Valentin Serov
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Among the “young peredvizhniki” who joined the World of Art group, the most brilliant portraitist was Valentin Serov. Like many of his contemporaries, he delighted in painting out of doors, and some of his most appealing portraits – such as Girl with Peaches, Girl in Sunlight and In Summer - owe their naturalness to their setting or to the interplay of sunlight and shadows. Indeed, Serov regarded them as “studies” rather than portraits, giving them descriptive titles that omitted the sitter's name. The subject of Girl with Peaches – painted when Serov was only twenty-two – was in fact Mamontov's daughter Vera. The model for In Summer was Serov's wife. When only six years old, Serov began to display signs of artistic talent. At nine years old, Repin acted as his teacher and mentor, giving him lessons in his studio in Paris, then let Serov work with him in Moscow, almost like an apprentice. Eventually Repin sent him to study with Pavel Chistiakov – the teacher of many of the World of Art painters, including Nesterov and Vrubel. Chistiakov was to become a close friend. Because Serov's career spanned such a long period, his style and subject matter vary considerably, ranging from voluptuous society portraits (the later ones notable for their grand style and sumptuous dresses) to sensitive studies of children. Utterly different from any of these is the famous nude study of the dancer Ida Rubinstein, in tempera and charcoal on canvas, which he painted towards the end of his life. Although Serov's early style has much in common with the French Impressionists, he did not become acquainted with their work until after he had painted pictures such as Girl with Peaches.



Publié par
Date de parution 04 juillet 2023
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783100248
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Dmitri V. Sarabianov

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No part of this publication may be reproduced or adapted without the permission of the copyright holder, throughout the world. Unless otherwise specified, copyright on the works reproduced lies with the respective photographers, artists, heirs or estates. Despite intensive research, it has not always been possible to establish copyright ownership. Where this is the case, we would appreciate notification.

ISBN: 978-1-78310-024-8
Dmitri V. Sarabianov

Valentin Serov


Introduction to Russian Painting
The First Master of Russian Painting
Graphic Works
Ilya Repin , Valentin Serov, 1901.
Charcoal on canvas, 116.5 x 63.3 cm .
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Open Window. Lilacs (study), 1886.
Oil on canvas, 49.4 x 39.7 cm .
National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus,
The sublime imagery of the great icon painters, the portraiture of the 18 th and 19 th centuries, the paintings of sea, snow, and forest, the scenes of peasant life and the historical works of the Itinerants, the stylishness of the World of Art movement, the bold experimentation of the artists of the early 20 th century … To anyone unfamiliar with Russian painting, its richness and diversity may well come as a surprise or at least an exciting revelation.

The Academy of Sciences was established in St Petersburg by a decree of the governing senate on 28 January (8 February) 1724, following an order of Emperor Peter the Great. Peter the Great’s decision to build a capital that would be “a window on Europe” had considerable significance for Russian painting. First, he lured architects, craftsmen, and artists to Russia from various parts of Europe, both to design and decorate the buildings of St Petersburg and to train their Russian contemporaries in the skills needed to realise his plans for modernising the whole country. With similar aims in mind, he paid for Russian artists to study abroad and planned to establish an art department in the newly created Academy of Sciences.

After Peter’s death, these plans reached fruition with the 1757 founding of the Imperial Academy of the Arts, which opened in earnest six years later. For more than a hundred years the Academy exerted a powerful influence on Russian art. It was supplemented by a preparatory school, where budding artists were sent when they were between six and ten years old.

It was rigidly hierarchical, with titles ranging from “artist without rank” to academician, professor, and councillor. Students who had the stamina to do so toiled at their studies for fifteen years. And, until the last quarter of the 19 th century, it was dominated by unquestioning acceptance of classical ideas. Russian artists frequently found the Academy’s regulations and attitudes frustrating, but it did have the merit of making a comprehensive and rigorous artistic education available to those who showed signs of talent.

Initially the staff of the Academy included a preponderance of foreign – mainly French and Italian – teachers. As a result, Russian painting during the second half of the 18 th and first half of the 19 th centuries owed a great deal to the fashions prevalent in other parts of Europe, which tended to reach Russia with some delay.

Given the distance from St Petersburg and Moscow to the Western European capitals, this lag is hardly surprising. But Russian painters did have considerable opportunities to familiarise themselves with Russian and non-Russian art, both thanks to the circulation of reproductions (often in the form of engravings and lithographs) and to the art-buying habits of the ruling class.

As well as funding the Academy (including travel scholarships for graduates), Catherine the Great bought masterpieces of French, Italian, and Dutch art for the Hermitage. During the French Revolution, her agents – and Russian visitors to Paris in general – were able to pick up some handy bargains, as the contents of chateaux were looted and sold off.

