Толстовец before-the-letter

N. N. Ge

“Ge met N. L. Tolstoy in 1882. This acquaintance, which turned into a close friendship, left a deep mark on the work of the last years of the artist’s life. Tolstoy’s influence on Ge is not limited to the moral interpretation of biblical texts and the preaching of moral self-improvement. It is also revealed in the deep psychology of the portraits of this period. Written with great artistic power, they personify the artist’s faith in man and show his creative potential.

By 1884, there is a “portrait of the writer Tolstoy” (Tretyakov Gallery), written in the study of his house in Khamovniki, when Tolstoy was working on the book “What is my faith?” This creative process was reproduced by Ge in a portrait, he created a portrait painting, like many Russian artists of those years.

Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (1831 – 1894) was one of the most original Russian painters. His great-grandfather (Gay) immigrated from France at the end of the 1863th century. After a number of great successes – especially the painting “The Last Supper” (1875) – Ge experienced a deep creative crisis in XNUMX. He renounced art and continued to deal with issues of religion and morality. He bought a small farm in Ukraine, near Chernigov, and tried to live by rural labor: after all, art, as he now said, cannot serve as a means of life, it cannot be traded.

Friendship between Ge and Tolstoy began in 1882. That year, Ge accidentally read Tolstoy’s article in the newspapers about the “population census” in Moscow. Having visited the cellars and seeing the unfortunate in them, Tolstoy wrote: “Our dislike for the lower ones is the reason for their poor condition.” This phrase electrified Ge, he went to Moscow, lived there for more than a month and visited Tolstoy every day. He began to portray Tolstoy and his family. Subsequently, he visited him several times in Yasnaya Polyana; they became close, among other things, for the reason that after writing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy himself experienced a deep life crisis and a strong process of rebirth. They corresponded, exchanged plans. Ge consulted with Tolstoy about his work and followed his advice to express simple Christianity in his paintings, generally understood and needed by people.

Ge became a very early Tolstoyan. He tried to follow all the teachings of Tolstoy in the arrangement of his personal life. He began to work physically, laying stoves for his neighbors. “Having worked this way all day, N.N. still hardly ate. At this time, he became a vegetarian (before he almost exclusively ate beef) and even intensely desired to eat what he did not like: for example, he liked buckwheat porridge, and therefore ate millet, all this with vegetable oil, or without oil at all. However, later, little by little, all these exaggerations ceased. Tolstoy makes an entry in his diary that Ge (“grandfather”) said: one should not “force others to serve oneself in the simplest things.” He honored Tolstoy especially for the fact that many of the ideas and concepts that were dear to him were formulated by Tolstoy earlier and more clearly than him. In 1886, he renounced his property, copied it to his wife Anna Petrovna and children. True, the “simplified life” that Ge led during the last 12 years of his life remained rather alien to Zhenya. “My mistress does not want to live simply,” Ge wrote to Tolstoy on June 30, 1890. Correspondence between Ge and Tolstoy began shortly after 1882 and continued until Ge’s death.

In mid-June 1892, Ge warmly welcomed the publication of Tolstoy’s article The First Step. He praised this intercession for vegetarianism in letters to the author, and as he read the text to others, he tried to propagate it. Otherwise, he informed Tolstoy in detail about the state of his garden: “The gardens are good. <...> the corn is already big, potatoes, beans, everything is fine.”

Ge became close to Tolstoy to such an extent that Tolstoy could jokingly say: “If I am not in the room, then N.N. can answer you; He will say the same thing as me.

When the first All-Russian Congress of Vegetarians was held in Moscow in 1913, Ge had been dead for almost 20 years. But the “vegetarian exhibition”, open from 16 to 21 April, was also decorated with his paintings. Friendship with Tolstoy soon extended to the artist’s son, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (1857-1949). Tolstoy’s correspondence with him was even more extensive than with his father. In the album of the dining room “Toothless Nutrition” in the city of Tashkent, one could read the following entry by Nikolai Nikolayevich: Vegetarian lifestyle is “only the first step that Lev Nikolayevich wrote about 25 years ago. And so far she is the first. This trampling on the first step leads to the fact that many have descended from it after having once climbed it with enthusiasm. <...> In order for the first step to become a step and be the first, it is necessary that other steps follow it. Vegetarianism in itself is only cleanliness and leads to hypocrisy and self-gratification, if it is not the beginning of a more rational human life: to “non-eating of the houses of widows and orphans”, so that it becomes the first step in human life. (June 8, 1910). Nicholas Ge.

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