I picture extremely disagreeable weather at the end of the day and a majestic, splendid, divine snowfall of such beauty that it takes your breath away. A snowfall is more beautiful than a vulgar rainbow or sunrises and sunsets.
The enduring popularity of Vasily Sitnikov testifies to the artist’s talent and continuing relevance. Andrey Zagadsky’s 2002 documentary ‘Vasya’ illuminates the artist’s inimitable thirst for life but in detailing the popularity Sitnikov enjoyed with the ex-pat community in Soviet Russia, one might have expected Sitnikov’s work to have vanished in the absence of his irresistible persona. In fact, Sitnikov’s work has achieved significant commercial success and artistic recognition posthumously, thanks in no small part to a major solo exhibition of his work in Moscow in 2009, which successfully showcased works spanning his career.
The popularity of his ‘Monastery’ and ‘Kremlin’ paintings with foreigners living in and visiting Moscow provoked Sitnikov to produce more, many of which his students painted parts of to varying degrees. As such, Sitnikov’s inscription on the obverse ‘to Anna-Maria Collor from Vasya and Lilia’ (the artist’s wife at the time, Lidiia Krokhina), which denotes this painting as a gift is all the more affecting.
Despite his incarceration first in jail and then in a psychiatric institute, Sitnikov’s contemporaries are consistent in their description of the artist’s energy and enthusiasm; Vladimir Titov describes his metre-wide steps devouring the pavement and the way in which he ascended the escalator, leaping the steps two at a time (quoted in Vasilii Sitnikov i ego shkola [and his school], St Petersburg, 2009, p. 25).
Kremlin under the snow is characteristically ripe with humour and fantasy as the various personages are engaged in all sorts of activities: from grandparents walking mischievous grandchildren to persevering tourists manically taking photos of what Russia has to offer; and housewives rushing home with full bags of groceries. In the lower right of the composition, Sitnikov includes a self-portrait, picturing himself sketching the diverse crowd while leaning with his back against a church wall and covering his head from a snow flurry with a traditional Russian ushanka.
A quick glance at the fantastic photographs of Sitnikov in his studio beaming, contorting, and grimacing convey Sitnikov’s raw kinetic energy (indeed his students were forbidden from working sitting down); however, in this painting Sitnikov chooses to present himself differently. As such the self-portrait serves to confirm what is logically inescapable; an artist with such a powerful ability to control perspective and convey character is inevitably sometimes the quiet observer.