However, although the Academy boasted a diverse and fairly liberal collection of foreign masterpieces, not all of the students were content. In 1863 – the year that the first Salon des Refusés was held in Paris – fourteen high-profile art students (thirteen painters and one sculptor) resigned from the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg in protest against its conservative attitudes and restrictive regulations. Their next move was to set up an artists’ cooperative, although it soon became apparent that a more broadly based and better organised association was needed, eventually leading to the formation of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions.

The Society was incorporated in November 1870, and the first of its forty-three exhibitions was held in November 1871 (the last one took place in 1923). The four artists who spearheaded the Society’s founding were Ivan Kramskoï, portrait, historical, and genre painter, who taught at the Society for the Encouragement of Artists school of drawing in St Petersburg before being given the rank of academician in 1869; Vassily Perov, portrait, historical, and genre painter who taught painting at the School of Painting and Architecture in Moscow from 1871 to 1883; Grigory Miasoyedov, portrait, historical, and genre painter who lived in Germany, Italy, Spain, and France after completing his studies at the Academy in St Petersburg and was one of the board members of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, and finally, Nikolaï Gay, religious and historical painter, portraitist and landscape artist, sculptor and engraver who also wrote articles on art. First a student of physics and mathematics at the St Petersburg State University, he entered the Academy of Arts as a teacher as of 1863.

One of their primary concerns, reflected in the name of the Society, was that art should reach out to a wider audience. To further that aim – perhaps inspired by the narodniki (the Populists then travelling around Russia preaching social and political reform) – they undertook to organise “circulating” exhibitions, which would move from one town to another.

And like the Impressionists in France (who also held their first exhibition in 1874), the peredvizhniki – variously translated as Itinerants, Travellers, and Wanderers – embraced a broad spectrum of artists, with differing styles and a great variety of artistic preoccupations. But, initially at least, the Society was a more tightly knit organisation, and ideologically its aims were more coherent.

Living at the time when the writings of Alexander Herzen, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy were awakening social consciences, most of the Itinerants were actively concerned with the conditions in which the ordinary people of Russia lived, and strove to stimulate awareness of the appalling injustices and inequalities that existed in contemporary society. The artistic movement that focused on these concerns came to be known as Critical Realism.
By the Window. Portrait of Olga Trubnikova (unfinished), 1886.
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, 74.5 x 56.3 cm .
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Peasant Woman in a Cart, 1896.
Oil on canvas, 48 x 70 cm .
The State Russian Museum,
St Petersburg.
Village, 1898.
Gouache and watercolour on paper mounted on cardboard,
25.5 x 37.5 cm .
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
During the first quarter of the 20 th century, modern Russian painters wished to confer upon art a vaster social resonance. To this end, they had to reconcile the profound attachment of Russians to tradition and the desire for renewal. The latter found expression in a wide variety of movements.

Russian Avant-garde offers multiple facets, drawing inspiration from foreign sources as well as those of its home country, making Russian art the spearhead of the worldwide artistic process at the beginning of the 20 th century.

A hundred years or so later, Sergeï Shchukin and the brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov purchased numerous Impressionist paintings and brought them back to Russia. In 1892, the merchant and industrialist Pavel Tretyakov gave his huge collection of paintings (including more than 1000 by Russian artists) to the city of Moscow. Six years later, the Russian Museum opened in the Mikhailovsky Palace in St Petersburg. Today it houses more than 300,000 items, including some 14,000 paintings.

Exhibitions, such as that of Tretyakov in the Russian Museum, also played an important role in the development of Russian art. At the end of the 19 th century, the artistic status of icons had been in eclipse for approximately two hundred years, even though they were cherished as objects of religious veneration. During that time, many of them had been damaged, inappropriately repainted, or obscured by grime.

In 1904, Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity was restored to its full glory, and in 1913 a splendid exhibition of restored and cleaned icons was held in Moscow to mark the millennium of the Romanov dynasty. As a result, the rediscovered colours and stylistic idiosyncrasies of icon painting were explored and exploited by a number of painters in the first decade or two of the 20 th century. Similarly, when Diaghilev mounted a huge exhibition of 18 th -century portrait painting at the Tauride Palace in St Petersburg in 1905, it resulted in a noticeable revival of interest in portraiture and in Russia’s artistic heritage as a whole.

International exhibitions (like the ones organised by the Golden Fleece magazine in 1908 and 1909), together with foreign travel and visits by foreign artists to Russia, allowed Russian p

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