Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov has been working on his famous painting "Heroes" for over 20 years. The very idea came to the artist in 1876 in Paris, where he was visiting another famous Russian painter Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov. And the work was completed only on April 23, 1898. The painting was immediately acquired by the famous Moscow merchant and philanthropist Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, who had long dreamed of placing it in his art gallery.
The canvas has an impressive size - 295x446 cm. Vasnetsov depicted on it the three main characters of Russian epics: Ilya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich. Now in our country there is, perhaps, not a single person who would be unfamiliar with Vasnetsov's painting, reproductions of "Heroes" are produced in millions of copies.
Researchers believe that Ilya Muromets was not only a character in epics, but also a real person. The relics of Ilya Pechersky, who in 1643 was canonized by the Orthodox Church, rest in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. His height was about 180 centimeters, for that time it was a rarity. Ilya is depicted in the center of the picture, from under his palm he vigilantly peers into the distance. In his left hand he has a shield and a spear, in his right - a mace. As is known from the epics, Ilya Muromets was a peasant's son. It is interesting that the peasant posed for the artist in the image of Ilya. It was a native of the Vladimir province, Ivan Petrov, who came to Moscow to work as a cab. In Moscow, the artist noticed him, persuading him to pose.
Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov himself described this meeting as follows: "I walk along the embankment near the Crimean bridge and see: there is a hefty fellow standing near the regiment, exactly like my Ilya." The appearance of Petrov, indeed, radiated enormous physical strength and, at the same time, good nature. By the way, some art critics believe that Ivan Petrov was not a cabman from the Vladimir province, but a blacksmith in Abramtsevo near Moscow.
But in the image of Dobrynya Nikitich, you can clearly see the resemblance to Vasnetsov himself. According to the chronicles, a hero named Dobrynya was in the service of Prince Vladimir the Red Sun, and even became his uncle, his mother's brother. Many contemporaries reproached Vasnetsov for portraying Dobrynya Nikitich on the canvas with the image of a mature man, while in the annals he is called "young."
Vasnetsov often visited Abramtsevo - the estate of the Moscow merchant and patron of the arts Savva Ivanovich Mamontov. Once he noticed that the thirteen-year-old son of Mamontov
Andrey could become an excellent model for the depiction of Alyosha Popovich. From him he wrote the youngest of the heroes. And Andrei Mamontov himself died suddenly eight years later.
Vasnetsov worked on the canvas for a long time, which gave him a lot of trouble, the huge canvas had to be transported from Moscow to Kiev, where the artist painted the Vladimir Cathedral, and in the summer to take with him to the dacha.
Vasnetsov's painting is a kind of allegory, a collective image of the defenders of the Russian Land. After all, if Ilya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich existed in reality, they lived at different times, therefore, these heroes could only "meet" in a painting by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov.
While working on the painting, Vasnetsov carefully studied the uniforms and weapons of the heroes, read many historical documents. He even managed to get permission to use the exhibits of the Historical Museum, which were kept in storerooms, for work.
Epic-historical and religious biases are clearly traced in all of Vasnetsov's work. This is not surprising, the artist was born in 1848 in the Vyatka province into the family of a village priest. And Viktor Mikhailovich himself studied at the theological seminary, but left his studies in his last year, deciding to enter the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.
A letter from Vasnetsov to P. P Chistyakov, written in 1882, has survived, in which the author announced that he would like to prepare his painting "Heroes" for the All-Russian Art and Industry Exhibition, which opened in Moscow in July of that year. But, he considers the picture unfinished, and even expressed doubt whether he will have time to finish the work. As it turned out, the final preparation took another 16 years. Perhaps the author himself would have continued to work on it further, but one day Pyotr Mikhailovich Tretyakov came into Vasnetsov's studio and said that the picture seemed to him already completely finished, and in any work the main thing is to stop on time.
But this picture might not have been. In 1876 Vasnetsov sketched the first sketch and wanted to present it to his friend Vasily Polenov. But Polenov refused such a gift, saying that he was ready to accept it only after Vasnetsov completed work on a large picture on this topic. On his advice, Vasnetsov decided to create "Bogatyrs".