Vasilii Vereshchagin (1842-1904) had a passion for travel and exploration, coupled with an extraordinary talent to capture all that he saw with remarkable precision. This impulsive and spontaneous artist spent most of his life travelling; often not knowing where he would find himself the next day. During his life he lived in St Petersburg, Tashkent, Munich, Paris and Moscow and travelled throughout Russia, Europe, the Caucasus, Turkistan, India, Palestine, the Philippines, Cuba, America and Japan. As an officer in the Russian army, Vereshchagin also took part in a number of military campaigns abroad.
Vereshchagin perceived the world as a home for all nations. As an artist, he valued photographic accuracy and as such he believed in painting en plein air. For Vereshchagin, painting something that he had not seen in person was like an orator speaking with conviction about something that he knew nothing about.
Following the success of his Turkistan series, Vereshchagin left Russia in April 1874 and travelled to India where he was to spend two years. He visited Bombay, Agra, Delhi, Jaipur and Kashmir and spent three months in the Himalayas where he was inspired by the originality of the native culture. After the Turkmen steppes, India seemed exotic and lavish in both colour and texture. During these two years he completed over 150 studies, many of which formed the basis of larger compositions.
Vereshchagin became transfixed by the region with its dramatic mountain ranges and the blinding brightness of its snow. He decided to travel to Sikkim in the Himalayas and ascend the Jongri peak of the mountain Kangchenjunga (Kanchinjinga), the third highest mountain in the world with an altitude of 8,586 meters. The name means 'The Five Treasures of Snow'; the five treasures being its five peaks. Due to its remote location, it is rarely explored. However, the hill station of Darjeeling, which the artist visited, affords a stunning view of Kangchenjunga.
Vereshchagin achieved the height of his en plein air painting during this period. He concentrated on capturing the effects of light, air and the extreme weather, which was at times scorching and humid, and at others dry and cold. This new style was revolutionary for Russian art in general, as most artists kept to the conventional means of using shadows to capture atmospheric effects.
The artist's ascent of Kanchenjunga started in January, when snow storms and avalanches were most common. Accompanied by his wife, Elizaveta Kondratyevna, and two local guides, Vereshchagin aimed to reach a hut 5000 meters above sea level. The higher they climbed, the deeper the snow became. It was not long before their supplies of food ran out, their matches were wet and the travellers slowly began to freeze. The artist sent his guides one-by-one to bring more food and blankets. The following evening only one returned. By the time they reached their destination, the artist was so weak and frozen he could no longer walk and his wife's eyes were damaged by the brightness of the snow. They only spent three days on the mountain. Vereshchagin was so weak that he had to be carried to the easel, yet he produced some of his most fantastic studies of the mountains. The present work appears to be from this series and captures the majesty and splendour of the location through its realistic portrayal of the breathtaking landscape.