Soldiers Resting by the Well is a fine example of late XIX century Russian genre painting. It was painted in the first year of the Russian-Turkish War, however, and may have been Nikolai Dmitrievich Dmitriev-Orenburgsky’s attempt to depict that conflict in an unexpected light.
Nikolai Dmitrievich Dmitriev-Orenburgsky was born in Nizhny Novgorod in 1837. In 1856, he embarked upon his studies under the painter Fidelio Bruni at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, St.Petersburg. Here, between 1856 and 1860, he won numerous silver medals and a minor gold medal. He was also part of the ‘revolt of fourteen’: a group of students who rebelled against the formal conservatism of their school and refused to paint the topic set by the Imperial Academy.
In 1863, Dmitriev-Orenburgsky resigned, receiving the title of Second-Class Artist as a result of his early departure. The same year he became a founding member of the famous St.Petersburg Artel of Artists. Headed by the painter and critic Ivan Kramskoy, the Artel was created to support a network of Realist painters, who rejected academic traditions in favour of direct depictions of ordinary Russian life.
Dmitriev-Orenburgsky settled permanently in Paris in the early 1870’s. He was one of the main participants in the establishment of the local ‘Society of Russian Artists’, which exhibited his paintings in the annual salons. During the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 Dmitriev-Orenburgsky was commissioned by the Russian Imperial court a series of battle paintings. Emperor Alexander II Convoy’s Battle at Sistovski Heights and Alexander II’s Entrance to Ploeshty are the most famous examples.
Works by Dmitriev-Orenburgsky are in the collections of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Russian Museum in St.Petersburg.