He displayed an early affinity for drawing and received his first art lessons from his father, who was a decorative painter. At the age of sixteen, when his father died, he packed his bags and went to Saint Petersburg, hoping to enter the Imperial Academy of Arts. After failing to gain admission, he became an apprentice in the workshop of Evstafy Bernardsky, a well known woodcutter. His talent drew the attention of the sculptor Pyotr Clodt, who arranged for him to audit classes at the Academy. In 1850, he was able to become a regular student, and worked with Alexey Markov. He graduated in 1853 and was awarded a stipend to study in Italy for his graduation painting, "The Mother of God (painting)".
The following year, he settled in Rome and established his own studio on Via Vittoria, near the Villa Borghese. He painted a wide variety of canvases, including landscapes, village scenes, genre scenes, historical works and, of course, portraits of the citys notable citizens. His health was poor, so he remained there after his stipend expired, to take advantage of the warm climate.