More about Eaters of Opium

Sr. Contributor

Depending on your life outlook, Eaters of Opium is either a super bleak version of "Requiem for a Dream" or a super chill version of "Trainspotting."

It's also the most depressing cake-pop you can order from

The subjects of this painting exemplify Vereshchagin's experience with opium addicts throughout Turkestan after Russian occupation. Opium addicts were common in Turkestan and are included in other works produced in the wake of Vereshchagin's witness to the conquest, as in At the Door of a Mosque. The painting was gifted to Konstantin Kaufmann, Vereshchagin's general in the Russian conquest of Turkestan and the occupation's first Governor-General. The conquest was one of many military excursions that brought Vereshchagin closer to both an understanding of war in the human experience and an encounter with his only real adversary, Death.

While we know Vereshchagin today as an opponent of war, Eaters of Opium is part of a greater series he painted that advertises the necessity of Russian military actions in Central Asia. Vereshchagin believed that Muslims in Central Asia needed the civilizing influence of Russia to become fuller human beings. Sound familiar? In the early 1870s, Eaters of Opium was presented in London under an exhibition titled "Sketches of Central Asia", which included a book with notes explaining how barbaric everyone in Central Asia was prior to Russia. This exhibition intended to tell the British public that the Russian occupation of Turkestan and the British colonization of Afghanistan and India were all part of a greater effort to bring a little good European cheer to Central Asia. Really makes you think should do a little more research before picking out Russian realism they print on chocolate.


Most paintings of this era show the glamorous, exotic side of opium consumption in 'the Orient.'

Vereshchagin was less impressed and decided to keep it real. He was also somewhat prescient. He once asked, "Is the day far off when opium will become widespread in Europe, as if Europe does not already consume enough Western opium, that is to say tobacco?" Too true, Vasily.