by Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin
Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin was one of the most famous 19th Century Russian Realist painters and one of the first Russian artists to be widely recognized abroad. In 1864-1865 he went to the Caucasus in search of subjects for his canvas, where he encountered a variety of local peoples, including the Doukhobors of the Kedabek district of Elizavetpol province. He kept a journal and wrote down his observations, which were published in “Vassili Verestchagin: Painter-Soldier-Traveller, Autobiographical Sketches” (F. H. Peters, trans., London: R. Bentley & Son, 1887). The following excerpt provides a detailed and unique first-hand account of the Doukhobors during their early settlement in the Caucasus, and highlights their social customs, spiritual beliefs, religious services and general prosperity. It also includes a number of rare and historically important drawings by Vereshchagin of various Doukhobor subjects and scenes from the aforesaid publication and from “Voyage dans les provinces du Caucase” par Basile Vereschaguine, traduit du russe par Mme et M. Ernest le Barbier. 1864-1865. Texte et dessins inédits. Seconde Partie. – “La Transcaucasie” Le Tour du Monde (Paris), t. 19, premier semestre 1869: 315-21; 322-36. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin (1842-1904)
Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was born in the town of Cherepovets in Novgorod province, Russia into a relatively prosperous family of landowners. As the son of a nobleman, he was expected to follow a military or diplomatic career. At the age of eight, he entered the Alexander Cadet Corps, an educational institution in St. Petersburg that prepared future military officers from a very early age. Three years later, he entered the Sea Cadet Corps at St. Petersburg, making his first voyage in 1858. Vereshchagin was one of the ablest students in his class and looked to be at the outset of a promising naval career.
However, during the years of his military education, the young man developed a passion for art – viewed as a ‘lowly’ calling by his peers. Immediately upon graduating from the naval school in 1860, Vereshchagin left the service and enrolled full-time at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts to begin the study of drawing in earnest. He left the Academy four years later, dissatisfied with its classical standards and approach. The same year, in 1864, he entered the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he studied under the famous Jean Leon Gerome. But in the Paris Academy, too, classical standards were prevalent, and thus Vereshchagin soon departed, frustrated.
In search of new subjects, Vereshchagin travelled to the Caucasus in 1864-1865, where he created a series of sketches and studies devoted to the life and customs of the local people. It was his second trip, having briefly visited the Caucasus in 1863. It was at this time that he visited the Doukhobors living in the Kedabek district of Elizavetpol province, whom he sketched and wrote about in his journal.
Not far from the town of Shusha… live the Russian sectarians who were banished from Russia proper on account of their indefatigable zeal in propagating their doctrines. They live as settlers among the Armenians and Tatars; and as their villages lay but a short distance off my route, I went so far out of my way in order to visit them, to question them, and to observe them with my own eyes.
From a lofty mountain ridge we looked down into a valley in which lies the village of Slavyanka, inhabited by the Dukhobortsy (“Doukhobors”). A little further behind the mountains lie some more villages [Novo-Goreloye, Novo-Spasskoye and Novo-Troitskoye], inhabited by the same sect, but these I did not see. Presently we met some of the inhabitants returning home in large parties from their hay making, and carrying their scythes and rakes. They wear white shirts, stuck soldier-wise into their white breeches, and caps with broad peaks. Most of them had a merry air, and were talking and laughing together. When they saw me they politely raised their caps.
Water wheel in Slavyanka, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
The village lies in a hollow, by a rushing torrent that falls into the Kura [River]. The distance from Elizavetpol may be sixty versts [an Imperial Russian measure equal to 1.0668 km] or a little more. All round rise mountains, almost bare of vegetation; though in the place itself, which numbers 205 houses, and some 600 male inhabitants, there are trees and more vegetation in abundance. The Dukhobortsy came, or rather were transplanted, to this place from the Tauride [Tavria] district, whither they had been forced to migrate from the interior of Russia between 18 and 1830.
Many of their old men still remember quite well their homes in old Russia, in the districts of Tambov, Saratov and elsewhere. The first batch of these were sent here in 1840, others later. They had a hard time of it at first, as they had to take up their abode among the neighboring Armenians and Tatars, who treated them with great cruelty, constantly robbing them and sometimes going to the length of murder.
