Nikolai Ge: A Chronicle of the Artist’s Life and Work

Magazine issue: 
#3 2011 (32)

February 15
Bom into a family of Voronezh gentry, to Nikolai and Yelena Ge (nee Sadovski).
June 24
Yelena Ge died suddenly of cholera.

Moved to Kiev with his father and brothers.

His father acquired an estate near the village of Popelukhi of Mogilyev parish in Podolsk province and moved the family to the estate.

A student at the Geduan boarding school in Kiev.

Started school at 1st Kiev Grammar School for Boys, showing interest in and talent for fine art.

Attended lectures on Russian history by the historian Nikolai Kostomarov.

A student of the Physics and Mathematics Department of the Philosophy School at Kiev University.

Moved to St. Petersburg to continue to study physics and mathematics at St. Petersburg University.
Met Parmen Zabelo, a student at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and became part of the Academy students’ circle. Visited the Hermitage, where Karl Bryullov’s painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” caught his imagination.

Dropped out of the University to join the Imperial Academy of Arts.

Painted “The Judgement of Solomon”. Chose professor Peter Basin as his advisor. Spent the winter holidays at his father’s estate in Popelukhi where he painted his father’s portrait.

On the way back to St. Petersburg, Ge stopped at the Monastyrische estate and met Parmen Zabelo’s sister, Anna Zabelo, his future wife.
Awarded minor gold medal for his painting “Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus”.
The artist’s father died. With his brothers Osip and Grigory Ge visited his father’s estate. Painted the portrait of Ya.P. Merkulov.

Returned to St. Petersburg to continue his studies at the Academy of Arts; working on his painting “The Witch of Endor Calling up the Spirit of the Prophet Samuel”.
October 28th
Married Anna Zabelo in the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Monastyrische of Nezhinsky parish in Chernigov province.
Presented “The Witch of Endor Calling up the Spirit of the Prophet Samuel” at the graduation exhibition of the Academy of Arts.

March 14th
The Imperial Academy of Arts awarded the artist a gold medal for “The Witch of Endor Calling up the Spirit of the Prophet Samuel”. Received the title of the Class Artist of the 1st degree and a grant to travel abroad for further study.
April 26 th
The artist and his wife left for Italy, stopping in Swiss Saxony, Munich and Paris on the way. In Paris, they visited the Salon (official exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts) and the posthumous exhibition of Paul Delaroche’s artwork. On the boat to Rome, they met Ivan Aksakov who was returning from his trip to London to see Alexander Herzen.
Renting a studio in Rome, Ge began working on paintings on themes from Roman history — “The Death of Virginia”, “The Love of the Vestal Virgin.” September 30
Birth of son Nikolai in Rome.

Visited Alexander Ivanov’s studio, and for the first time saw Ivanov’s painting “The Appearance of Christ before the People” and the studies for it. Summer
Painted landscapes in Vico, on the coast of the Bay of Naples.

Conceived of the idea for the painting “The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem” (unfinished), painting studies for it.
Painted a study for “Returning from the Interment of Christ”, the portrait of Anna Ge with their son, and other works.
Lived in Frascati, painting landscapes.
August 21st
Son Pyotr was born in Rome.

Moved from Rome to Florence.
Painted portraits of V.N. Rostovtseva and V.S. Krause.
Met the sculptor N.V. Shtrom (1828-1883), also a beneficiary of a grant from the Imperial Academy of Art.

Met Leo Tolstoy while the latter was on a trip to Rome.
The artist and his family spent the summer in Malaya Russia (now Ukraine): they stayed alternately with the artist’s brothers in Popelukhi and Oslanovo, as well as at his father-in-law’s estate Monastyrische. August
Returned to Florence to live in Piazza della Indipendenza.
Started working on “The Last Supper”.
Met the sculptor Fyodor Tolstoy and his daughter Yekaterina Tolstoy, who were spending the winter in Florence.

Spent the summer in Livorno painting landscapes and studies for the figures of the apostles in “The Last Supper”.

The artist painted landscapes in San Terenzo and worked on the portrait of the composer Vladimir Kashperov, whose opera “Cola di Rienzo (Rienzi)” was produced in Florence in 1863.
September 7
Brought “The Last Supper” to St. Petersburg and presented the painting to the Imperial Academy of Art Council as an account of his work abroad. The painting received high praise for “great talent and strong emotional expression”; the artist received the title of “Professor of Historical Painting”, bypassing “Member of the Academy”.
September 13
Showed “The Last Supper” at the annual Imperial Academy of Art exhibition.
October 24
The Academy hosted a reception in honour of the artist, at which Konstantin Ton made a speech. Visited the editorial office of “Sovremennik” (The Contemporary) magazine, and renewed his acquaintance with Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin; met with Ivan Kramskoi and members of the St. Petersburg Association of Artists.

