Abram Arkhipov was born into a modest family and is best known for his depictions of Russian peasants. His artistic talent was encouraged from an early age. At the tender age of 15, the young artist left his native Egorovo village in the Ryazan province for Moscow where he enrolled in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
Arkhipov's studies coincided with the school's golden age; compared to the rigorous academic approach of the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Art, the Moscow School, led by the foremost Itinerants such as Vasily Perov (1834-1882), Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920) and Alexei Savrasov (1830-1897) had established itself as the fulcrum of progressive trends in art in the 1870s. Undoubtedly, the young students were much inspired by their famous mentors; the influence of Vasily Polenov (1844-1927) and Vasily Perov is evident in Arkhipov's early work.
In September 1884 the artist arrived in St Petersburg to continue his education at the Imperial Academy of Art. However, the restricted academic system proved to be alien to the artist who had already adopted the liberal aesthetics of the Itinerants. In the autumn of 1886 Arkhipov returned to Moscow.
After 10 years of intermittent studies Arkhipov graduated from the Moscow School in 1888. A year later he began to participate in various exhibitions, which rapidly brought him fame as a gifted genre painter and attracted the attention of art critics. By the mid-1890s the artist was regarded as a prominent exponent of the young generation of the Itinerants society, which he had joined in 1891. During this period he painted his famous Along the River Oka, followed a decade later by his best-known work The Washer Women (both in the collection of The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).
In painting To vespers in 1898, the artist follows the traditions of the Itinerants. However, he is not moralising or criticising society for the poverty of ordinary people. Arkhipov's predilection for sunlit pictures is evident in the present work; the artist skilfully captures the last rays of the setting sun lighting up the tree trunks and the path. This creates a sacred atmosphere of the commencing vespers as the believers have already arrived at the church and the evening prayer service has just begun. An elderly woman is making her way to join the mass, rays of light illuminating her path. In this rare painting, the artist conveys the spirituality of the Russian people, their hope and faith ever present amidst the hardships of daily life.