Repin was skilled at depicting real people in real situations and preferred to paint for moral and social purposes. While he did not normally paint historical pieces or ones with violence and bloodshed, Ivan the Terrible and his Son (1885) is a major exception. It is believed that Repin painted this piece as a rejection to violence and bloodshed. He was apparently inspired by the assassination of Alexander II as it caused him to reflect on other tragic events in Russia's history. The painting was shown in 1885 at the 12th Itinerant's Society Exhibition in St. Petersburg, of which he was a member for many years.
Repin did some restoration work on this notable painting in 1913, which can be seen today at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia. To better appreciate the painting, a short history on the subject - Ivan the Terrible - may be necessary. Ivan the Terrible was the Grand Prince of Moscow and ruler of Russia from 1547-1584. While he was intelligent, diplomatic and popular among the common population of Russia, he was known for having a dark side. He is notorious for having a temper as he would fall into rages that became more frequent in his old age. During one of his episodes, he killed his son and the heir to the throne, Ivan Ivanovich.
In 1581, Ivan the Terrible beat Yelena Sheremateva, the wife of his son Ivan, because he thought her clothes were immodest. This is believed to have cause a miscarriage. As a result, Ivan the son confronted his father and started an argument that resulted in Ivan the Terrible striking his son in the head with his pointed staff. This injury ended up being fatal and the heir, Ivan, passed away. This event was significant to the history of Russia as well because it left the nation without it's rightful heir. Instead, Ivan the Terrible's unfit and childless middle son, Feodor, took the throne. Feodor left no heirs, which led to the Time of Troubles from 1598 to 1613.
Ivan the Terrible has been depicted many times by various artists throughout history. The painting Ivan the Terrible and his Son is Repin's portrayal of this event. It is quite a beautiful painting despite it's horrible origins. Even if one did not know the story behind the painting, there are clues to show what happened. The staff is seen in the foreground on the ground as the obvious weapon. It is clear the man in black, Ivan the Terrible, has killed the younger man in the pinkish robe. There has been a skirmish of sorts as the rug is askew and some furniture in the background has been knocked over. The painting's beauty can be found in the many details.
There is a lot of detail in the carpet and the shoes the young Ivan is wearing. The emotion in Ivan the Terrible's face is also very apparent. He has look of horror and a heartbreaking realization of what he has done. His emotion is juxtaposed with the lack of expression on the face of his son who has been killed. The painting can bring out mixed feelings because you feel sad for Ivan the Terrible but also realize he is the murderer. It is quite an astonishing piece of art and only one of the many amazing works of art in Repin's portfolio.