Vasily Vereshchagin died in 1904 after a lifetime of travel to many of the world’s troublespots, particularly in Asia. He specialised in war paintings, with a gripping style and ability to capture the brutality and inhumanity. He was in at the sharp end, having witnessed and participated in numerous battles, effectively a 19th century war reporter. A superb technician, he could evoke desolation, heat and cold, fear and in many pictures, the pointlessness of much of the conflict, with ease – he painted fast, and was prolific.
This is probably his most famous work: The Apotheosis of War, which is theoretically set in Central Asia after Tamerlane’s rampages. Tamerlane (or Timur) was himself an ‘Islamic converter by force’. As a beheading specialist, the current ISIS mob would no doubt appreciate his technique. The landscape could be Northern Syria today.
Which brings us to the timelessness of brutal invasion, recognised by Vereshchagin, who wrote of this masterpiece “This is dedicated to all great conquerors, past, present and future.” I don’t think he was paying them a compliment.