February 12
Alexander II acquired “The Last Supper” for the Imperial Academy of Art museum.
Returned to Florence.
Continued to paint on themes from the New Testament (“Maria, Sister of Lazarus, Meets Jesus Approaching Their House”).
Met Mikhail Bakunin in Florence and painted his portrait (current location unknown).

Painted landscapes in San Terenzo and Florence.

January 27-February 24
In Florence, met Alexander Herzen and painted his portrait.
Finished the painting “Messengers of the Resurrection” and sent it to Russia for a “public exhibition” with the intent to “show it freely and independently” in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. The Imperial Academy of Art Council forbade exhibiting the painting, fearing “to give rise to false judgement by the public of a sacred subject”.
Painted the portrait of the Italian chemist Hugo Schiff.
April - May
The artist spent time in Paris — where “The Last Supper” was in the Exposition Universelle.
Spent the summer in San Terenzo with the artist Grigory Myasoedov and the writer Alexander Veselovsky; painted landscapes.

Painted the portrait of the French revolutionary immigrant Joseph Daumange.
Spent the summer in San Terenzo with Grigory Myasoedov and Alexander Veselovsky, painting landscapes; moved to Carrara. Ge and Myasoedov discussed the idea of an association of artists independent of the Imperial Academy of Art, which would organize “travelling exhibitions” to show their work throughout Russia.
Beginning of September
Returned to Florence. Painted studies on New Testament themes: “Christ in front of Anna”, “Christ in the Synagogue”, “Pilate’s Wife”, and others. Painted “In the Garden of Gethsemane” for the church in Monastyrische (current location unknown; the work may have been destroyed by the artist.) Painted more studies, looking for a new approach to the New Testament theme.
The painting “Messengers of the Resurrection” shown in Moscow at the permanent exhibition of the Society of the Fine Arts Connoisseurs, and later at the St. Petersburg Association of Artists.

The paintings “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” and “Messengers of the Resurrection” both exhibited
at the International Exposition in Munich. Visited the Munich studios of Wilhelm von Kaulbach and other artists.
November 23
Signed the letter from Moscow artists to the St. Petersburg Association of Artists (initiated and prepared by Grigory Myasoedov) introducing the draft Charter of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions ('“Peredvizhniki”).
Spent the winter in Russia.

A solo exhibition of the artist’s work created in Italy held at the Imperial Academy of Art.
Painted the portrait of Nikolai Kostomarov.
Moved his family to Russia, where they settled in St. Petersburg on the 7th Line of Vasilyevsky Island. Joined the intellectual society of St. Petersburg — writes, artists, scientists.
December 16
Elected to the Managing Board of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”) (18701873).

Painted the portrait of Ivan Turgenev, and created a bust of Vissarion Belinsky from the death mask. May-June
Touring various towns along the Volga, starting from Tver. Visited Scherbovo, the estate of the Povalo-Shveikovsky family, and Premukhino, the Bakunins’ residence, where he painted the portrait of Nikolai Bakunin.
At the 1st Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”), the artist presented his portraits of Schiff, Kostomarov and Turgenev, as well as his large-scale painting “Peter the Great Interrogating Tsarevich Alexei at Peterhof”, the latter acquired by Pavel Tretyakov.
Elected: member-artist of the Moscow Society of the Fine Arts Connoisseurs; member of the Society to Promote Fine Arts; member of the Russian Society of Engravers (1871-1873).

January 2
Elected Treasurer of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
July 15
“In reward for exceptional contribution to the fine arts” awarded the Order of Saint Anna of the 3rd class.
August 2
Appointed Advising Member of the Imperial Academy of Art Council.
In cooperation with Ivan Kramskoi, Pavel Chistyakov and others worked on revising the 1859 Charter of the Imperial Academy of Art.
December 26
Exhibited his portraits of Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin and Nikolai Nekrasov at the 2nd Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).

Showed “Peter the Great Interrogating Tsarevich Alexei at Peterhof” and “In the Garden of Gethsemane” at the London International Exhibition, where he was awarded a personal medal.
January 21
Exhibited the painting “Catherine II at Empress Elizabeth’s Coffin” at the 3rd Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
Painted a copy of Orest Kiprensky’s portrait of Alexander Pushkin.
Exhibited the portrait of V.A. (?) Kochubei; awarded a personal medal.

