The painting "Death of Nero is the best and most famous work of V. S. Smirnov, whose talent because of his early death had not had time to be fully disclosed. In 1887 the artist, while staying in Rome as a scholar of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, made the first sketch of a painting, devoted to the dramatic events of the Roman history: the Emperor Nero, fleeing from the rebel troops to the Villa of his freedman Phaon, commits suicide. The body of the half-mad ruler is saved from mockery by his former concubine, actress Acte, and nurses Eclogue and Alexandria: they burn the corpse and bury the ashes in an old tomb.
Correctly chosen red "Pompeii" colour forms a powerful dominant in the subdued colouring of the picture. Great skill of Smirnov did not yet undergo the profanation that came over many representatives of the late academic style, who succumbed to the temptations of external showiness and cheap success.