Mikhail Vrubel was drawn to the mystery, primordial purity and spirituality of the bylina — a traditional Russian heroic poem. The ancient hero in his decorative attire and his trusty horse are inseparable from their environment — a morose forest closely guarding its secrets.
This sensation was possibly even stronger before the first owner, Malich, decided to change the original square format of the picture. The canvas was cut on three sides and inserted into a Gothic frame with an angular top. The artist wrote to his sister in January 1899: “The work is almost finished. I am so delighted by it that I want to risk showing it at the Academy exhibition — if it is accepted. After all, I am an attested decadent. This, however, is a misunderstanding; I believe that my new work will set the record straight.” Mikhail Vrubel’s panel was highly rated by the famous Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.