Doukhobor woman, left, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
Doukhobor woman, right, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
There are no forests in the neighbourhood, and the carriage of timber by the mountain paths is exceedingly laborious, so that they could not think at first of making a permanent settlement. Many returned to the bosom of the Orthodox Church and went back to Russia. Those who remained gradually improved their condition, and today, after five-and-twenty years, the settlements of the Dukhobortsy (four villages, if I mistake not) are so well built and well arranged as to be an object of envy to the natives of the district.
In earlier times severe measures were taken against their doctrines, and great efforts were made to prevent them from spreading; and it was with this object that the Dukhobortsy were transplanted to the mountains of Transcaucasia. The Tsar Alexander I visited them while they were still in the Tauride district, was present at their worship, and by his gracious behaviour not only left behind him a good name among the sectarians, but also improved their position in the community, which at that time was far from enviable. “It is only since his visit,” say the Dukhobortsy, “that we are looked upon as human beings and suffered to drive our cattle into the town and to buy and sell in peace. Before that, when we went among our neighbours on business, we heard nothing but insulting remarks, such as ‘You are no Christians: you are people who are not fit to show your faces among men.'” It is easy to see that the Dukhobortsy retain a vivid recollection of the persecution and insult which they formerly suffered, and that though better times came afterwards few of them would care to return to the interior of Russia.
Sketch of a Doukhobor man, Autobiographical Sketches.
The main thought of their religion may be expressed in a very few words – one God in three persons, vix. God the Father – the memory; God the Son – the understanding; God the Holy Ghost – the will: the Trinity in unity. They have no sacred books, and do not recognize the Old or the New Testament, or the writings of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church. “These books,” say they, “are written by human hands, and the work of human hands is imperfect.” Their conception of Christ is very obscure: beyond a confused notion that He is at once man and God, they have not the least idea how He lived or for what He suffered.
The sources of their knowledge of Christ are their so-called ‘Psalms of David’. These ‘Psalms’ are the only prayers in use among the Dukhobortsy; some specimens which I have collected show how absurd it is to ascribe them to David, whom they hold in high honour.
It may be that these prayers had more meaning at the time when the sect was founded; but in being handed down from father to son (for to this day they are preserved by oral tradition only) it is not to be wondered at that many words and phrases have been so corrupted as to make the most ridiculous nonsense, especially as these people can neither read nor write.
But the Dukhobortsy are convinced that these psalms have been handed down to them word for word as they came from the mouth of the Psalmist.
Their mistrust of, or rather aversion to, everything that is written sometimes leads them into strange absurdities. Besides the prophet David, for instance, there are three persons of the Old Testament whom they hold in special honour; these are Ananias, Asarias and Misael; and the reason is that these three stood still till the last moment by the cross of Christ. “The apostle Peter,” say the Dukhobortsy, “was very near to Christ, and yet denied Him: these three stood by Him.” When I remarked that these three men lived long before Christ, and therefor could not be present at his crucifixion, they answered that it was not their business to criticize, it was enough to believe what had been handed down by their fathers.
Не убоюся на Бога сположуся.”
“Fear nothing and trust in God.”
19th century Doukhobor slogan
“Is it not known to you,” said I to some old men with whom I was talking, “that besides David there are other prophets of the Old Testament who prophesized a great deal of Christ, for instance Isaiah?” “What Isaiah do you mean, little father?” was the answer. “Do you mean Abraham, or Isaac or Jacob? Who can know them all? They are many, and it is a long time since they lived.” As for the saints of the Orthodox Church, they allow that they may have been very good men, but no more.
