little pile to note down Grandfather's thoughts and memories when he told her anything during a meal time or tea.

 

Here are just some of those memories about his childhood and Vyatka

(from the book Yuri Alekseevich Vasnetsov. Illustrated Monograph. By Elena Petinova):


"I’ve forgotten a lot of things but still remember my childhood so well. I didn't just look, I absorbed everything. And I still regret that not everything stayed in my memory. I should have looked around more. That is true art, and we are still running around, searching for something.

When I paint, draw, illustrate books, in my mind I visit many places, and still live through what I remember and I saw in my childhood…"

"I was a very impressionable boy - I remember how cosy it always was in Vyatka! I remember the objects in the house, where the dust was, my belongings, the smallest details. I remember grass, a little stone and flower, bush. The lime tree in blossom just next to our house, what an aroma! Buzzing bees, the heat. And those birds in winter! Bullfinches, blue tits. Covered in frost tree branches, snow. Unforgettable beauty!”

"I loved helping Father in church. Not to oversleep I'd fall asleep on his furcoat. He'd take his coat - and there I was! 

Life in the church was always so interesting… beautiful traditions and celebrations. They would decorate the cross with flowers and give flowers to everyone."

"In summer we would travel to Grandfather and Grandmother's village, with the whole family on horses … The heat, the sun is  burning - and we are going through wild fields and deep forests. Birds, little animals would run past. Cosy villages, birch trees, bird cherrie trees, rowan trees..."

Yuri Vasnetsov. Painting. Landscape with a Tree.
Yuri Vasnetsov. Painting. Double Landscape.

Vyatka. Double Landscape 1932-34. Yuri Vasnetsov

The town is standing on three hills, all the houses are under snow blankets, smoke rising from chimneys. People were walking in beautiful hand-painted valenki (woollen boots) and big winter coats with bright belts.

 

Frost! Snowhills in the streets, there were some really snowy winters. Snow was carried away by horse and cart far beyond the river. On the way back we sat in the big  baskets, now empty, just heads poking out.

 

We would ski from the hills, make ice rinks in the yards and use homemade ice skates. When we got home  steam would rise from our coats."

Yuri Vasnetsov. Painting. Vyatka in Winter.

Landscape with a Tree. 1928. Yuri Vasnetsov

"In Vyatka I saw how they lit the kerosene lamps in street lights: they would carry a ladder with them to do so. I painted these street lights in my illustrations for 'Raduga-Duga'. "

Yuri Vasnetsov. Cat in Boots Winter illustration

"It was so beautiful in Vyatka in winter!

Vyatka in Winter. 1935. Yuri Vasnetsov

There were plenty of colourful and fun craft markets in Vyatka. When describing those, Vasnetsov re-lived them, remembering incredible detail: the skilful craftsmen, the smells of freshly painted items, the clinking of clay dishes and bowls, farm animals and birds brought for trading.

 

"In autumn there was a horse market. Oh! What a show! Gypsies and peasants were selling horses, taming horses and riding horses. There were beautiful ribbons in the horses’ manes and tails. I watched and admired it all."

 

"In spring there was a toy market. The snow was melting and there were streams everywhere, like waterfalls! It was so muddy at the market, early spring. I loved Vyatka toys – from clay, from wood."

Vyatka has always been famous for its traditional clay toys. There is a lovely collection of them in Yuri Vasnetsov's flat in St Petersburg. The artist found a lot of inspiration in the folklore culture that surrounded him as a child. Vyatka toys make an appearance in quite a few of Vasnetsov's still life paintings.

Yuri Vasnetsov. Painting. Russian Toys.

Vyatka Toys. 1932-34 (repainted in 1969, unfinished). Yuri Vasnetsov

Yuri Vasnetsov's painting. Still Life with Vyatka Toys
Vyatka clay toys collection.

Traditional Vyatka clay toys from Nataliia Filipchenko's collection

(Yuri Vasnetsov's younger daughter)

Still life with Vyatka Toys. 1948. Yuri Vasnetsov

How much love and admiration there is in Vasnetsov's memories of his home town! It is for us to see his childhood memories of Vyatka in his colourful illustrations for Russian nursery rhymes and fairy tales: in the beautifully decorated wooden cabins; in the pretty, traditional clothes the characters - people and animals - are wearing; in the leaves, flowers and berries of Vasnetsov's beautiful trees.

Yuri Vasnetsov. Horse and Cart. Illustration Raduga-Duga. Horse and cart.
Yuri Vasnetsov. Illustration from Raduga-Duga
Cat family illustration from Raduga-Duga. Yuri Vasnetsov.

Sergey Lobovikov and his wonderful photographs of rural Russia.

                                   

Reading and learning about Grandfather's childhood and his home town of Vyatka, I came across an amazing story that I would like to share with you.

 

I wanted to learn more about Vyatka and its influence on Grandfather’s art. Looking for images of old Vyatka, I remembered that my mum’s best friend’s family was also from Vyatka. Mum and Elena studied at the same university and later realised they had a Vyatka connection.

 

Elena’s grandfather, Sergey Lobovikov, was a recognised photographer, famous for his beautiful shots of Vyatka and rural Russian settings. In the two videos below, my mum is going through a catalogue of his works prepared for his exhibition by Wintershall in Kassel, Germany. I asked mum about Lobovikov, and what we both learnt about his life made a big impression on us.

 

On 27th November 1941, during World War II, a bomb hit a building in the centre of Leningrad (now St Petersburg), it killed a 71-year-old man who lived there with his family. The rest of the family survived that bomb but tragically died in the famine of 1942. That man was Sergey Lobovikov. When his son, Timofej, returned from the war, he managed to recover his father’s archive of photographs and donated it to Kirov (formerly Vyatka) Museum of History and Arts, as his father was one of the founders before the war.

Many years passed, and in 1993 a German delegation working on German-Russian cultural relationships visited the museum. They came across the photographs by Lobovikov and were amazed by his incredible talent and work. They also learnt about the tragic role Nazi Germany played in the life of his family.

 

Wintershall organised a big exhibition of Lobovikov’s work in Kassel, Germany, and later brought it to Kirov’s Museum. They now have a very good relationship with Lobovikov’s family.

 

What a tragic but amazing story!

 

I can’t thank my mum enough for helping to prepare this, making the videos and talking to Lobovikov’s granddaughter! 

Looking through a wonderful album of photographs by Sergey Lobovikov, published by Wintershall, Germany

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