Nikolai Ge

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Nikolai Ge - A life
1890. Nikolaj Alexandrowitsch Jaroschenko 009.jpg
Article title (Nikolai Ge)
Born 27 February [O.S. 15 February] 1831
Voronezh Governorate,
Russian Empire
Died 13 June [O.S. 1 June] 1894
Chernigov Governorate,
Russian Empire
Education First Kiev Gymnasium
Known for Painting
Movement Russian symbolism
Quod Est Veritas? Christ and Pilate
Christ praying in Gethsemane, 1888

Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (from his French ancestral surname "De Gay") (Russian: Николай Николаевич Ге, lang-uk, translit. Мико́ла Микола́йович Ґе; 27 February [O.S. 15 February] 1831 – 13 June [O.S. 1 June] 1894) was a Ukrainiann realist painter and an early Ukrainian symbolist. He was famous for his works on historical and religious motifs.

Early life and education[edit]

Nikolai Ge was born in Voronezh to a Ukrainian noble family of French origin, his grandfather immigrated to Russian Empire during the 18th century. His grandfather, Osip Ge, married Daria Korostovtseva, the daughter of the Poltava landowner Yakov Korostovtsev, the father of the artist Nikolai Osipovich Ge was married twice. After the death of his first wife Elena Sadovska (mother of the artist), the family moved to his father's estate in the village Popelyuhy, Podolia Governorate (now Vinnytsia Oblast), where his father, Nikolai Osipovich, dedicated himself to agriculture in order to leave an inheritance to his sons. In 1840, a nine-year-old boy was taken to Kyiv and Ge was raised by a serf nurse, he graduated from the First Kyiv Gymnasium and then went on to study at the physics and mathematics at Kyiv University and Saint Petersburg University.

Career as an artist[edit]

In 1850, Ge gave up his career in science and enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, he studied under the guidance of master painter Pyotr Basin. In 1857, he graduated from the Academy where he received a gold medal for his painting, The Witch of Endor Invoking the Spirit of the Prophet Samuel. According to Ge, during that period he was strongly influenced by Karl Briullov.

The gold medal secured a scholarship for Ge to study abroad, he visited Germany, Switzerland and France. In 1860 he settled in Italy. Ge met Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov in Rome, a strongly influence on him.

In 1861, Ge painted The Last Supper using a photograph of Levitsky's cousin, Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen taken by Russian photographer Sergei Lvovich Levitsky as an image for his central figure of Christ.

Ge recounted, "I wanted to go to London to paint Herzen's portrait" [...] and he responded to my request with a large portrait by Mr. Levitsky." The final painting's similarity between the pose of Levitsky's photo of Herzen and Ge's pose of the painted Christ led the press of the day to hail the painting as "a triumph of materialism and nihilism".

This was the first known occasion on which photography was used as the main source for a central character in a painting and speaks to the deep influences that photography would have later on in art and movements like French Impressionism.

The painting (first purchased by Tsar Alexander II of Russia) made such a strong impression when it was shown in Saint Petersburg in 1863 that Ge was made a professor of Imperial Academy of Arts.

In 1864, Ge returned to Florence and painted not only Herzen's portrait but also the Messengers of the Resurrection and the first version of Christ on the Mount of Olives, the new paintings were not much of a success and the Imperial Academy refused to exhibit them in its annual exhibition.

In 1870, Ge again returned to Saint Petersburg where he turned to Russian history for subject matter, the painting Peter the Great Interrogates Tsarevich Alexey at Peterhof (1871) was a great success, but his other historical paintings were met with little to no interest. Ge wrote that a man should live off of farming and art should not be for sale, he bought a small khutor (farm) in Chernigov gubernia (currently Ukraine) and moved there. Ge became acquainted with Leo Tolstoy around this time and became a follower of his philosophy.

In the early 1880s, he returned to producing religious paintings and portraits, he claimed that everyone had the right to have a personal portrait and agreed to work for whatever low commission the subject could afford. Among his portraits of the later portion of his artistic career, was a portrait of Tolstoy, a portrait of Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, and a painting of Judas from the Bible.

His later paintings on New Testament subjects during that period were praised by liberal critics like Vladimir Stasov and criticized by conservatives for illustrating Ernest Renan rather than the New Testament, and forbidden by authorities for blasphemy. Quod Est Veritas? Christ and Pilate (1890) was banned from an exhibition; The Judgment of the Sanhedrin: He is Guilty! (1892) was not admitted to the annual Academy of Arts exhibition; The Calvary (Golgotha) (1893) remained unfinished; The Crucifixion (1894) was banned by Tsar Alexander III.

Death and posthumous recognition[edit]

Ge died on his farm in 1894, the fate of many of his works remains a mystery. Upon his death, Ge bequeathed all of his works to his Swiss benefactress, Beatrice de Vattville in exchange for a small stipend from her during his lifetime. When she died in 1952, none of Ge's works was found in her castle, among the lost works is Ge's supposedly magnum opus painting The Crucifixion.

Ge's drawings were later discovered by art collectors in Swiss second-hand stores as late as 1974.[1] Many "were acquired by a young collector, Christoph Bolman [...] he had no idea of their origin, simply recognizing their value. Only some 15 years later, when he was visited during the Perestroika by Soviet acquaintances, did the attribution become clear. Negotiations for their acquisition and return to Russia – as a full collection, rather than sold off in parts – failed repeatedly during the 1990s, they were only concluded in 2011, after the Tretyakov Gallery was able to arrange sponsorship from a Russian state bank to purchase them for donation to the gallery's permanent collection."[2]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Николай Николаевич Ге: Из 'Библиологического словаря' священника Александра Меня [Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge: From the 'Bibliographical Dictionary' of the priest Alexander Men] (in Russian). Retrieved 9 August 2017. 
  2. ^ Birchenough, Tom (6 November 2011). "theartsdesk in Moscow: Nikolai Ge at the Tretyakov Gallery". Retrieved 9 August 2017. 


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