Sketch of Doukhobor women chanting their psalms, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
The dogma of obedience to the authorities is beginning, under the stress of practical necessity, to come into force with them, and, on the other hand, the favourite dogma of the Dukhobortsy, “Fear nothing and trust in God,” is beginning to lose its significance. This reminds me of an amusing incident. One Sunday (which day the Dukhobortsy spend in idling and drinking brandy) a discharged soldier (for many men of this class are found in the sect) was cursing and swearing under my windows. I sent down my guide, a Cossack, to tell him to take his curses elsewhere. I watched from the window how my Cossack accosted him: “What do you mean by cursing and swearing here? Don’t you see that a stranger, an official, is lodging here? It is most unseemly.” The drunkard looked contemptuously at my envoy, rested his hands on his sides, and replied in a sing-song voice, “I fear thee not, but trust in God.” The Cossack made an angry gesture, and returned to me in great vexation. “It is no good speaking to him, sir; a rude fellow, as drunkards are wont to be.”
The Dukhobortsy protest that they honour the Tsar, and that it is a slander to say they do not. “It is impossible not to honour the Tsar: only, we do not call him our father as the Orthodox do.”
Their worship is extremely simple. One Sunday I was taken into a peasant’s house where the service (moleniye) was to be held. The room was such as you may see in an ordinary peasant’s house, very clean, spacious but low, with a great Russian stove, and decorated with fine towels (rushniki). It was crowded with people – the men on one side, the women on the other – the elders seated on benches, the rest standing.
They repeat the prayers in turn. When one makes a mistake the others correct him: “That is not right.” “How should it be then?” “Thus,” and then the prompter himself makes a slip, and is corrected on all hands. I observed that the mistakes are mostly made by the men: the women know the prayers better, and the corrections come chiefly from their side. The saying of the prayers lasts a considerable time, till the whole stock is exhausted, or (as more frequently happens in seasons of hard work) till the congregation shows signs of exhaustion and snoring is heard from the corners and comfortable places. Then some one suggests to the meeting that it is time to pass from praying to singing.
Doukhobors chanting their psalms at a moleniye (prayer meeting), Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
“What think you? It is close here: shall we not go into the courtyard and sing?” All turn out into the court, and the men again take their places on one side, the women on the other. This custom is strictly observed, for it is counted as obedience to the precept “During prayer have God’s image before thee.” The singing also lasts a long time, and is always in such a sad and pensive strain as to make one quite melancholy; one’s thoughts turn to the distant home – to the Volga and the Burlaks with their songs. At the head of the men stands a precentor who begins each psalm. In the village of Slavyanka this post of honour was held by an old man, who often came to chat with me, and never came empty handed: one day he would bring a piece of honeycomb, another day some fresh cucumbers; and I, on my side, never failed to slip into his pocket a handful of cigarettes, which which, as I heard, he made a great display before the neighbours. “All these the Government official gave me, to show his respect for me.” Often he alluded complacently to the importance of his office – “It is not everyone that is equal to it: one must have a calling to it.” Only the precentor and perhaps a few others keep to the words in singing; the rest merely make meaningless sounds.
Sketch of Doukhobor men chanting their psalms, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
Before the end of the service the congregation form a semicircle, bow, and kiss each other, the men passing in turn along the men’s ranks, and the women doing the same on their side. They grasp each other by the right hand, bow twice, kiss, and again bow twice. A final and more profound bow is made by the men in the direction of the women, and by the women in the direction of the men. The bows look very awkward, and are made rather to one side. Each member of the congregation goes through this ceremony with every other member, without any distinction of age. But I did not see any very small children at these services. The singing goes on during the salutation; as soon as it is finished, they put on their caps and all go to their houses.
I wrote down their psalms as dictated to me by members of the sect – some old, some young. Both the old and the young, but especially the old, have a very imperfect understanding of what they say, and gabble the words off by rote without any regard to the sense. If I asked them to explain a passage the old men would answer, “Who can understand it? The wisdom of God is hard to grasp” or “God knows, I know not. So prayed our fathers before us, so pray we and teach our children to pray. As for what it means, we leave that to God.”
I did also get some explanations, but they were mostly very obscure, and it was impossible not to remark that likeness in the sound of words and phrases was taken for identity of meaning. When they are repeating their psalms, if they forget a word they at once get confused and have to go back to the beginning.
