In this unusual painting Isaak Levitan has combined a realistic landscape with a political statement. It is the Vladimirka Road which exiles walked on their way to Siberia. The land bespeaks utter desolation and dehumanization. The earth is dull brown and green; nothing grows except some trees in the distance. There is even a sulphur-y yellow seen in places. The poorly formed clouds echo nothingness.
Levitan of course, must have had in mind his own exile, when he and over 22,000 Jews were deported. We can only imagine the deep soul-wound that exile left upon him and his siblings. The dehumanization is further emphasized by there being only one person on the road - a woman who has stopped to pray at the roadside shrine. Her moment of prayer, and the ever-so-slight touch of sun, are the only indicators of possible hope for those who would literally disappear off the end of the road beyond the far away horizon.
But the suffering extends even beyond that of the prisoners. Notice along the main dirt road, there are narrow, parallel side-paths. These might have been walked by sorrowing relatives accompanying their loved ones. Perhaps they were told to turn back at the tree line ahead.
We know that the Vladimirka isn't the only road of exile, punishment, banishment or sorrow. The world is filled with roads like this. Often times it's an inner road of suffering that goes undetected. Compassion means being sensitized to these pained realities. The first century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria wrote: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."