'Vrubel came to us as a messenger to tell us that the violet night is sprinkled with the gold of a clear evening. He left us his Demons to exorcise the violet evil and the night. What Vrubel and those like him reveal to mankind once a century, make me tremble with awe'
In 1884, the famous art historian Adrian Prakhov, who supervised the re-construction of the old and construction of the new cathedrals in Kiev, invited Vrubel to take part in the restoration of the Old Russian murals and mosaics in the 12th century Church of St. Cyril. The knowledge Vrubel acquired in the process of this work contributed to the perfection of his style as a painter.
In the Kiev period the personal style Vrubel was formed, the key feature assimilates which one - creation of effect of a scintillation of crystalline edges of the form that compares the pictures of the artist with mosaics.
Vrubel’s method is not so much direct supervision and transfer of a visible nature, how many method of theoretical submission, imagination, which one uses the visible forms to create from them unexpected, strange combinations, creating the extremely changed world. The subjects of his works is, as a rule, “eternal” plots and images which came not directly from life, and from art.
In Kiev Vrubel started to work on the theme of the Demon. The Kiev versions of the Demon, both the pictures and sculptures, have not survived. In fact, Vrubel did not take pains to preserve his works, being more interested in the process of creation than in the result.
During his first year in Moscow, Vrubel went on working on the paintings he had conceived in Kiev. Among others are the Demon Seated (1890) and a series of illustrations for Mikhail Lermontov’s poem The Demon (1890) and his novel A Hero of Our Time (1890-1891). The illustrations made his name known to the public but brought him notoriety rather than fame: too unusual for the tastes of 1880s, they caused bewilderment and derision. But in the artistic circles of Russia, Vrubel was received favorably.
His canvases strike one by their harmony and contrast. Actuality is turned into fantasy, while the power of his brush gives fantasy a tangible validity. Form in Vrubel’s paintings is not only voluminous, but is “diamond-cut” like precious stones. Vrubel’s “diamond-cutting” is intended to expose in-depth essence of the subject, revealed to the painter’s prophetic vision. A specific twilight color scheme blankets the world of his pictures in the haze of unraveled mystery.
His talent proved truly universal: in everything he did, and he could do almost everything, was the search for a lucid beautiful style. This search eventually made Vrubel the true founder of Russian Art Nouveau, a style that partially grew out of Russian neo-romanticism.
The most characteristic feature of this style is its cult of beauty – melancholic, enigmatic and refined – and its tendency to the synthesis of arts in everything.
The Demon is one of Vrubel’s most favorite images. He is sick and tired of doing evil, yet goodness is a thing alien to him. Immortal – he has no future, omniscient – he is without peers, omniscient – he is denied choice. In the Demon Seated of 1890 the Demon sits in melancholy contemplation in the midst of a cold and endless desert. He is a mighty and strong spirit, suffering in a body so powerful it seems hewn out of rock. The tragedy of the Demon is the tragedy of the artist himself, protesting the collapse of his romantic illusions.
In the picture Demon Seated the young Titan is depicted on a clifftop in the sunset. His fine powerful body seems almost too big for the picture; he wrings his hands; his face is touchingly handsome; and his eyes express inhuman sorrow. Vrubel's Demon is a union of opposites: beauty, majesty, strength, and constraint, helplessness and yearning. He is surrounded by a fabulous, beautiful, yet petrified and cold world. The picture's colouring is also full of contrasts: a cold lilac is in 'combat' with a warm golden-orange. The rocks, the flowers and the figure are painted in a peculiar Vrubelesque manner: the artist seems to hew the shapes from a block, creating an impression of a world composed of precious stones. There is a sense of primordiality about the picture.
The Demon is a symbolical image. It personifies huge forces of human spirit, his internal strife, may be with itself, with evil, doubts, by disbelief … the Demon raises above mountains on a background blinking sunset. He is surrounded by unprecedented colours - chips. The arms are tragically spanned, the view of a huge eye on a juvenile face … the Artist demonstrates us loneliness, hopelessness of the man, whose force does not find to themselves applyings. He considerably retreats from the literary prototype in the treatment of an image of a Demon (M.Y. Lermontov), loosing moods of revolt, proudness, contempt to the world and selecting a lyrical beginning of an image: as for him a Demon - “ spirit suffering, but not angry”
While thinking in fantastic imagery, Vrubel was firmly rooted in reality, and his Demon was profoundly modern, reflecting not only the artist's personal emotional states but also the age itself with its contrasts and contradictions. As the poet Alexander Blok wrote, 'Vrubel's Demon is a symbol of our times, neither night nor day, neither dark nor light.'
In 1891 Vrubel did the illustrations for a jubilee edition of (Mikhail Lermontov's works, edited by Konchalovsky. Of thirty illustrations half of them refer to Lermontov's Demon. In fact, these are all works of art in their own right, important in the history of Russian book illustrations, and demonstrate Vrubel's profound comprehension of Lermontov's poetry. Particularly noteworthy is the monumental watercolor «Head of the Demon». Against a background of stony and snow-covered mountaintops is a close-up head, with black hair and a pale face: the lips are parched, the eyes burning and penetrating; this gaze is full of unbearable torment, it expresses a thirst for knowledge and freedom, the rebellious spirit of doubt. Some years later Vrubel painted «Flying Demon» (1899) — a sombre picture, full of a foreboding of ruin and doom.
Finally, in 1901-02, appeared the last picture: Demon Prostrate (Demon Overthrown), on wich Vrubel worked intensively and painstakingly. Alexander Benois recalled that the painting already appeared at the 'World of Art' Exhibition in 1902, but Vrubel continued to work on the face of the Demon, altering the colouring.
Exhibited in 1902, the painting overwhelmed the audience and won real fame for the artist. The painting, charged with motion, is strongly decorative. Striving to create the astounding effect, Vrubel, who at the time, was already unbalanced, repainted the Demon’s face, his sinister eyes, his lips, twisted by pain. He repeatedly repainted the picture even when it was on display until he had one of his breakdowns.
The broken, deformed body of the Demon, his wings fractured, is flung out in a gorge, and his eyes burn with fury. It is dusk and the last sunray flashes on the Demon's crown and on the mountain-tops. The spirit of rebellion is overthrown, but not crushed.
At the time people saw the element of protest, a symbol of a beautiful unsubdued man in this image. Remember the words of Alexander Blok: What of moments of powerlessness! Time is a gossamer haze! We shall unfurl our wings on ore, And again we shall take to the skies!...
said, somewhat later: 'What Demons he painted!—strong, terrible, dreadful and irresistible... My Demon comes from Vrubel.'
Shortly after finishing his Demon Prostrate (Demon Overthrown), Mikhail Vrubel fell seriously ill and was admitted to hospital.