It also sometimes happens that a good Dukhobortsy leaves out a long piece in the middle of a prayer and is not conscious of the omission till he comes to the end. After a little reflection he will say, “I seem to have left out something, for I have come to the end too soon.” Sometimes he will notice the omission at once. “No, that is not it. Read, please, what you have written down there.” I read “and we become partakers of the holy communion of the divine, the life-giving…” “Yes, yes. Now write ‘Saviour’, ” and he begins to gabble through the words by rote, “the divine, the life-giving Saviour – the divine, the life-giving” – add “the immortal”. How does it go on? To make sure I am forgetting nothing, read it right through again from the beginning.”
When they are saying their prayers together of course this does not happen, because each mistake is at once corrected by those present. They have prayers not only on Sunday but also on week-days, late in the evening when their work is done, especially on Saturday.
It is strange that the Dukhobortsy, with their sound common sense, should ascribe their psalms to the prophet David, seeing that the greater part of them contain the plainest allusions to the time and the circumstances of the foundation and development of their sect. As an instance of this I here give a prayer or psalm which serves as a sort of catechism of the doctrine of the Dukhobortsy. I repeat that I wrote it down word for word as it was dictated to me:
“The God whom we serve in the spirit we glorify in Jesus Christ. The spirit was given to us; of the spirit we partake, and are of good cheer. We believe in the universal almighty God, Creator of the heavens, and the earth, and the bright light. In Him we believe. We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We pray to God in the spirit: in the true spirit we pray, and to the true God. With my voice I call upon God, and with my voice I pray to God. we make confession to our heavenly Father, for He is gracious, His goodness is everlasting; and as our sins are remitted we receive the holy, divine agonizing, life-giving communion of the immortal Jesus to the forgiveness of sins. We go into the church of God, into the only holy apostolic cathedral, where the true Christians are gathered together. We have an upright and honourable priest, not a false and wicked one, who is set apart from sinners. The mother of God we name and venerate, for she bore Jesus Christ to the forgiveness of the sins of Adam. We honour and emulate the saints. We adore the holy picture of God, the priceless picture of God, the holy picture, which sings and speaks: true pictures of saints, unlike written parchments, made by the Son of the Father and of the Holy Ghost.
The Tsar we hold in honour: God save the Tsar! Hear us, O God! We observe the fasts – continence in thought. Keep me away from all evil, from murmuring with my lips, from sudden death, from incontinence. Take away from me all untruth. We have marriage, an institution of eternal welfare, wherein we make ourselves sure. Into a church built with hands we will not go. The painted images of saints we do not adore, for in them we see no holiness and no saving virtue. Therefore we practice not the laying on of hands, but turn to the word of God, the life-giving cross. To our God is all honour due!”
After I had written down the psalms, of which the above is a specimen, I read them to various members of the sect in order to make quite sure that they had been given to me correctly. All assured me that, with some unimportant exceptions, what I had taken down agreed with the tradition as known to them.
These same Dukhobortsy, who glorify God and their faith in this wise, live an honest, reasonable, and prosperous life. These qualities, indeed, they share with other religious communities that have been banished and forgotten, such as the Molokans, the Subbotniks, and the Skoptsi in Transcaucasia. But, being acquainted with the Molokans as well as the Dukhobortsy, I place the latter far higher than the former in respect of morality. For instance, among the Molokans the use of wine and tobacco is forbidden, and they do not take either in public; but in private they indulge in these forbidden pleasures. The Dukhobortsy, on the other hand, openly drink and smoke and grow tobacco. The Molokans are not averse to cheating, or even to stealing when the opportunity occurs; with the Dukhobortsy, on the contrary, acts of this kind are so rare that you might count them upon your fingers. It is remarkable that the Dukhobortsy regard the Molokans as apostates from Dukhoborism, while the Molokans declare that the Dukhobortsy are apostates from Molokanism. Probably the Molokans are right. The two sects hate each other. “Godless creatures, worse than dogs,” say the Molokans of the Dukhobortsy, who in their turn, say of the Molokans, “Are they human beings?”
