The painting “The Great Tons” was painted by Nesterov under the impression of personal drama. He experienced, in his words, “lightning love.” In Kislovodsk, he met a girl – she was a singer and performed on tour at a local opera – and was captured not by her beauty, but by something deeply hidden, a secret inner life. “Through the cheerful witty speech came through the mind and some distant sadness. In the eyes, this sadness sometimes turned into melancholy, into tense thought. ” – Nesterov recalled. Soon they could no longer exist without each other. The girl agreed to become his wife, but suddenly refused him. In the letter, she explained her decision by the fact that she could not give the artist happiness, that her love would interfere with the realization of his creative dream.
Nesterov poured out his deep sorrow in the painting “The Great Tony.” Its theme is a requiem for unfulfilled love.
He wrote the Old Believers’ skete, lost in the wilderness, – such he saw in his homeland and in the vicinity of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. Against the background of gentle hills overgrown with fir trees, there are wooden houses – cells of nuns. Here is a church, a chapel. A slow procession is moving along the narrow street, a long line of women of different ages, dressed in black monastic robes. Ahead is a young girl in a sarafan and a scarf tied in the Old Believer way. This is the compositional and emotional center of the picture – a young girl, pure, meek, with a deep sadness in her heart. Behind her, like a sad echo, is the same girl in profile. They are not nuns yet, but soon they will also have to choose this path. One can only guess whether unhappy love is the reason for their departure from the world or simply aversion to its filth and vulgarity. The girls are followed by an old woman with a girl. The first is the embodiment of reconciled passions, the second has not yet experienced them. Further, two nuns respectfully and not without servility support the imperious and beautiful abbess.
The composition is based on the roll call of verticals, black and white, stretching towards the sky like a slender chorale. High skill of the decorative solution of the whole is combined here with the ability to express lyric-dramatic mood, similar to the musical one. The beauty of spring nature brings conciliatory notes to the mournful melody of the whole.
Year of painting: 1898.
The size of the painting: 178 x 195 cm.
Writing technique: oil.
Genre: genre painting.
Gallery: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.