He was born on a small stud farm. His father was interested in art and music, so he encouraged his sons early attempts at drawing. His first studies began when he was nine; at the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts with Ivan Kramskoi.
From 1867 to 1877, he was a student at the Imperial Academy of Arts, under the direction of Krlis Hns. He also audited classes at the State Institute of Technology and the Medico-Surgical Academy, but these were not to his liking. While there, he helped support himself by working as a scribe for the Admiralty Board.