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Vasily V. Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was an officer and studied at the Art Academy in St. Petersburg. In 1867 he took part in the military conquest of Turkestan and became acquainted with Central Asia. In 1877/78 he became an eyewitness to the Russo-Turkish War. His personal experiences left a deep impression on him. As a result, the painter Vereshchagin devoted himself to the unsparing depiction of war atrocities in his works. On the occasion of an exhibition in Vienna, the artist met Bertha von Suttner. With the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Vereshchagin went to Port Arthur, the Russian war port on the Yellow Sea, where he lost his life on board the flagship after a mine explosion.

Apotheosis of War
Vasily V. Vereshchagin 1871, State Tretyakov Gallery Moscow, Russian Federation.

Under the walls – whole piles of heads and various human bones; in some places where a hot battle had taken place, or where the slaughtered garrison had been thrown down from the walls, there were literally pyramids of heads! The entire area surrounding the city is also covered in skulls. – In the neighboring villages, which were simultaneously occupied by a 15,000-man garrison that came to help the besieged, – the alleys and courtyards were barricaded with skeletons and skulls. All around, in the fields, as far as the eye can see, there are skulls, skulls and skulls everywhere.

Source: Lay Down your Arms! 1893/VII.

Ruins of the Theatre in Chuguchak
Vasily V. Vereshchagin 1869-1870, State Tretyakov Gallery Moscow, Russian Federation.

In the middle of the ruins of a former theatre, as a symbol of culture, lie skulls. The painting depicts the gruesome consequences of an ethnic-religiously motivated conflict on the Russian-Chinese border region in the mid-19th century, which Vereschagin may have visited in 1869 as part of his military service. The picture of the concrete event is regarded as the source of ideas for the later apotheosis, which, however, was kept rather abstract.

BELENTSCHIKOW Walentin 2020, Im Namen des Pazifismus. Wassili W. Wereschtschagin und Bertha von Suttner (=Ost-West-Express. Kultur und Übersetzung, hrsg. von Jekatherina Lebedewa und Gabriela Lehmann-Carli, Band 38), Berlin.


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