Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sunday, I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, and the like that produce them.
Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Paul Rizhenko
Born in 1970 in the Northwestern Russian city of Kaluga, Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko grew up as a normal kid in the Soviet Union. He served in the Soviet then later Russian military 1988-1990, as part of an elite guards airborne unit then at age 20 entered the Russian Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture for a six-year course of study that left him a professor of art. Starting in 1997 he taught at the academy focusing on architecture, restoration, and composition.
However, he soon took to painting historical military scenes, typically Russian in origin.
“Wounded,” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko, depicting the last Tsar on an inspection of a military hospital near the front in World War I. Note the starstruck expression of the patient to the left and Nicholas’s sorrowful expression. This is one of the last paintings completed by the artist.
“Alexander Nevsky” 2008, by Pavel Ryzhenko.
“Athos” by Pavel Ryzhenko. Depicts a Russian Orthodox pilgrim staring up at the monastery of Mt.Athos in Greece, one of the holiest spots in that religion.
“Palace grenadiers” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko. This unit was the most elite of the Imperial Guard, made up of 100 retired Senior NCOs drawn from the whole army. They were the Winter Palace Guard and wore bearskin caps picked up during the retreat of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard in 1812.
While he painted hundreds of these over the next two decades, the most striking was from the 1914-20 time period encompassing the World War I-Russian Revolution-Civil War era.
“Stokhid. The Last Battle of the Life Guards Preobrazhensky Regiment 1916.” By Ryzhenko, Pavel Viktorovich. The Guard held the line along the Stokhid River during the Battle of Kovel. It was considered the battle that broke the back of the Tsarist Army.
“Farewell to the shoulder straps”, 2008, by Ryzhenko depicting a deeply monarchist officer of the White Guards Army (note the Kornilov Death’s Head patch on his sleeve) burying his Imperial Epaulettes. You see the White Army, while being anti-Bolshevik, was anything but pro-monarchist, and those who were kept the fact largely to themselves. The significance of the blue flowering sapling is that the color blue is, in Russia, a powerful symbol of good luck and change in the future. The bluebird was a traditional omen of hope in Russian fairy tales and legend. Anton Denikin, Kornilov’s second-in-command, later recalled of the forced Ice March during winter 1917/18 campaign, “We went from the dark night of spiritual slavery to unknown wandering-in search of the bluebird.”
“Umbrella” showing a psychologically fractured daughter of an Imperial Guards colonel and wife who was just executed by Red Sailors from the battleship Gangut against the walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress in Petrograd 1919. This was regarded by many to be one of Ryzhenko’s most controversial pieces.
“Abdication” by Pavel Ryzhenko, portraying Colonel Alexander Pavlovich Kutepov, the last commander of the Preobrazhensky Regiment of Foot Guards and the man who held the Winter Palace during the March Revolution removing his shoulder straps after hearing of the 304-year Romanov reign coming to an end. Kutepov would later become an important leader of the Whites during the Civil War. Note the decorations on the Sgt Majors chest to include 3 awards of the St. George’s Cross for bravery.
“Repentance” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko. The imagery of the Red Guard, complete with Trotsky cap and fallen banner, when awed by the church bells is powerful. Note the Maxim machine gun crew ready to stitch up the street below.
This included his haunting “Triptych: The Russian Century” series of images of the last Imperial Family.
“Picture as a souvenir,” by the artist, 2007. Depicting a posed photo of the Tsar, his family, and suite in the summer of 1914 in Poland just weeks before the War and Revolution would sweep them all away. The Life Guards Cossack NCO with the eyepatch is about as scary looking as you can get.
“Confinement in Tsarskoe Selo. Alexander Palace,, 1917” 2004, by Pavel Ryzhenko. Depicting the Tsar, Tsarina, and Heir while under house arrest at their former palace. Note the Mosin-Nagant rifle. The heir in 1909 had one presented to him by the Tula factory that was a scaled-down working 100% correct replica of the standard M91
‘The Last Inspection” depicting Tsar Nicholas II inspecting the cossacks of the convoy at Pskov on March 15, 1917, after he abdicated. The men of the unit in many cases had been with the sovereign for decades and at that moment, was the last loyal force in the country.
“Ipatiev house after the regicide,” 2004 by Pavel Ryzhenko. Depicts the last residence of the Tsar and his family. Note the Colonel’s shoulder straps cut off on the floor. They were given to Nicholas II by his father Tsar Alexander (hence the “A”). The Tsar and his entire family were shot in the basement of the Ipatiev house on the night of July 17/18, 1918, and their bodies were buried in shallow graves.
“The Heir,” speculating as to the ultimate fate of Tsarvietch Alexei, whose body was not found until 2007, and, according to some sources, escaped execution by chance and lived on in Siberia well into the 1940s
His medium was oil on canvas, and his style one of striking realism, using direct and haunting stares from the subjects to encapsulate the moment. In many ways, he emulated the famous Russian war artist Vasili Verestchagin, who he even depicted in his last moments.
“Faith, Tsar, and Fatherland 1905 Forgotten War” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko showing Russian military artist Vasili Verestchagin aboard battleship Petropavlovsk with Admiral Makarov just before it sank. I love the sailors in the background.
The artist, however, goofed by using a well-known photo of the battleship Andrei Pervozvannyi for his warship model in the image, a vessel that didn’t reach the Russian fleet until 1911.
Russian battleship Andrei Pervozvannyi
In poor health at just age 44, he donated all of his paintings to the Russian government before he died of a stroke in the summer of 2014. He is criticized by some as being a revisionist of the Monarchist era history of the Old Russian Empire, and some of the depictions he put on canvas may never have happened, but you have to admit, he knew his way around a brush.
Ryzhenko in his studio in 2013 with “Wounded” behind him. Note that the Tsar’s face is different in the finished piece.
Ryzhenko at work on a mural. He completed several huge ones including the painting at the Minsk military park.
Currently, his paintings hang in the Russia Museum of the Armed Forces, the Russian Duma, the State Historical Museum, and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. For more information, his gallery is still online although functionality may not be what it once was following his untimely death.