The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev is a Realism work of art, depicting a young woman marrying someone older. It is not only a skilfully rendered painting, but also a touching portrayal of a woman who does not appear to want to be married. Read more below, as this article expands on who the people are in this emotionally heightened painting.
Table of Contents
- 1 Artist Abstract: Who Was Vasili Vladimirovich Pukirev?
- 2 The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev in Context
- 3 Formal Analysis: A Brief Compositional Overview
- 4 Pukirev’s Puzzling Painting
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
Artist Abstract: Who Was Vasili Vladimirovich Pukirev?
Vasili Vladimirovich Pukirev lived from December 13, 1832, to June 1, 1890. He was a Russian artist, born in the Tula province, and died in Moscow. His artistic style has been categorized as being genre painting, but he also painted portraits and created illustrations and icons.
Self-portrait (1868) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
His studies included apprenticing for an artist in Mogilev and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture and he also taught art throughout his career. Some of his paintings include Boy With Bird’s Nest (1856), In the Artist’s Studio (1865), and The Gambler (1865).
The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev in Context
|Vasili Vladimirovich Pukirev (1832 – 1890)
|Oil on canvas
|173 x 136.5
|Where Is It Housed?
|The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
|What It Is Worth
|The price is uncertain.
Below you will read more information about The Unequal Marriage painting by Vasili Vladimirovich Pukirev. The article will start with a socio-historical overview, looking at when it was painted and what could have inspired the artist. Following this, a formal analysis will look at the subject matter in more detail and how the painting is composed in terms of the art elements that create the overall realistic portrayal of a marriage scene.
Contextual Analysis: A Brief Socio-Historical Overview
The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev has been a peculiar painting for many in art history, and indeed for those who first saw it when it was exhibited in 1863 at the Autumn Exhibition at the Academy of Arts, because of what is represented in its subject matter. This betrothal scene depicts a part of Russian history and its society, notably the institution of marriage, specifically arranged marriages.
But it is also a painting about love, maybe more so about love lost and the idea of not being able to do what you want to do but follow the dictates of society, family, and the pursuit of wealth.
The Unequal Marriage painting was one of the artist’s successful paintings and became associated with his name more so than his other paintings. Pukirev painted a scene of a young girl marrying an older man, and undoubtedly a scene of an arranged marriage. The girl’s discontent is clearly visible on her face. There are various interpretations of what may have inspired Vladimirovich Pukirev to create The Unequal Marriage painting. Some of the more common interpretations include that it was a portrayal of the artist’s friend, Sergey Varentsova, otherwise spelled Sergei Varentsov.
Wedding Interrupted (1877) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Varentsova reportedly had a love interest, Sofya Rybnikova, but she was set to marry another man, who was older than her, and reportedly his name was Andrei Karzinkin. Interestingly, the latter was reportedly not as old as he appears in the painting, but the artist depicted him in his old age for dramatic effect.
According to a sketch of the painting, the artist initially painted the likeness of Varentsova, but the latter was reportedly displeased about it and so Pukirev painted his own likeness instead.
Another reason indicates that it was no longer necessary to have his likeness as Varentsova married another. Other reports mention that the arranged marriage, and ultimately the girl’s lack of choice in the matter, was the complete opposite and that she lived a fulfilled life, and reportedly had several children.
In the Artist’s Studio (1865) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
According to a caption written with a drawing done in 1907 by Vladimir Dmitrievich Sukhov, the woman in the painting could have also been Praskovya Matveevna Varentsova. The caption reads, “Praskovya Matveevna Varentsova, with whom 44 years ago the artist V.V. Pukirev painted his famous painting “Unequal Marriage”. Mrs. Varentsova lives in Moscow, in the Mazurinskaya almshouse.” It was believed that the artist loved Praskovya Matveevna Varentsova, but she reportedly married another man, which could suggest that the artist experienced a similar situation of love unmet.
Who Are the Women in The Unequal Marriage Painting?
As you will read in the visual description below, there are two women depicted in The Unequal Marriage painting. Their identity has often been discussed with one of the more common interpretations identifying them as possible ghosts of the groom’s previous wives. This is suggested due to the wreaths on their heads and what is deduced from the white garments the bride is wearing standing on the groom’s right.
This white has also been described as possibly being a white burial sheet, which would suggest them being ghosts, ultimately remembered as the new marriage takes place.
Formal Analysis: A Brief Compositional Overview
The compositional overview below will describe the subject matter of the painting, The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev, including how the elements of art compose it stylistically.
The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Subject Matter: Visual Description
The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev depicts a marriage ceremony taking place. The bride, groom, and priest are in the foreground surrounded by what appears to be eight other figures behind and next to them. On the left of the composition stands the priest, whose back is also slightly cropped out of the left edge of the painting. He is slightly slumped over; his right hand is held out towards the bride who stands opposite him, and he is holding a bible in his left hand.
The bride holds out her left hand towards the priest who is in the process of putting on her wedding ring. She is holding a long burning candle in her white-gloved, and lowered, left hand.
The bride’s dress is elaborate and beautiful white satin with white frilly lace sleeves hanging to her elbow, exposing her lower arms and a bejeweled bracelet on her left wrist. She is also wearing a pearl necklace. She has a wreath of flowers as a crown on her head where her diaphanous veil hangs below her waistline.
Female subject in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The girl’s head is slightly bowed, and her facial expression is downcast and sad as if she is struggling to maintain her composure. Her eyes have a redness about them, which many have stated that she may have been crying, and the corner of her mouth appears slightly pulled downwards. Standing with an upright posture, and on the bride’s right side, is the groom, who appears significantly older than his bride. He is holding a long burning candle in his left hand. He is looking at the bride with two side eyes and his lips are slightly parted.
