“Barge Haulers on the Volga” is a Russian-realist painting by artist Ilya Repin. Repin was a part of the Peredvizhiniki or the Wanderers, which was a group of art students who dropped out of the Russian Academy of the Arts to paint without having to follow the strict rules of the academy. Painted inbetween 1870 and 1873, “Barge Haulers on the Volga” was Repin’s first painting after leaving the academy. This painting is known for the realistic depictions of the workers, expressing the hard work and toil that these sort of people really put themselves through in order to make a living. This is one of the things that drew me to it in the first place.
The message in this piece goes further than the work and toil of the peasants. In this piece, there are lots of older looking men who are dirty, slouched over, and exhausted. but then in the middle, there is a younger looking man, painted in brighter colors to draw attention to him, is a little bit cleaner than the rest and he is standing up with a kind of shocked look on his face. This young man represents the cultural revolution that would eventually take place in a few decades, after the change of the century.
In the early 20th century Russia, there was a uprising within the people, wanting to change the way their society was. Even though the peasant system had been banned in Russia the previous century, much of society was still living in this fief-like system. Most of the Russian people still lived in small farming villages, there were almost no factories, and if there were cities, they were very small. The peasants were still uneducated people who did the dirty work, like hauling barges on the Volga river. The uprising within the people was started because they were fed up with the government and the dividing social classes that held their country back from economically competing with other European countries. It was this cultural revolution that would take place that led to the rise of the Bolsheviks and the creation of the Soviet Union.
Ultimately, The Wanderers themes of change and reform would develop into a movement and a revolution. Little did they know that their work would start a revolution that would change the world.