Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov (May 24, 1830 – October 8, 1897) was a Russian landscape painter and  creator of the lyrical landscape style.

Savrasov was born into the family of a merchant. He began to draw early and in 1838 he enrolled as a student of professor Karl Rabus (1800-1857) at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (MSPSA). He graduated in 1850 and immediately began to specialize in landscape painting.

In 1852, he traveled to Ukraine. Then, in 1854 by the invitation of the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolayevna, President of the Imperal Academy of Arts, he moved to the neighborhood of St. Petersburg.

Portrait of Alexei Savrasov by Vasily Perov

In 1857, Savrasov became a teacher at the MSPSA. His best students, Isaac Levitan and Konstantin Korovin, remembered their teacher with admiration and gratitude.

In 1857, he married Sophia Karlovna Hertz, sister of the art historian Karl Hertz (1820-1883). In their home they entertained artistic people and collectors including Pavel Tretyakov. Savrasov became especially close with Vasily Perov. Perov helped him paint the figures of the boat trackers in Savrasov’s Volga near Yuryevets, Savrasov painted landscapes for Perov’s Bird Catcher and Hunters on Bivouac.

In the 1860s, he traveled to England to see the International Exhibition, and to Switzerland. In one of his letters he wrote that no academies in the world could so advance an artist as the present world exhibition. The painters who influenced him most were British painter John Constable and Swiss painter Alexandre Calame.

Alexei Savrasov, Creator of the Lyrical Landscape Style

The Rooks Have Come Back (1871) is considered by many critics to be the high point in Savrasov’s artistic career. Using a common, even trivial, episode of birds returning home, and an extremely simple landscape, Savrasov emotionally showed the transition of nature from winter to spring. It was a new type of lyrical landscape painting, called later by critics the mood landscape. The painting brought him fame.

In 1870, he became a member of the Peredvizhniki group, breaking with government-sponsored academic art.

Alexei Savrasov Rye Field

In the late 1870s, he gradually became an alcoholic. The process may have begun with the death of his daughter in 1871, which led to a crisis in his art and, possibly, dissatisfaction with his artistic career. In 1882, he was dismissed from his position at the MSPSA. All attempts of his relatives and friends to help him were in vain.

His work suffered dramatically and the last years of his life were spent in poverty. He was usually drunk and often dressed in rags. Finally, he found himself wandering from shelter to shelter. Only the doorkeeper of the MSPSA and Pavel Tretyakov, founder of the Tretyakov Gallery, were present at his funeral in 1897.

Selected works

The Rooks Have Come Back was painted by Savrasov near Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma.

This painting, Savrasov’s most famous, is one of the best examples of poetic realism in landscape art.

The theme is very modest: Savrasov shows a dull spring day with some small curved birch trees, a tiny church badly in need of fresh paint, rooks heralding the spring with cawing, and dark earth beginning to show under the melting snow.

The whole of nature is awaiting the renewal of life that comes with spring. Behind this thoroughly familiar corner of Central Russia is a vast panorama showing a flat valley and a river showing through the ice. The sunlight breaking through the cloud cover enlivens the whole landscape.

This masterpiece of Russian painting introduces the theme of harmony between nature and the moods of man, a theme also depicted by Levitan in his country paintings, which show evidence of the painter’s emotions. Savrasov was one of the first to choose the path of artistic comprehension of reality. He was criticized by some who felt that his interpretation of painting was too prosaic. In fact, what he was attempting was to unite the “truth of life” and the “poetry of art.”