February 27
Exhibited the painting “Alexander Pushkin in Mikhailovskoe” at the 4th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”). February — March
Painting studies for the frescoes for the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow (unfinished).
Purchased a small estate from his wife’s parents — Ivanovsky khutor (farm) in Borzensk parish of Chernigov province, about three and a half miles away from Plisky station on the Kiev-Voronezh railway.

Moved his family to Ivanovsky, where he took up agricultural work.
March 11
Exhibited his portraits of Viktor Gaevsky and Alexei Potekhin at the 5th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).

Active in Chernigov local government.
Painted the portrait of Pyotr Skoropadsky. Pavel Tretyakov purchased the artist’s portraits of Herzen, Kostomarov and Potekhin.
Exhibited “Peter the Great Interrogating Tsarevich Alexei at Peterhof” at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
The artist’s first grandchild Praskovia born — the daughter of his son Nikolai and Agafya Slusarev, a peasant woman.
Nikolai Ge and his son Nikolai listed as gentry of the Borzensk parish of Chernigov province.

Painted “Mercy”, with his son Pyotr and Pyotr’s future wife Yekaterina Zabelo as models.

Visited St. Petersburg and Moscow.
March 6
Showed “Mercy” at the 6th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”). He took the painting back home after sharp criticism in periodical publications.
Ilya Repin, accompanied by Valentin Serov (Repin was painting his famous “Zaporozhe Cossacks Writing to the Turkish Sultan” and visiting Southern Russia and Ukraine), came to Ge’s farm and painted his portrait.

Painted the portraits of Alexei and Anna Olsufiev; Princess Scherbatov with her daughters; Count Konstantin Kleinmichel with his son.

Read Leo Tolstoy’s article “The Census in Moscow”
in “Sovremennye Izvestia” (Current News) 1882, January 20; Ge was moved by the article to, in his own words, “turn from a pagan into a Christian”. February
Visited Tolstoy in Moscow, and became a follower of Tolstoy’s religious and moral teaching.
The artist’s oldest brother Osip took up residence at Ivanovsky farm as he was forbidden by the authorities to live in either capital city.

Working on the design of a monument to Alexander II (remained unfinished).
Ge’s younger son Pyotr married Yekaterina Zabelo.

Painted the portrait of Leo Tolstoy.
February 26
Showed his portrait of Tolstoy at the 12th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
Upon his return home, started working on “The Crucifixion”, which would continue for ten years. The artist’s son Nikolai and the local medical worker Grigory Ruban served as models; Ruban would later marry the artist’s niece Zoya Ge.
August 27
Grandson Nikolai born to the artist’s son Pyotr and his wife Yekaterina.
The artist’s niece Zoya Ge, a member of the “Narodnaya Volya” (Will of the People) revolutionary organization comes to live with the Ge family. Her exile to Siberia was commuted to police supervised relocation to Ivanovsky thanks to the artist’s involvement, who bailed her out with his estate as a guarantee.
October 11-14
Leo Tolstoy visits Ge in Ivanovsky.

The local government of Chernigov commissioned Ge to paint the portrait of a local landowner Ivan Skoropadsky at his estate of Trostianets (Prilutsky parish of Poltava Province).
Drew a copy of “The Last Supper” (1863, Russian Museum) for publication of Tolstoy’s essay by “Posrednik” (Mediator) publishing house; the publication fell through as Tolstoy’s text was banned by the censors.
Painted the portrait of Mikhail Teplov, his student and an officer in the army; Teplov would eventually write a memoir dedicated to his teacher. An amateur artist, Teplov also painted Ge’s portrait, the location of which is unknown.

January 2 (?) — February 26
Ge was a guest at Tolstoy’s house in Moscow. Painted the portrait of Sofia Tolstoy with her daughter Alexandra. Drew illustrations for Tolstoy’s story “What Men Live By”.
The artist’s son Nikolai began assisting Tolstoy with the new publication of his collected works. Nikolai Ge the younger and his daughter Praskovia lived first in Moscow at Alexander Zilotti’s house and then in Tver at Mikhail Petrunkevich’s house.
Started working on illustrations to Tolstoy’s “The Gospel in Brief” (unpublished).
Made the decision to transfer all his property to his wife, leaving for himself only three rooms with a separate entrance. In order to fulfil his last responsibility for his wife “to preserve, as much as can reasonably be expected, the source of her income”, the artist asks his younger son Pyotr to lease the estate from him and manage it. Gave up managing the nearby estate of Giriavka (Borzensk parish of Chernigov province), property of I.I. Belosersky .
Learned the craft of stove-setting.
Led a discussion of art with the students of Kiev Drawing School.
Drew “Repenting Sinner”, a sketch for Tolstoy’s short story of the same title.

