After training with a provincial icon painter and at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, he visited France and Italy on an academy scholarship. On his return he began painting subjects from Russian history. In 1873 he achieved international fame with Volga Boatmen, a grim, powerful image that became the model for Soviet Socialist Realism. Among his best-known works is Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan (1895), depicting Ivan's murder of his son. He also painted vigorous portraits (including Leo Tolstoy and Modest Mussorgsky). In 1894 he became professor of historical painting at the St. Petersburg Academy.
Portrait of pianist and professor of Saint-Petersburg Conservatory Sophie Menter.
Portrait of pianist and professor of Saint-Petersburg Conservatory Sophie Menter. Oil on canvas. 107 x 115 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.