With regard to myself and my occupations the Dukhobortsy showed much less distrust than the Molokans, who apparently persisted in believing that my visit had secret inquiries for its purpose, and their transference to Siberia for its probable result. The Dukhobortsy, indeed, were not at once ready to talk. “You question us about this and that,” said an old Dukhobortsy to me, “but you have not yet told us who you are.” “Why do you want to know that?” “So that we may know what we may say to you and what me may not. We want to know whether you are an official or not, whether you are a noble or a simple gentleman, and by what name we are to call you.” I explained as simply and clearly as I could that I was nothing but a traveller who wanted to see what sort of life is led by Russians, Tatars and Armenians.
Sketch of a Doukhobor woman, Autobiographical Sketches.
“You live in the mountains,” I said, “and it is seldom that anyone comes to you, or that you leave your villages. Hence various rumours about you are spread abroad, and I wanted to ascertain what was true in these rumours and what was false.” Some seemed to understand my motive, and nodded their heads in assent: “So it is, indeed; much nonsense is talked about us.” There were even some “politicians” among them who thanked me for the honour I did them by my questions.
As I have already mentioned, the Dukhobortsy have no books and keep no kind of records. The old men cannot read, and do not get their children taught, for they consider such knowledge superfluous for peasants. The only exceptions are the clerks to the village governments, who are generally discharged soldiers that know how to read.
When I learned about this systematic ignorance (for so it may be called), I saw that an old man had not been joking when he asked me to reckon how old he was now, having been a boy of fourteen when he moved with his father from the Government of Tambov into the Taurus district in the year 1822. “I have long been trying,” he said, “to find this out; but there is no one here whom one could ask.” When my old friend learned that I had travelled a great deal he would have me tell him where the sun goes to rest. “Is there, he asked me several times, “Is there, then, no place at all where the sun rests?”
I wanted to know where the men’s dress came from. In answer to my questions the Dukhobortsy said theirs was a genuine Russian costume; but it is not found anywhere in Russia. As to their long and broad trousers, there may be truth in what they say; but what is the origin of the short archaluk (“jacket”), embroidered in soldier fashion, with a stand-up collar, which is always fastened with hooks, as among the Cossacks? This archaluk is worn by all without exception.
The women wear the ordinary Russian dress, but their head-dress is shaped like a sugar loaf, and has a kerchief or piece of stuff tied round it with the ends hanging down. The houses of the Dukhobortsy are like the peasant’s houses of Southern Russia. On the outside they are decorated with wood carvings representing a little horse, a man on horseback, a cock, etc; the interior is always extraordinarily clean; the walls neatly adorned with embroidered towels, samplers, popular pictures and other knick-knacks.
Their carts are very like those I was in East Prussia – great ladder wagons, ie. with the sides not made of solid boards, but of rails sloping outwards. A telega (“wagon”) of this kind will hold twenty persons, and even a twenty-first can find a corner.
Doukhobor wagon, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.
The village abounds in beehives, and a good bee master will make as much as a hundred rubles a year out of his honey. Besides honey they sell yarn and linen cloth, and in good years other products, especially potatoes and corn.
The soil is somewhat stony, but nevertheless bears good crops. They sow oats which yield ten-fold, or even fifteen fold; wheat and barley do not succeed so well as oats; buckwheat does well; millet, again, not so well. They also grow good crops of spelt. From hemp seed they extract an oil which they use for food, and also bring to market. Their potatoes and linseed are nothing to boast of.
Sketch of Doukhobor merino sheep, Vereshchagin, Autobiographical Sketches.
The Dukhobortsy in the village of Slavyanka, with 205 houses, have about 7,000 head of cattle. Their horned cattle, a cross between the native and the Black Sea breeds, have a splendid appearance. Their sheep, too, which they call shpanki, and which probably come from Spain or the south of France, deserve notice: their wool fetches from eight to nine rubles the pud, while the natives in the neighbourhood only get three, four or five rubles for theirs.
It is evident that the Dukhobortsy are thriving; it is only of their neighbours that they complain. About these neighbours – ie. the Tatars and the Armenians – they express themselves in very severe terms.
