Vasilii Shukhaev (1887-1973) was a painter, graphic artist, theatre designer and an art professor. Renowned for his refined drawing technique he was particularly noted for his portraits both in Russia and in Europe.
Born into a working class family he lost his parents at a young age. His natural artistic talent allowed him to enrol in the Stroganov School in Moscow, where he studied from 1897 to 1905. Than he continued his education at the prestigious Higher Artistic School of the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg from 1906 to 1912 under Dmitry Kardovksy, a professor who cultivated amongst his students the art of fine draughtsmanship and Repin's treatment of palette. During his student days he befriended his fellow student Aleksander Iakovlev and they worked together for years, developing the Russian painting school of Neoclassicism.
In the 1910s he executed a number of stylized Renaissance portraits and together with Iakovlev founded The Painting Workshop of St Luke to revive the paintly technique of the Old Masters. In 1920 he left Soviet Russia and went to Finland, where he worked on landscapes and portraits in a small border village of Mustamyaki (now in Russian Federation).This series featuring the Finnish countryside, from which the present work belongs, is marked by a restricted brown palette, sharp dramatic shapes, such us leafless trees stretching into the grey sky and sharp, thorny forms of the roof tops. Almost theatrical, these landscapes are reminiscent of stage sets and the lack of human presence further underlines this.
It is clear that the artist felt out of place in Finland, away from his friends and European artistic live. In a letter to a friend he wrote: In 1920 we found ourselves in Finland. Then I've learned that Iakovlev was in Paris and I've written to him at once. He tried to arrange French visas for us. While we were students in Rome it was our dream to continue our artistic development in Paris (letter to I.G. Myamlin, 8 February 1963).
While in Paris, Shukhaev actively exhibited his paintings and worked on his portraits and genre paintings, stage and film designs and book illustrations. In 1935 he decided to return to Russia. He moved to Leningrad and in 1937 was arrested as were many other repatriates for falsely incriminated 'counter-revolutionary activities'. He was sent to Magadan in 1939 where he lived in exile till 1947. The rest of his life he spent in Tbilisi where he worked and taught at the Academy of Arts.