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Why the picture “Unequal marriage” made a lot of noise, and how it changed society

The audience was delighted with this picture. For this work, the Imperial Academy of arts in St. Petersburg awarded the author the title of Professor (1863), critics perceived this as a victory of new trends in art over the old, but the elderly suitors, who at that time were more than enough, had a difficult time.
Theme of the picture

After the appearance of the painting “Unequal marriage” at the academic exhibition (1862), all Russia began to talk about the artist Pukirev. He began his career with the creation of a masterpiece of Russian realistic art, and later he was not able to create a work that was superior or even equal to the masterpiece “Unequal marriage”. Vasily Pukirev was called the genius of one painting. This successful work has attracted the attention of the public and sparked a passionate debate in the press.
Everyone was excited about a new and modern topic – the power of money and the author’s attitude to it. The topic of unequal marriage itself was particularly important. In February 1861, the Holy Synod even issued a Decree condemning marriages with a large age difference. Pukirev writes his picture in 1863, and it is likely that the period of writing the work is associated with the release of the Decree. At the same time, there were such near-thematic works as “bespridannitsa”, “Dubrovsky”, “Thunderstorm” and others.the author’s Attitude to the topic is clearly expressed in the figure of a young man standing behind the bride.

The picture was considered autobiographical, and the image of a young man – a self-portrait of the artist. The phenomenon of unequal marriage has different estimates. However, history says that such marriages in the past brought suffering to young girls who were forcibly married to wealthy “old men”. This theme is often present in folk songs, literary works, and art. Pukirev himself came from a peasant family, so he knew a lot about the life of ordinary people firsthand. Being a realist, the artist was concerned with the social problems of society. The picturesque creation “Unequal marriage”, which became the peak of the master’s creativity, is a striking example.

Heroes of the picture
There is a version that the plot of the picture is based on a real story about the unhappy love of comrade Pukirev-a prosperous entrepreneur S. M. Varentsov and a girl S. N. Rybnikova. However, the artist’s creative imagination was not limited to authentic facts. Pukirev deliberately portrayed the groom as an old, dry and Prim retired General, and the bride as a very young one.
For a bright emotional story, the author gave the old man a deliberately unpleasant appearance: deep wrinkles on the face, flabby skin, tightly clamped collar. Everything suggests that the official is a callous person. He is indifferent to the tears of the bride. Without turning his head to her, the groom only whispers his displeasure.

The viewer will certainly notice the hard, angular, sharp features of the hero’s face. But the young bride is the complete opposite of the groom. She has rounded features, an oval face, small lips, light brown hair with a silky Shine,soft, velvety and very young skin. She is wearing an expensive lace wedding dress with a transparent veil. Lovely flowers adorn her Golden hair and dress. The bride is incomparable! It looks especially vibrant and charming. If it weren’t for one thing. She is not happy about this marriage. The girl reluctantly extends her right hand to accept the ring from the priest.
In the right part of the picture is a young man with his arms crossed. This is a prototype of the artist himself. He looks at this unequal marriage and feels sorry for the girl. In fact, this character is the personification of injustice, pity of society. In addition to the sharp realism, Pukirev introduced another new trend to the picture: few masters of genre scenes painted characters in full size (the exception is the ancient heroes). And here

Pukirev ventured to do this, intending to make his canvas more real and shocking for the audience, to awaken the dormant public consciousness and appeal to reason. The details of the picture are written out clearly, in relief and impartially, which gives the picture a visual volume: the characters are as if alive, which you can touch. A certain mysticism is given to the canvas by the faces of old women. Unlike the other characters, they are painted in pale tones, like ghosts. It is possible that these old women were once the wives of a haughty bridegroom.
According to the second version, the painting “Unequal marriage” still depicted the artist himself. And the girl on the canvas was his failed bride-Praskovya varentsova. The girl was forcibly married to an old Prince. It is very likely that this version is true, because in 2002, a 1907 drawing was found, which depicts Praskovya varentsova. The inscription read: “Praskovya Matveevna varentsova, with whom 44 years ago the artist V. V. Pukirev painted his famous painting “Unequal marriage”. Mrs. varentsova lives in Moscow, Materinskoy the poorhouse.” The drawing and inscription prove to us both the authenticity of this version, and that Mercantile ruthless society spoiled the fate of the young girl. Her marriage to a rich old man had brought her neither happiness nor wealth.
Pukirev left a very bright mark on Russian art with one of his works. Significantly, the picture with the challenge stirred up society. As Ilya Repin pointed out, it has spoiled the blood of more than one elderly General. A well-known historian and publicist Nikolai Kostomarov refused to marry a young person.

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