The only difference between them is that the Tatars have recourse to robbery and murder, while the Armenians deceive you and cheat you on every opportunity. There is no end to their tales of robbery and murder.
“It is only since the arrival of the new governor of the district,” say the Dukhobortsy, “that we have begun to live in any tolerable manner; before that we had no chance against the Tatars. They robbed us in open day; they would seize you, bind your hands behind your back, and hold a dagger to your throat while others drove off the cattle. It is useless to think of getting satisfaction or appealing to the law; if you do, you are summoned before the court from your work just when the day is worth a ruble, and have to go into the town merely to learn that the thieves have not been discovered. “So sign this paper, little brother, so that we may have no more charges brought on this score.” And there the matter ends. When you undertake a journey, your friends do not know whether they will ever see you again; and if you come back safe from even the shortest excursion you say, “The Lord be praised!” If a night passes quietly, without a single theft being committed, we all thank God and think, “Perhaps we shall get through the day too without any misadventure.”
On August 10, 1865, while en route from the town of Shusha to the town of Kazakh in Elizavetpol province, Vereshchagin passed through the Doukhobor village of Slavyanka. He stopped there for several days, during which time he conversed with his Doukhobor hosts, visited their homes, sketched a number of subjects and scenes, and observed their state of affairs and way of life.
The Russian painter found a population of 600 male Doukhobors living in 205 households in Slavyanka in 1865. Presumably, there was comparable number of female Doukhobors living there at the time.
Vereshchagin noted that the mountain lowlands of Slavyanka had a temperate climate and fertile soil with trees and vegetation in abundance. Having arrived there from Tavria twenty years earlier, the Doukhobors, through hard work and diligence, had adapted to their surroundings and become “thriving” and “prosperous”. Their homes were finely decorated and extraordinarily clean. They built flour mills (sketched by Vereshchagin), kept an abundance of beehives, maintained a herd of 7,000 cattle as well as extensive herds of sheep (sketched by Vereshchagin), planted sizeable grain fields, pasturage and market gardens, and operated oil presses. They also engaged in the cartage trade (their wagons were sketched by Vereshchagin) and marketed their surplus grain (oats, wheat, barley, buckwheat, linseed, hemp, millet and spelt), vegetables (potatoes and corn) and honey as well as yarn and linen cloth. Indeed, the Doukhobor settlement of Slavyanka was “so well built and arranged as to be an object of envy” of all their neighbours. Few, if any, would have cared to return to Central Russia from whence they came.
The Doukhobors complained only of their neighbours – the native Tatars and Armenians – who treated them with great cruelty, constantly robbing them and sometimes going to the length of murder. Until recently, the local Tsarist administration had proven ineffective in protecting the Doukhobors; however, under the new district governor, peace and order had begun to prevail.
Vereshchagin made note of the distinctive form of Doukhobor dress, which he was told was a “genuine Russian costume” yet was not found anywhere else in Russia. The men (sketched by Vereschagin) wore white shirts, stuck soldier-wise into their long and broad trousers, with a short, embroidered jacket with a stand-up collar, and caps with broad peaks. The women (sketched by Vereshchagin) wore ordinary Russian dress, but had a unique head-dress shaped like a sugar loaf, with a kerchief tied round it with the ends hanging down.
The Russian painter wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors’ simple, honest way of life as well as their general morality, noting that acts of theft and cheating were virtually unheard of. He noted, however, that the Doukhobors’ growing material prosperity had resulted in a softening of their religious principles. For instance, they were more obedient to Tsarist authorities than they had been in past generations. They had also abandoned their strict prohibitions against drinking, smoking and swearing. They recited their prayers by rote, with little understanding of their spiritual meaning, and when asked to explain them, gave only obscure answers. Moreover, some of the prayers, handed down orally over the generations, had been so corrupted “as to make the most ridiculous nonsense”; this was no doubt exacerbated by the systemic illiteracy among the Doukhobors, who kept no books or records.
