Francis Danby. Part 1, the early days.

Francis Danby

My featured artist today is the Irish-born painter Francis Danby who was one of twins born in the small village of Killinick, just south of the county town of Wexford, on November 16th 1793. His father was James Danby, a small-time farmer, whose family had lived in the area since the 1730’s. James Danby had first married Susanna Harvey in 1762. She was the daughter of a Wexford vicar and the couple had two children, John Henry and James. His second marriage took place in 1781 when he married the Dubliner, Margaret Watson, who gave her husband three children, twins Thomas, who died young, and Francis as well as a daughter, Frances Olivia.

A View in County Wexford by Francis Danby (1813)                                                                                               A View in County Wexford (Saint Nicholas’ Clonmines and Bannow Bay)

In 1798, at the age of five, Francis and his family suffered the emotions and terrors associated with the Wexford Rebellion which has gone down in Irish history as one of the most bloody, the most bitterest and yet the most successful insurrections. It began in May 1798 and lasted a month. It was the Society of United Irishmen’s Rising against the British domination of Ireland. The leaders of the rebellion maintained that the rebellion was purely political and not an issue of religion but some of the bloody massacres which occurred did indicate sectarian tensions as motives. There was also the factor that grain prices had collapsed in 1797 and 1798, and also new taxes were being levied by the British government on the malt industry which caused tremendous hardship in many regions, but especially Wexford. The rebels fought for a reform of legislature and the redistribution of political power.

As a protestant and feeling unsafe in the small village of Killinick, James moved his family to the city of Wexford in 1799. He wrote to a friend:

“…My family like many others were destroyed by political and party feeling, many of them lost their lives on both sides of the unhappy question…”

Francis Danby’s father’s fear for his and his family’s lives is borne out with the wording of the preface to his will which he made the following year:

“…Having lately escaped assassination and being convinced of the savage disposition of the majority of people, I am more than ever reminded of the uncertainty of life…”

Panorama of the Coast at Sunset by Francis Danby (1813)

In late 1799, the family were once again on the move. This time they travelled to Dublin, the home town of Francis’ mother. In 1807 James Danby died and through the vagaries of the inheritance laws, whatever money he had was left to the children of his first wife and Francis Danby received nought. Francis finished his schooling in 1811 and decided he wanted to become a professional artist. His mother considered his request and agreed to his ideas, since there seemed little hope in her son moving towards any other meaningful professions.

Conway Castle by Francis Danby

Francis Danby enrolled at the drawing schools of the Dublin Society and it was here he met and became great friends with two aspiring landscape painters, George Petrie and James Arthur O’Connor. In 1813, at the age of nineteen, Francis had his first painting, entitled Landscape – Evening, exhibited at the Society of Artists of Ireland and it was sold for fifteen guineas and with that princely sum Francis travelled to London in June 1813, along with Petrie and O’Connor, to see what the England capital had to offer young artists. Francis, like his two travelling companions, headed for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and he wrote about it and how it inspired him:

“…the wonders of which I was so struck that they increased my ambition, and from my twentieth year I have been an English Artist…”

It is thought that Francis Danby never returned to Ireland and he never declared any love for his birthplace. The journey of the three friends ended after two weeks when Petrie was summoned home from London by his father. Francis Danby and O’Connor had not managed to make any money whilst in London and decided that they too must return to Ireland. They knew a captain of a sailing packet who would give them free passage from the port of Bristol back to Ireland, so all three, who had very little money, set off to walk the hundred and twenty miles to the seaport.

The Avon Gorge from the Stop Gate below Sea Walls, pen and ink drawing by Francis Danby (1818)

They arrived and Petrie left them and returned to Ireland. Danby and O’Connor managed to sell two watercolour paintings of the Wicklow Mountains to a Bristol bookseller, John Mintorn and later they completed four drawings of the Avon Gorge which again they sold to Mintorn. They had now accumulated some money but it was not enough to buy two tickets on the boat to Ireland. Danby, knowing that his friend O’Connor, had four young orphaned sisters at home in Ireland, gave him the ticket.

The Eagle’s Nest, Killarney by Francis Danby

Francis Danby was now the only one of the three Irish travellers left in Bristol and was lodging at a baker’s shop on Redcliffe Hill, close to the River Avon. Danby was approached by his landlord, named Fry, who lived in Winscombe, Somerset, asking him to travel down from Bristol, stay with his son and paint some family portraits and this he did and it was during his stay at the home of the landlord’s son that he came across a young woman, Hannah Hardedge, who was one of the servants. Francis Danby was immediately attracted to this young woman and soon they were married. Danby described the lead up to the nuptials in a letter:

“…I was invited down to Somersetshire to paint some portraits amongst the farmers and drank cider. I took a great fancy to one of their servants, a little red-faced bare-footed wench, my Irish brogue I suppose was against me. I could not succeed however in any way but by promising to marry her. She, on the word of a young gentleman who was confoundedly out at the elbows, willingly consented to come with me to Bristol…”

“Out at the elbow” was a seventeenth century phrase meaning poverty stricken. The girl’s condition for going back to Bristol with Danby was on the understanding they would be married. The couple were married on July 4th 1814 at Winscombe parish church. In the parish register it was noted that Hannah was illiterate and she marked her name with a simple cross. Danby was twenty years old. The couple remained in Somerset at the home of her family and Danby rarely returned to Bristol. The first child the couple had was Francis James, who records show was baptised on August 13th 1815, followed eighteen months later by his brother, James, who was baptised on April 27th 1817. According to the Bristol Index, Francis Danby and his family left Somerset in 1817 and moved back to Bristol, staying at 21 Paul Street, Kingsdown. In 1818, Danby and Henriette had a third child, another son, John. A year later, in 1819 the family moved to 9 Kingsdown Parade.

