The Artists that Started a Revolution

Haulers on the Volga

Barge Haulers on the Volga by Ilya Repin

“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.



10 thoughts on “The Artists that Started a Revolution

  1. Meredith Oakes says:

    I really like how you mention how the painting depicts the fatigue that the workers are showing. The social class of the workers is an important aspect of the painting and of the realism movement because of it is a critic of the tsarist government.

    Liked by 1 person

    • aaucoin23 says:

      When I first saw this picture, I didn’t even notice the young man trying to break free. But now after noticing, I’ve realized just how important he is to the painting as a whole. He is the main message of this painting- the young generation trying to break free from the chains of the government and the monarchy.


  2. A. Nelson says:

    I find that young man to be very compelling. The lighting focuses the viewer’s attention on him (all of the other figures are in shadow and much darker), and I agree that his posture does suggest that he is rebelling, or at least not accepting that his lot in life is to exhaust himself pulling cargo up the river.
    I like the way your post uses the painting as a “featured image.” Do you think your readers would appreciate having a larger format version of the image available so they could see the details and better appreciate the scale of the scene Repin represents? What sources did you use for your post? You can either hyperlink to thm


    • aaucoin23 says:

      Yeah, I agree with you about the painting. This was my first blog, so I was unsure how it was going to look like. About my sources, the same thing. I thought I hyperlinked them in the post, but I might have done it wrong. I’m still learning the ropes with the blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. clairetams728 says:

    This photo is so interesting, one because of the concept of people physically hauling boats! And also because of all the older peasants in their tattered clothes contrasted with the younger, cleaner looking man. It definitely has a revolutionary feel.


    • aaucoin23 says:

      I wouldn’t say that it is a Revolutionary feel, but a Pre-Revolutionary feel. It’s not quite to the point that they look like that they are going to revolt, but you can tell that there is probably some tension building up in society.


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