Pavel Tretyakov visited Ge and acquired the painting “In the Garden of Gethsemane” (1869). Ge made some changes to the painting before sending it off to Moscow.
Donated the painting “The Last Supper” to Tretyakov’s collection.

Working on one of the version of “The Crucifixion”; his student, the painter Alexander Kurennoi (18651944), served as a model. Kurennoi would later go on to become an art restorer for the Tretyakov Gallery and write a memoir about his teacher.
Working on graphic sketches “Christ and the Gentiles” and “Christ’s Last Talk with His Pupils”. Summer
Stayed for a week with Adam and Anna Olsufiev at their estate in Nikolskoe-Obolianinovo near Moscow. July
A guest at Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy and Ge took part in building a log house for a local peasant, Anisya Kopylov.

February 5, 7
Attended the annual meeting of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
February 22
Received a letter from a group of artists-members of the Society welcoming his “presence at the exhibition after a long period of absence”.
February 28
Exhibited “Christ and His Disciples Enter the Garden of Gethsemane” at the 17th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”) in St. Petersburg.
Started working on three new paintings: “The Last Talk”, “Nicodemus Comes to See Christ at Night”, and “‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate”. The first one would not be realized (a coal drawing survives), “Nicodemus Comes to See Christ at Night” became an oil study, and Ge started working on the third work in the autumn of the same year.
April 15
Leo Tolstoy saw “Christ and His Disciples Enter the Garden of Gethsemane” at the exhibition in St. Petersburg and praised it highly.
Ge spent some time in Kiev collecting materials for “‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate”, while meeting with students.
Spent two weeks at Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy read him extracts from “The Kreutzer Sonata” and the comedy “Fruits of Enlightenment”.
November 6
Informed Tolstoy that he was starting to paint “‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate”.
The artist’s nephew Grigory Ge Jr. stayed in Ivanovsky. Grigory Ge would write a memoir about the artist (published in: Leningrad magazine, 1940, #4.)

January 31
The artist’s grandson Ivan, Nikolai’s son, born.
Ge scraped off part of the paint from “Mercy” and painted “‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate” over it. February 11
“‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate” exhibited at the 18th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”). By the order of St. Petersburg governor Peter Gresser, the painting was removed from the exhibition, its picture taken out of the catalogue and it was forbidden to publicly exhibit it in Russia. At the urgent request of Leo Tolstoy, Pavel Tretyakov acquired the painting.
Following Tolstoy’s idea, “‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate” sent to be exhibited in Germany (in Hamburg, Berlin and Hannover), under the guardianship of attorney N.D. Ilyin.
June 1st
Granddaughter Anastasia born, the daughter of Ge’s younger son Pyotr.
September 17
Resigned “from the position of professor” at the Imperial Academy of Art.
Working on Tolstoy’s bust in Yasnaya Polyana.

Working on the painting “Conscience. Judas” (finding the right expression for the idea took much time). “‘What is Truth?’ Christ and Pilate” exhibited in the United States, in Boston and Baltimore.
February 17
Ge and his wife visited Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana and showed him “Conscience. Judas”.
March 3, 6
Attended the yearly meeting of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”); along with Vasily Polenov voiced his support for the rights of young artists-members of the Society.
March 9
“Conscience. Judas”, the portrait of M.L. Tolstoy and the bust of Leo Tolstoy were exhibited at the 19th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
Remodeled his studio at the farm to make it larger, adding windows and a skylight — “to paint with light from above”.
Pavel Tretyakov acquired the portrait of Leo Tolstoy (1884).
Started working on “The Judgment of the Sanhedrin: He is Guilty!”.
November 4
Death of the artist’s wife Anna Ge.
Leo Tolstoy stayed at Ge’s farm for a week
Sent the portrait of Nikolai Nekrasov to be sold at auction to benefit the victims of famine.

Read “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History” by Thomas Carlyle and is much attracted by Carlyle’s ideas.
February 16, 19
Attended the yearly meeting of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”) in St. Petersburg.
February 23
Exhibited the portrait of Olga Kostychev at the 20th Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
President of the Imperial Academy of Art Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich prohibited exhibiting “The Judgment of the Sanhedrin: He is Guilty!”. For a short period of time, the painting was exhibited in the conference hall of the Academy of Science.
March 11
Gave an informal lecture at a private apartment in St. Petersburg, with Ilya Repin in the audience. Elena Strannolubskaya recorded it as “Nikolai Ge’s Talk on Art and His Wark on His Paintings.”
March 20
Met art enthusiasts at the Pavel and Yevdokia Kostychevs residence in St. Petersburg, talking about artistic challenges. Vladimir Stasov was in the audience.
Painted a new version of “The Crucifixion” (in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris.) Stepan Yaremich, an artist and future biographer of Ge, author of the foreword and annotations to “Leo Tolstoy and Nikolai Ge: Correspondence” (Moscow and Leningrad, 1930), lived at Ge’s farm and was a model for the painting.
September 22
Received a letter from Tolstoy describing a painting by a Swedish artist “where Christ and the robbers are crucified with their feet on the ground”. Started experimenting with different compositions for “The Crucifixion”, with a horizontal canvas and the crucified figures standing on the ground; but not satisfied with the result he destroyed some studies.
Lev Kovalski (1870 -1937), Ge’s student, stayed at the farm and took photographs of the artist, his family, his artworks and the farm. He would later write a memoir about the artist.
September 24
Finished his self-portrait.
Death of his elder brother Osip Ge.

