The State Memorial and Natural Preserve "Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy "Yasnaya Polyana"
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Государственный мемориальный и природный заповедник «Музей-усадьба Л.Н. Толстого «Ясная Поляна»

Works by the Wanderer artist Nikolai Orlov (1863-1924), a native of the Tula Province, are an important part of our collection. He attended the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1882-1893), and his teachers were V. Makovsky and I. Pryanishnikov. In his genre paintings he depicted the hard life of Russian peasants. For the painting “The Dying Woman” Orlov was awarded a large silver medal.

The subject of this artist’s work was always appreciated by Leo Tolstoy. They met personally in 1884 at the 22nd exhibition of the Society of Wandering Exhibitions in St. Petersburg. In 1904 Orlov visited Yasnaya Polyana. Here he worked on the painting “The Recent Past” (“The Flogging”), and Tolstoy watched his work closely. The growth in relations between Tolstoy and Orlov occurred in 1908-1910, when the artist began visiting Yasnaya Polyana more often.  

In Leo Tolstoy’s personal library there is an album of reproductions of Orlov’s works “Russian Peasants,” published in St. Petersburg in 1909. This edition contains Tolstoy’s introduction, in which the writer confessed: “It is a wonderful thing to publish an album of Orlov’s paintings. Orlov is my favourite artist, and is my favourite artist because the subject of his paintings is my favourite subject. This subject is the Russian people, the real Russian peasants...”

Tolstoy kept photo reproductions of the following seven of Orlov’s works in his study at Yasnaya Polyana: “After Work,” “For Christ’s Sake,” “The Settlers,” “After Service,” “The Dying Woman,” “The Tavern Keeper,” and “Monopoly.” According to his family members, Tolstoy used to say: “Every time I walk through my study I stop in front of Orlov’s works. What a talent! Both an artistic talent and a heightened comprehension.” 

The artist achieved this comprehension due to his own real life observations. In the 1900s he spent a lot of time working on his paintings in the Oryol, Tula, Ryazan, and Kaluga Provinces. The Russian village was his “studio”.

The fate of Orlov’s paintings is dramatic: only some of them are now kept in museums (the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Historical Museum, the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia, the Lipetsk Regional Museum, and the Tula Regional Art Museum). Part of the artist’s heritage belongs to his descendants. But the rest of his works were lost.

There are three works by Orlov in the collection of the Yasnaya Polyana Museum: “Seeing Off the Settlers” (1896), “Back from the War” (1905-1908), and “Portrait of Leo Tolstoy” (1908-1912; copy of the original portrait by I. Repin of 1887). 

Orlov, N.V.  Seeing-off the Settlers

1896. Russia, Kaluga Province, village of Kuleshovo.          

Oil on canvas. 132.0 х 171.0 cm

Signature and date in the bottom right-hand corner: “Н. Орлов. 1896 г.” [N.Orlov. 1896].


The painting refers to one of the severest problems of the late 19th century Russia: migration of the poorest peasants to remote parts of Russia. Their fellow villagers see off one such family, whose extreme poverty forces them to leave their home. Looking at the painting, we feel compassion not only for the departing family, but also for those who stay in the village. Their lot is hardly much better. This painting was bought for the collection of S.I. Prokhorov, owner of the Tryokhgorny textile factory. In 1956 it was acquired by the museum in an exchange (in the house of the former owner of the factory, through Orlov’s son-in-law S.I. Sofronov). 

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