Vereshchagin gave a concise summary of Doukhobor religious philosophy, which rejected church institutions, sacraments, sacred books, icons, saints and clergy in favour of a simple, individual-based religion founded on egalitarianism, love and compassion. He noted the Doukhobor belief in the indwelling of God in every person, as well as their figurative, rather than literal, interpretation of the Trinity – God the Father – memory; God the Son – understanding; God the Holy Ghost – will.
Vereshchagin described the Doukhobor form of worship in extensive detail. On Sundays, the service was held in a peasant’s house. The men stood on one side of the room and the women on the other. They repeated their prayers in turn, correcting each other when one made a mistake. After a considerable time, the congregation went outside into the courtyard, where the men again took their places on one side, and the women on the other. An elder stood at the head of the men, who then led the congregation in singing. The sad, melancholy strains of the Doukhobor psalms made a profound impression. After some time, the congregation then formed a semicircle, bowing and kissing each other, the men passing along the men’s ranks, and the women doing the same on their side, all the while continuing their singing. Once this was finished, the service is over and the congregation returned to their homes.
Vereshchagin’s impressions of the Doukhobors, through his writings and sketches, are among the few rare sources of detailed published information about them in the two decades following their settlement in the Caucasus. As such, his work is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this little-known, little-document period of their history.
As for Vereshchagin himself, he returned to the Paris Salon in 1866 to exhibit his very first drawing, which, quite fittingly, was “Doukhobors Chanting their Psalms”. The next year, he accompanied the Russian military expedition to Turkestan, where he was granted the rank of ensign and was awarded the Cross of St. George for his heroism at the siege of Samarkand. He was an indefatigable traveler, returning to St. Petersburg in late 1868, to Paris in 1869, back to St. Petersburg later in the year, and then back to Turkestan at the end 1869 via Siberia. In 1871, he established an atelier in Munich, and made a sole exhibition of his works at the Crystal Palace in London in 1873. He made another exhibition of his works in St. Petersburg in 1874. Later that year, he departed for an extensive tour of the Himalayas, India and Tibet, returning to Paris in 1876. With the start of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), Vereshchagin left Paris and returned to active service with the Imperial Russian Army. Thereafter, he settled at Munich, where he produced a series of sensational works aimed at promoting peace through representing the horrors of war. In 1882-1883, he again traveled to India, followed by Syria and Palestine in 1884. Vereshchagin was in the Far East during the First Sino-Japanese War, with the American troops in the Philippines, and with the Russian troops in Manchuria. During the Russo-Japanese War, he he sailed aboard the Russian flagship, Petropavlovsk, which on April 13, 1904, struck two mines and sank, taking down with it most of the crew including Vereshchagin.
Remarkably, almost eighty years later, there were still Doukhobors alive who were able to recall Vereschagin’s visit to Slavyanka. In his book, Dukhobortsi: Ikh Istoria, Zhizn I Borba (Regehr, North Kildonan, 1948), Doukhobor historian and philosopher Peter N. Maloff (1900-1970) retells his grandmother Malasha I. Maloff’s (1856-1943) recollections about the Russian artist’s visit to her village:
Many years later, a little before her death, I was reading her a booklet by a well-known writer, V.V. Vereshchagin, under the title of “Doukhobors and Molokans’. As she listened, she suddenly became transported with delight, as though she recalled something from the distant past. “My god!” she exclaimed, “this happened at our home, in Slavyanka. Right after [actually, before] the Turkish war, my father-in-law brought him from Ganzha, a clean, attractive gentleman he was. He stayed with us for several days. He heard some Doukhobors singing at our neighbours’ at a funeral and said: “I would like to hear some more of your singing.” Then the melodious Agafonovs took him to their home and, gathering the Slavyanka choir together, sang for him for several days. We had real singers there: Mavrunya and Masha Strelyaev, the Nichvolodovs, the Konkins and many others. Heavens! Who ever thought that he was going to write a book about us.
Today, over twelve sketches of the Doukhobors, drawn by Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin in 1865, are kept at the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow, Russia.
To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “Vassili Verestchagin: Painter-Soldier-Traveller, Autobiographical Sketches” by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (F.H. Peters, trans., London: Bentley, 1887), visit the Google Book Search digital database.