** artists illustrating boys fashions: Vasily Perov

Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Vasily Perov (Russia, 1834-82)

Figure 1.--Perov painted 'Troika: Apprentice Workmen Carrying Water." in 1866. Troika is the name in Russian for a sled drawn by three horses. Here of course children are used. The painting is located at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. Click on the image for an enlarge,ment of one of the boys.

Vasily Perov was educated in the provincial Arzamass School of Art. During 1853-61 Perovstudied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. He lived in Paris during the early 1860s studying art. Returning to Russia, Perov became a founding member in the Circle of the Itinerants. In 1886 Vasily Perov was awarded the title of member of the Petersburg Academy of Arts. Perov is best known for his sympathetic genre scenes and portraits, including serfs and peasants.


Vasily was born in Tobolsk in 1853. We do not yet have details on his childhood. He was the son of a public prosecutor. We note he began his atistic studies at about 12 years of age.


Vasily Perov studied intermittently at the provincial Arzamass School of Art (1846-49). The School was run by Alexander Stupin (1776-1862), a classicist painter whose School was the first such provincial art school in Russia where atistic life was centered on St. nPetersburg and to a lesser extent Moscow. Perov then studied during the 1850s at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture under Sergey Zaryanko. The work of Pavel Fedotov, pictorial satire in the press and genre scenes by the Old Dutch masters and William Hogarth reportedly influenced Perov. While at the School, war raged in the Crimea, with profound social consequences in Russia.

Crimean War

Russian efforts to expand south brought it into conflict with the two great European powers, England and France. Notably Prussia abstained from involvement. This proved to be the first step in changing Prussia (soon to be Germany) from an English ally to an enemy. There was great suffering on both sides. In Russia, war with the European powers brought great strains. Taxes were needed to finance the War. The huge casualties required forced levies. Both mean increased hardship for the already exploited Russian serfs. There were serf uprisings everywhere. Intelectual ferment is oftn stimulated by war and social upheaval. Fashion and art are often affected. It is at this time that Russian blouse styles begin to appear in Europe. Many styles such as baraclavas, cardigan sweaters, and raglan sweaters coats later appeared. Russia was also affected. The aftermath of war and rebelion appears to have enlived the previously rather static artistic life of Russia. It is in this period that the new school of critical realism is founded. The founder of critical realism is Vasily Perov.

Paris (1862-64)

Perov travelled abroad in 1862. Perov lived in Paris during the early 1860s studying art. He not only studied in Paris, but was an active painter. He workeding mainly in Paris, where he painted a series of vivid genre scenes of city life. While Perov is a Russian artist, his time in Paris leave us many scenes of Paris life. Some of the street scenes show us how pooer French children dressed. The images all show the street children, presumably the offspring of working-class children wearing long pants. One boy is pictured wearing a bert. We know rom fashion magazines the children from more affluent families were by the 1860s wearing kneepants.


Returning to Russia, Perov became a founding member in the Circle of the Itinerants. In 1886 Vasily Perov was awarded the title of member of the Petersburg Academy of Arts. Perov is best known for his sympathetic genre scenes and portraits, including serfs and peasants.

Figure 2.--Perov painted "Children Sleeping" in 1870. Most Americans do not associate barefoot boys with Russia, in part because we think about cold weather when we think of Russia. In fact, Russian serg boys and even sometimes there fathers would go barefoot durng the summer and warm weather.The painting is located at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.


Some oservers have seen parallels between the writing of Nikolai Leskov and the painting of Perov. There is a conflict between feelings of love of one's country and hatred of the deplorable social conditions of Russia--especially serfdom. Perov expressed an intimate knowledge of the daily life of the Russian people and could not help alienated by the conditions he depicted. His early Paris paintings are cheerful and full of life. His paintings gadually become more laconic and darly expressive. He achieved an notable unity with a limited, even austere greyish-brown palette. Some of his paintings seem the visual deiction Fyodor Dostoyevsky's brooding depiction of the lowest strata of Russian lie. Dostoyevsky was the subject on one of Perov's portraits. Perov himself also wrote, producing talented sketches of popular life.


Russian painting until the 19th century was dominated by religious themes, historical scnes, and aristocratic portraits. The ordinary lives of serfs and workers were considered barbaric and unworthy of serious artistic attention. Outsider Alexey Venetsianov helped to change this. Even Tsar Nicholas I, the Tsar who resisted Napoleon, appoved as part of his encouragement of "national trends". Genre painting became a predominant theme in work of important Russian artist. Some of the most important were: Repin, Yaroshenko, Savitsky, Maximov, Makovsky. The subject proved so popular By the 1870s even those painters who primarily worked in other schools of painting started producing genre works, including portraitist Ivan Kramskoy and historical painter Vasnetsov.

A very large part of Perov's work was portraits. Many of the portraits were of affluent Russians. We are unsure as to just what his motivatiins were. Presumably these portraits helped finance Perov's other works.

Perov's Outlook

Perov in his paintings blamed injustice and poverty on the Tzar's regime. His sympathy was for the serfs and deprived worker of Russia. This seems a rather ironic outlook for the son of a public procecutor. It is interesting that he painted so many portraits of affluent Russians.


Vasily Perov belonged to the Saint-Petersburg's Association of Painters. Another famous member of the Association was Ivan Kramskoy, the greatest russian portrait painter and author of some monumental works. At the end of 1860-s russian painters developed new artistic aroaches. Many felt the need for a new and more powerful union than Association of Painters. A group decided to form the Association of movable art exhibitions. The idea was proposed by Grigory Myasoyedov. Perov supported the idea with enthusiasm. The first exhibition of mobil exhibitirs (the Circle of Itinerants) was held in 1871.


Soviet Approval

The Soviets embraced most of the 19th century Russian painters who did genre studies of rural serfs and urban workers, especially ons depicting the wretched living conditions. Rarer were anti-clerical paintings. Anti-clerical studies like "the Village Sermon" (1861, Moscow, Tret�yakov Gallary) made Perov a particular favorite of Soviet authorities who were doing heir best to destroy the Otadoc church.

Final Years

Perov died in Kuz�minki, now in Moscow during 1882.

Russian Blouses

The inspiration of the Russian blouse style can clearly be seen in Makovsky paintings of traditional Russian folk dress. The style was worn by both boys and men, although it became primarily a boys' style in Europe. Both blouses and tunics were made in the Russian style.

Russian Serfdom

Serfdom, the Russian form of feudalism, played a major role in Russian life through the 19th century when it was abolished. Serfdom was more humane than American race-based chattle slavery, but serfdom as also a brutal system which tied millions of Russians to the land. Even freed slaves were descriminated against. The influence continued into the 20th century. An assessment of Russian boys' clothing would thus be incomplete withoutan assessment of serfdom. Some Russian boys even in the 19th century look much like European boys. Other Russian boys, especiall serf boys and rural village boys dressed very destinctly.


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Created: January 15, 2002
Last updated: January 15, 2002