Nikolai Ghe in Russian Museum
Nikolai Ghe occupies a place of prominence in realistic historical painting. The episode depicted in his Peter the Great Interrogating Tsarevich Alexey at Peterhof took place in 1718. Alexey, son of Peter the Great, was involved in a conspiracy against his father, but when the plot was uncovered he fled abroad. The emperor enticed his heir back, had him tried and ordered that he be sentenced to death. The artist has taken the scene of interrogation in Monplaisir for his subject. The emperor casts a reproachful glance full of angry contempt at Alexey, who cannot conceal his obstinate but impotent rage. In this painting the author has sought to reflect the struggle between progress and reaction in early 18th century Russia.
Before I went to Florence I was an atheist, and therefore I could create nothing, because an artist without ideals cannot exist. But in Florence a change came over me. I began to read the Bible, to collect documents in support of historical criticism, and to make investigations. But the Scriptures are not merely history to me. When I read the chapters describing the institution of the Holy Sacrament, the whole scene passed before my eyes like a drama. Peter and Judas became living personalities —chiefly by means of the Gospel ; I visualized the scene when Judas left the Last Supper, and brought about a complete rupture between himself and Christ. Judas was a real disciple of Christ, he was the only Jew among them, all the others were Galileans. But he could not understand the Christ, because material ists seldom understand idealists.
Nikolai Ghe on his painting The Saviour