His facial expression appears stern. He is wearing what appears to be a black suit with a medal over his neck and one fastened to his left breast, which was reportedly of the Order of St Vladimir.
There appear to be eight figures standing behind the bride and groom, who are mostly men and two women. Starting from the right edge of the composition is a younger gentleman standing with his arms folded and he appears to be looking in the groom’s direction. His body language suggests disapproval, and interestingly, it has been thought that this was the artist.
Male subject in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Next to this younger gentleman is another man who appears to be looking at us, the viewers, as if we just caught each other’s gaze. Two other men stand near the middle background and scarcely in view. On the left side of the composition, and in the background, are two more men who are looking at the marriage happening, and they are lifting their heads up to get a better look.
Standing in front of these men is an older woman who appears to be wearing a floral wreath on her head and what can be discerned through the figures in front of her, a white dress. She is also looking up at the groom who is just slightly in front of her.
If you look closely, on the priest’s left side, and barely visible in the shadow with only part of her head in view, is another older woman. She is also wearing a wreath on her head like the other woman, and she appears to be looking in the direction of the groom. The background appears dark and shadowed, but architecture is visible, which is possibly the inside of the church. There are paintings of what appears to be the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the upper edges of the church’s decorations in the background.
Color and Value
The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev consists of contrasts of light and dark with a subtle selection of colors, from whites, blacks, and soft blues, reds, and yellow golds. There is an unknown light source from the upper left corner of the composition that provides a delicate light on the bride. This light contrasts with the darker, almost black, shadows in the background.
Color in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The type of texture prominent in The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev is implied, which gives the impression of tactile qualities in the subject matter. For example, the artist applied delicate and smoothed brushstrokes to create the soft and silky appearance of the bride’s wedding dress.
Notice the fine texture of the bride’s veil compared to the harder, wooden, appearance of the architecture in the background.
Texture in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Naturalistic, or organic, lines delineate the subject matter in The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev, which mostly consists of curved and irregular type of lines, mostly in the figures and the various items accompanying them like the flowers, jewelry, candles, and the Bible. These are contrasted by the more geometric lines that compose the architecture in the background, which consist of straighter lines that are vertical and horizontal and are usually described as “man-made”.
Line in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Shape and Form
There are a variety of shapes and forms in The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev, from the irregular forms of the figures and their clothing to the more geometric shapes of the architecture in the background, which range from square-like to triangular shapes.
The variety of lines contributes to the forms and shapes in this painting.
Shape and form in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The compositional space in The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev is enclosed and not too expansive. Notice how the figures on the left and right edges are cropped off. Furthermore, the application of other art elements like color and value creates light and dark contrasts that add depth to the space and thus more three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional canvas.
Space in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pukirev’s Puzzling Painting
The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev is a puzzling painting in its subject matter, and it has raised significant questions about what and who the artist portrayed. This article briefly touched on a few of the primary theories about who the people might have been. This painting also evoked emotions in people during its time, notably older grooms who were believed to not want to get married anymore.
The Gambler (1865) by Vladimirovich Pukirev; Vassili Vladimirovich Pukiryov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
While questions may still be raised around what the exact meaning of the painting is, The Unequal Marriage by Vladimirovich Pukirev is a visual testimony of the 19th Russian societal norms that ultimately took away people’s choices to who they wanted to love for the rest of their lives. Pukirev’s painting is a poignant and honest depiction of sadness, love lost, and what is to come next once the knot is tied between two people who did not marry for love.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Painted The Unequal Marriage?
The Russian painter, Vladimirovich Pukirev, created the oil on canvas titled The Unequal Marriage (1862). It was one of the artist’s more popular paintings and touched on societal issues around arranged marriages, wealth, and love.
What Is the Meaning of The Unequal Marriage Painting?
Vladimirovich Pukirev’s painting, The Unequal Marriage (1862), is a visual portrayal of themes around marrying for wealth, as well as younger women marrying older men.
Who Is the Bride in The Unequal Marriage Painting?
It is believed that the woman portraying the bride in The Unequal Marriage (1862) by Vladimirovich Pukirev was Praskovya Matveevna Varentsova. Theories around the meaning of the painting point to the artist being in love with her, but she married another man.
Alicia du Plessis is a multidisciplinary writer. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Art History and Classical Civilization, as well as two Honors, namely, in Art History and Education and Development, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. For her main Honors project in Art History, she explored perceptions of the San Bushmen’s identity and the concept of the “Other”. She has also looked at the use of photography in art and how it has been used to portray people’s lives.
Alicia’s other areas of interest in Art History include the process of writing about Art History and how to analyze paintings. Some of her favorite art movements include Impressionism and German Expressionism. She is yet to complete her Masters in Art History (she would like to do this abroad in Europe) having given it some time to first develop more professional experience with the interest to one day lecture it too.
Alicia has been working for artincontext.com since 2021 as an author and art history expert. She has specialized in painting analysis and is covering most of our painting analysis.
Cite this Article
Alicia, du Plessis, ““The Unequal Marriage” by Vladimirovich Pukirev – A Quick Look.” Art in Context. January 4, 2024. URL: https://artincontext.org/the-unequal-marriage-by-vladimirovich-pukirev/
du Plessis, A. (2024, 4 January). “The Unequal Marriage” by Vladimirovich Pukirev – A Quick Look. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/the-unequal-marriage-by-vladimirovich-pukirev/