The Volga boatmen: The wanderings of an icon

The Volga Boatmen painted by Ilya Repin (1870-1873) at the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg (© Wikimedia)

The programme traces the story of the Volga boatmen in art, starting with Ilya Repin’s painting of the Barge-Haulers in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, and an interview with art historian David Jackson of Leeds University on how Repin hit upon the subject and went to the village of Shiryayevo to sketch the men at their work. The programme also looks at the Volga boatmen theme in Russian literature (poetry by Nikolay Nekrasov and Gorky’s autobiography) and at the large number of musical compositions inspired by the “Song of the Volga Boatmen”, from Mily Balakirev, Alexander Glazunov and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to Feodor Chaliapin, Igor Stravinsky and Glenn Miller. The theme of the Volga boatmen illustrates how generations of artists have created a Russian folk icon out of an unlikely subject.

Producer: Marijke van der Meer

Broadcast: May 24, 2004