Through the year, working on numerous versions of “The Crucifixion”.
February 7, 10
Attended the annual meeting of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”) in St. Petersburg.
February 14
Read from his memoir ‘An Artist’s Life in the 1860s”, published in “Severny Vestnik” (Northern Messenger), #3, at the meetings of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
February 15
Exhibited his “Self-portrait” and the portraits of P.A. Kostychev and N.I. Petrunkevich at the 21st Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (“Peredvizhniki”).
Read “Degeneration” by Max Nordau and Gabriele DAnnunzio’s novel “L’lnnocente” (recommended to him by Tatiana Tolstoy) and criticized both. Camille Flammarion’s “L’Astronomie Populaire” left him elated.
October 3
Finished his article “1st Kiev Grammar School in the 1840s”.
October 26
Wrote to Tolstoy about his new concept for “The Crucifixion” theme — the painting “Golgotha”.
V.F. Buchinsky, a priest from Ivangorod, visited Ge’s residence to have a conversation with Nikolai Ge the younger and Grigory Ruban regarding their decision not to baptize their children.
November 17
Notified Tolstoy about going back to painting “The Crucifixion”.
First meeting with Leonid Pasternak.

January 17
Finished “The Crucifixion”.
February 4
Ge’s article “Vstrechi” (Encounters) published in “Severny Vestnik”, #3.
February 12
Exhibits “The Crucifixion” in Moscow, at Savva Mamontov’s studio in Dolgorukovskaya Street; Leo
Tolstoy viewed it, as well as the students of Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
March 4
Tsar Alexander III prohibited exhibiting “The Crucifixion” at the 22nd Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions in St. Petersburg (“Peredvizhniki”). “The Crucifixion” was put on view for the public at Alexander and Yelena Strannolubsky’s residence. Nadezhda Krupskaya brought evening school students to see it and wrote about it in her memoir.
April 30
Made a speech on “Art and Art Enthusiasts” at the 1st Convention of Russian Artists and Art Enthusiasts in Moscow. The convention marked the donation of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov’s art collections to the city of Moscow.
June 1
Ge died unexpectedly at his residence in Ivanovsky. June 3
Buried at his estate, next to his wife.
July 21
The artist’s younger son Pyotr “inherits the estate left from the late Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, professor of the Academy of Art”. Ge’s elder son Nikolai “gives up all rights to the above estate”, having received his share of the inheritance in cash. “The Artist” magazine (##43, 44) published “Memories of N.N. Ge for His Biography” by the artist’s brother Grigory Ge.

Posthumous works by Nikolai Ge and Illarion Pryanishnikov included in the 23rd Show of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions in St. Petersburg (“Peredvizhniki”).
The artist’s son Nikolai broke from Tolstoy’s teachings, started building a house in Alushta and subsequently moved there with Zoya Ge and his family.

Nikolai Ge the younger donated 116 pieces of art by his father to Pavel Tretyakov’s collection: paintings, sketches, studies and drawings. His letter (March 22 1897) to Tretyakov to that effect included a complete list of the artist’s works.
For the first time, Mikhail Vrubel visited Ivanovsky — he and his wife Nadezhda Zabelo, the sister of Peter Ge’s wife Yekaterina, spent the summer there. Vrubel would continue spending his summers with the Ges for the next three years.
Nikolai Ulyanov, Ge’s student at Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, wrote his memoir “Ge and Youth”, showing it to LeoTolstoy.

Nikolai Ge the younger organizes his father’s solo exhibitions in Paris (June 10-30) and Geneva (September 1-30), publishing ‘Album of Collected Artworks by Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge” (second edition published in 1904).

The first book on Nikolai Ge, “Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, His Life, Work and Correspondence” was published. Written by Vladimir Stasov.

Compiled by
Tatiana Karpova and Svetlana Kapyrina





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