Vassily Dmitrievich Polenov (1844–1927) is a master of universal talent, and particularly of landscape painting, the author of a large-scale series of paintings “Gospel Circle”, an outstanding art teacher, stage designer, architect and a public figure.
Born in St. Petersburg, Vassily Polenov grew up in a wealthy, intellectual and artistic family. During his early years, in the 1860s, Russia was driven by great minds promoting virtues of democracy, progress, education and abolition of slavery. It had a great impact on the visions of the young man.
His father, Dmitry Polenov (1806–1872), was a well known archaeologist and bibliographer. As a representative of the Academy of Sciences and then as a Secretary of the Russian embassy in Athens, he spent 3 years in Greece. On his return to Russia, Dmitry Polenov went into the field for archaeological excavations at some ancient Russian sites. He dedicated a lot of his knowledge and work to the Russian Archaeological Society. In 1860, he travelled with his sons. This long horseback journey led them to Novgorod, Rostov, Yaroslav, Suzdal, Vladimir, Tver. Vassily Polenov was encouraged by his father to draw sketches of any interesting ancient objects he would see. Painter’s mother, Maria Alekseyevna (1816–1895), was a painter and a portraitist. She wrote a book in 1852 about their family life at the dacha in summer. Her Summer in Tsarskoye Selo was then re-edited with illustrations made by Vassily Polenov and his younger sister, Elena, who was also an artist. Both parents and grandparents of Vassily and his siblings were home-schoolers. The book describes the family tradition of teaching physics, history, geography and also studying the biographies of famous painters and musicians.
His great-grandmother Vera Voyeikova (1792–1873) was also a very significant person for Vassily when he was a child. She had an excellent education, was well up in the French and the Russian literature. She understood the importance of developing artistic talents and told stories about war history. Her fiancé, the Colonel Alexey Voyeikov took part in the Napoleonic war of 1812.
Another important ancestor of Vassily Polenov was his great-grandfather, Aleksey Polenov (1738–1816). He was the first Russian lawyer with a multidisciplinary education. He participated in the essay competition organized by the Free Economic Society in 1766 on the following subject: “What is more useful to the State: that peasants should own land or own only personal property?”. His text was then entitled “On the abolition of the serfdom of Russian peasants”, which became effective 100 years later.
At the age of 38 Vassily Polenov married Natalya Yakunchikova and the couple had five children – Dmitry, Elena, Natalya, Olga and Ekaterina.
Dmitry Polenov became the first museum director, he was followed by his son Fyodor Polenov.
Today the great-granddaughter of the artist – Natalya Polenova – is the director of POLENOVO Museum and National Park.
You can find more details about the Polenov family on the family tree page.