Conveying the Reality of War: Vasily Vereshchagin -
"The greatest painter of the horrors of war that ever lived"
The 10th International Conference of Museums for Peace
Title: Conveying the Reality of War: Vasily Vereshchagin - "The greatest painter of the horrors of war that ever lived"
Author: Peter van den Dungen, Bertha von Suttner Peace Institute
Abstract: Peace and anti-war museums often use art to educate - celebrating peace and nonviolence and condemning war and weapons. There is a rich legacy to draw upon, not least as regards painting. The Russian Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904) has often been compared to Leo Tolstoy for the greatness of his depictions of the horrors and miseries of war. Trained as a soldier, he participated in several wars so as to be close to the action and lost his life on board a battleship during the Russo-Japanese War. Unusually, he did not paint scenes of actual fighting but all the hardships associated with it and army life. His numerous exhibitions throughout Europe and the USA from the 1870s onwards were spectacularly successful. Sometimes authorities forbade soldiers and youngsters from entering because the gruesome reality of war would turn them against the army. He was not only a soldier and painter, but also a traveller (he spent, e.g., two years in India - painting the brutal British colonial rule, and scenes inspiring affection for the country and its people), prolific writer, and fine ethnographer. Next year sees the 150th anniversary of his most famous painting, "The Apotheosis of War", a copy of which belongs in every peace museum.