Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is usually regarded amongst the Russian painters of the Symbolist movement. In reality, he deliberately stood aloof from contemporary art trends, so that the origin of his unusual manner should be sought in Late Byzantine and Early Renaissance painting.
Vrubel was born in Omsk, Russia, into a military lawyers family. And though he graduated from the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University in 1880, his father had recognized his talent for art and had made sure to provide, through numerous tutors, what proved to be a sporadic education in the subject. The next year he entered the Imperial Academy of Arts, where he studied by direction of Pavel Chistyakov. Even in his earliest works, he exhibited great talent for drawing and an idiosyncratic style.
In 1884, he was summoned to replace the lost 12th-century murals and mosaics in the St. Cyrils Church of Kiev with new ones. In order to execute this commission, he went to Venice to study medieval Christian art. Most of his works painted in Venice have been lost, because the artist was more interested in creative process than in promoting his artwork.
In 1886, he returned to Kiev, where he submitted some designs to the newly built St Volodymir Cathedral. The jury, however, failed to appreciate the novelty of his works, and they were rejected. At that period, he executed some illustrations for Hamlet and Anna Karenina which had little in common with his later Demon and Prophet themes. In 1905 he created the mosaics of the hotel Metropol in Moscow, of which the centre piece of the facade overlooking Teatralnaya square is occupied by the mosaic panel, Princess Gryoza (Princess of Dream).
In 1890, Vrubel relocated to Moscow where he could best follow the burgeoning innovations and trends in art. Like other artists associated with the Art Nouveau style, he excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such as ceramics, majolics, and stained glass. He also produced architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes. It is the large painting of Seated Demon (1890) that brought notoriety to Vrubel. Most conservative critics accused him of wild ugliness, whereas the art patron Savva Mamontov praised the Demon series as fascinating symphonies of a genius and commissioned Vrubel to paint decorations for his private opera and mansions of his friends. Unfortunately the Demon, like other Vrubels works, doesnt look as it did when it was painted, as the artist added bronze powder to his oils in order to achieve particularly luminous, glistening effects.