It does not look like a political or social statement.
It’s a beautiful autumn morning in the countryside. The scene looks so real you feel that you could step into it. Sunlight sifts down through the trees, and already-fallen leaves lie on the autumn-tinted grass beside a small stream, waiting to be crunched underfoot. Tree trunks rise darkly toward the sky, saplings reaching up beside them. On the branches, green leaves mingle with the reds and golds of those that have already taken on their fall tints.
The realism of the painting is a very deliberate choice. Grigoriy Myasoyedov believed paintings like this would build people’s knowledge of and pride in their country, Russia. Painting the beauties of an Autumn morning in Crimea was as much a part of this as his other work, work which included truthful depictions of peasant life and showed the disparity between their lives and those of the wealthy. It was a disparity he was all too aware of.
Born into the landed gentry, Myasoedov, unlike the vast majority of the people he hoped to educate, was able to graduate from school, to train as an artist, and to travel through Europe as a young man to in search of more knowledge. One of the interesting things he saw on his travels was artists using traveling exhibitions to sell their work. In Russia art exhibitions were confined to Moscow and St. Petersburg and attended by the elite; creating traveling exhibits meant that they – and he – could reach and build a much wider audience.
So Myasoedov helped found a group which we call, in English, the Association of the Wanderers. The group included many famous Russian artists of his time. In a society ruled by a privileged elite, they saw their art as a way to develop social consciousness and help create a national awareness among other groups. Their aim was to use their art to help the less privileged gain more rights and power. They focused on educating them by using themes that their audience would understand and that would appeal to them, and on presenting those themes in a realistic style. Realism was essential; it made their art more easily accepted and understood.
Which is why, in this context, in Myasoyedov’s hands, a beautiful painting of an Autumn scene is a tool for building awareness, a political and social statement.
As much as the painting below.
(If you are curious about the 1861 Manifesto, the reason for it, and what it stood for you can learn more here.)