At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ferdynand Ruszczyc was one of the main painters, art teachers and organisers of artistic life in the Vilnius region.
After studying in St Petersburg and travelling in Western Europe, he returned to his native Bohdanov (now in Belarus) to find creative inspiration in the nature and architecture of his homeland. He produced his best-known paintings during the few years before he settled in Vilnius, including The Past.
The painting shows part of a building against the background of a wintry scene. The sky in Ruszczyc's paintings always sets the mood, and in this painting it is heavy, overcast and depressing. The landscape does not express an idyllic longing for a familiar place, but is full of drama, disturbing apprehensiveness, and melancholy. The formal aspects of the work strengthen this impression: the space on the canvas is bound by the thick masonry walls, the verticals and the diagonals create a harsh rhythm, and everything is rendered in tense, energetic brushwork in gloomy shades of grey.
Ruszczyc combined the principles of Realism with the ideas of his admired Symbolism and Neoromanticism, in which he found his inspiration to search for the national spirit in art, the emphasis on the history of the nation, and the value of its cultural heritage. The Past reflects these tendencies: the architectural landscape emerges as a symbol of the nation's past, and as an expression of the intentions and inner feelings of the artist himself.