Abram Arkhipov
Biography and Paintings of Russian Genre Painter.

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Visiting (1915)
Russian Museum St Petersburg.
One of the greatest genre paintings.

Abram Arkhipov (1862-1930)

One of several highly talented Russian artists involved in the 19th century Wanderers (Itinerants) movement, Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov made his name in Russian art through his development of the "eventless genre", as illustrated by his masterpiece Visiting (1915, Russian Museum St Petersburg); and also through his depiction of working class conditions, as in his famous composition The Washer-Women (Laundresses) (1899, Russian Museum, St Petersburg), and Labourers at the Iron Foundry (1896, Tretyakov). In his focus on ordinary workers and on themes from peasant life - see also Along the River Oka (1890, Tretyakov) - Arkhipov was following in the tradition of other great exponents of genre painting like Ilya Repin (1844-1930) and Konstantin Savitsky (1844-1905). Seen by many as one of the best genre painters of his day, Arkhipov's works were also collected by the philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov.

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Hermitage Gallery St Petersburg
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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Early Life and Education

Born Abram Pyrikov to a religious Russian-Orthodox family in the region of Ryazan, Western Russia, Arkhipov excelled in drawing from a very young age, prompting his parents to send him at the age of 15 to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Here, along with fellow students like the genre-painter Nikolai Kasatkin (1859-1930), the original and unusual Andrey Ryabushkin (1861-1904), and the religious painter Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942), he fell under the influence of such great teachers as Vasily Perov (1834–1882), Vasily Polenov (1844–1927), Konstantin Makovsky (1839–1915) and Alexei Savrasov (1830–1897). Arkhipov was a diligent student and received numerous awards at school exhibitions. Strongly influenced by Vasily Perov, his main focus was on genre painting, as exemplified by works such as The Second-Hand Shop (1882, Tretyakov), The Drunkard (1883, Tretyakov) and The Tavern (1883, Tretyakov).

For a list of the best pictures, see:
Greatest 20th Century Paintings.

For a list of painters like
Abram Arkhipov, see:
Modern Artists.

In 1883, Archipov left to study for two years at the prestigious Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, where he completed his masterpiece Man Falling from the Saddle (1884, Imperial Academy Permanent Collection), after which he returned to Moscow to complete his studies. A key work of the period was his Visiting the Sick Woman (1885, Tretyakov), depicting his own mother lying on a straw-filled bed in a dingy hut, next to a visiting neighbour. The sad appearance of the two women is vividly contrasted with the sunlight which pours through the open door.


Genre Paintings

In 1888, not long after graduating from the Moscow School of Painting, Arkhipov and some fellow students took a trip along the Volga, drawing and painting en plein air by day, and staying overnight in peasant villages. One of his studies from this trip later became On the Volga (1889, Russian Museum, St Petersburg), a combination of genre scene and romantic landscape. In 1890 he joined the progressive artist group known as The Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions (aka The Wanderers, or Itinerants). Later the same year he produced one of his most famous works - Along the River Oka (1890, Tretyakov). This realist painting depicts a group of peasants afloat on a river, lost in thought, on a sunny day. It conveys an overwhelming feeling of time standing still, but also highlights the peasantry's remarkable steadfastness in the face of continual hardship.

During the 1890s Arkhipov spent most of his time on plein air painting. Works like: The Convoy (1893, Tretyakov) continue the theme of Along the River Oka, while others including The Ice Is Gone (1895, Ryazan Regional Art Gallery) portray the close link between nature and the peasants - in this case the optimism and new opportunities signalled by the coming of Spring and the melting of the ice. More activist in spirit are his genre paintings depicting the gritty reality of working conditions, notably the bitter lot of Russian women. In Women Labourers at the Iron Foundry (1896, Tretyakov), women are resting from their labour in the hot sun, amid black smoke, against a backdrop of low, wooden workshops.

The Washer-Women

One of his most famous works from this time is the painting The Washer-Women, of which there are two editions: (1899, Russian Museum and Tretyakov). Based on a series of studies from life in the wash-house, it portrays the bent backs of prematurely aged women, amid the steam and heat of the laundry, all captured in an ultra-realist muted colour palette.

See also: Russian Painting in the 19th-Century.

Landscapes and Portraits

During the 1900s Arkhipov began a series of landscapes of Northern Russia and the White Sea coast, marked by muted grey colours and featuring dilapidated wooden buildings, remote woodlands, and coastal scenery, as illustrated by A Northern Village (1902, Tretyakov), A Jetty in the North (1903, Tretyakov), and In the North (1912, Tretyakov). In contrast, he also completed a number of group portraits of peasant women from the Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod areas, as exemplified by his extraordinary colourist painting Visiting (1915, Russian Museum St Petersburg). Through a series of brilliant reds, pinks, oranges and yellows, this work conveys the simple pleasure of spending time with friends. It typifies the "eventless genre-painting" - a type of picture that expresses the underlying significance or nuances of a situation, without any narrative element.


From 1894 onwards, in addition to his career as a painter, Arkhipov also taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture where he himself studied. In 1903 he became a member of the Union of Russian Artists. He avoided being drawn in to the pre-war disputes surrounding the Knave of Diamonds group (1910-17) and the radical Donkey's Tail group (1911-12), but after the war in 1924, along with painters like Nikolai Kasatkin (1859-1930) and Konstantin Yuon (1875-1958), he joined the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR). Three years later he was awarded the title of People's Artist of the USSR. He died in Moscow in 1930.

Arkhipov's works hang in many of the best art museums in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

• For more biographies of Russian artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more information about 19th century Russian painting, see: Homepage.

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