The painting was commissioned by the future Tsar Alexander III. Based on the subject of a Novgorod epic poem (bylina), it depicts the merchant Sadko in the underwater kingdom. Repin painted the work when he was a fellow of the Imperial Academy of Arts in France. Cut off from his usual environment, the young artist employed the folklore theme to express his mood and state of mind. The picture depicts various beauties, each personifying a different nation or people. Although entranced by every one of them, Sadko nevertheless chooses the Russian girl, Chernava, to be his bride. As the artist wrote at the time: “The idea expresses my true state and perhaps the state of our as-of-yet still Russian art.” In his search for artistic devices adequately expressing the conceived image, Repin was aided by impressions of the magnificent pageantry of the European salons. Always aspiring to achieve maximum authenticity, the artist studied maps of the sea world, sketched the sea-life of Normandy and toured Crystal Palace in London. In 1876, he was made an academician for this monumental canvas.