Francis Danby – The Upas, or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java – painting by Francis Danby, (ca. 1820)

Francis Danby had concentrated on watercolour painting but in January 1820, he had his first oil painting shown in London at the British Institution. It was entitled The Upas or Poison Tree in the Island of Java. It was a large work measuring 169 x 235cms and he had started work on it in 1819. The subject of the painting, the Upas Tree, comes from the poem The Loves of the Plants by Erasmus Darwin. Part of the poem (lines 237-8 of canto III) describe the plant and its deadly properties:

“…There is a poison-tree in the island of Java, which is said by its effluvia to have depopulated the country for 12 or 14 miles round… With the juice of it the most poisonous arrows are prepared; and, to gain this, the condemned criminals are sent to the tree… to get the juice…and are pardoned if they bring back a certain quantity of poison. But…not one in four are said to return. Not only animals of all kinds… but all kinds of vegetables also are destroyed by the effluvia of the noxious tree…the face of the earth is quite barren and rocky intermixed only with the skeletons of men and animals, affording a scene of melancholy beyond what poets have described or painters have delineated…”

The fable about the tree and its deadly properties was based on the poisonous anchar tree. The tale was further embellished in an article which appeared in the London Magazine in December 1873, six years prior to Erasmus Darwin’s poem.

This submission to the British Institution was Danby’s entry to the London art scene. Sir Richard Redgrave, an English landscape artist, genre painter and administrator, was full of praise for Danby’s painting, saying:

“…a wonderful first attempt……..and to succeed in such a subject required a poetical mind, joined to powers of the highest order: no mere landscape painting, no mere imitation of Nature, would suffice to picture to us the gloomy horrors of this land of fear…”

Disappointed Love by Francis Danby (1821)

In 1821 Danby’s fourth son, Thomas, was born and this was also the year that Danby had his first painting accepted by the Royal Academy for their annual exhibition and it became one of his best-known works. It was entitled Disappointed Love. The depiction is of the dark recesses of the River Frome near Stapleton, a north-eastern suburb of Bristol. Stapleton was a favourite destination for Bristol-based artists, such as George Carmichael, Edward Rippingille and Edward Bird and all three had completed works depicting a girl seated alone in a wooded landscape. However it is considered that Danby’s work was far better than theirs.

The painting depicts a heartbroken young woman who has just been jilted. Her hands cover her face as she sits weeping on the bank of a lily pond surrounded by dark and murky woodland. The occasional small white flowers, dotted around, struggle to lift the dark green and browns of the undergrowth. This gloomy undergrowth mirrors the depressed mind of the young girl. Her long dark tresses hang down over her white dress. Beside her, we see her discarded bonnet, her scarlet shawl , a miniature portrait of her lover and other letters which she has not yet destroyed. Her sad figure dressed in white is reflected in the water and it almost seems that the water is drawing her to it so that she can end her life and her misery, in an Ophelia-like fashion. Floating on the surface of the pond are pieces of a letter which she has torn up and discarded. Eric Adams wrote a biography in 1973 on Francis Danby entitled Francis Danby: varieties of poetic landscape and he believes the model for the painting was a model at the Bristol Artists newly founded Life Academy. There was a lot of criticism of the painting, not so much for the poetical nature of the work but for its technical faults, in particular the lack of proportion of the plants in the foreground.

When the painting was put forward to the Royal Academy jurists to see if it should be allowed in to the 1821 Exhibition it was not wholly loved. An account of one of the jurist’s comments on seeing Danby’s painting was reported some twelve years later as:

“…An unknown artist about ten years ago sent a very badly painted picture for the exhibition. The committee laughed but were struck by “something” in it and gave it admission. The subject was this. It was a queer-coloured landscape and a strange doldrum figure of a girl was seated on a bank, leaning over a dingy duck-weed pool. Over the stagnant smeary green, lay scattered the fragments of a letter she had torn to pieces, and she seemed considering whether to plump herself in upon it. Now in this case, the Academicians judged by the same feelings that influence the public. There was more “touching” invention in that than in the nine-tenth of the best pictures exhibited there the last we do not know how many years. The artist is now eminent…”

It is a beautiful painting, full of pathos, and one cannot but feel sympathy for the young girl. It was for this reason that I was surprised to read an anecdote about this painting and the depiction of the girl. Apparently the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, was being shown the painting by its owner, the wealthy Yorkshire cloth manufacturer, John Sheepshanks and commented that although he was impressed by the deep gloom of the scene, it was a shame that the girl was so ugly. Sheepshanks replied:

“..Yes, one feels that the sooner she drowns herself the better…”

With that unfeeling comment I will close the first part of my blog on Francis Danby !

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Agnès Boulloche and her surrealist world.

Agnès Boulloche

My last blog was about the painter Alfred Robert Quinton and his artwork which was perceived to be “chocolate-boxy” and kitsch and yet, I believe was a charming window on beautifully tranquil bye-gone days of rural life.

The artwork today could not be more different. It is Surrealism. Surrealism, which means “beyond reality”, was a movement, principally in literature and the visual arts. It thrived in Europe between the First and Second World Wars. The Surrealists rejected rationalism and held the belief that the rational mind repressed the power of the imagination. Surrealists instead tried to channel the unconscious mind and by so doing, reveal the power of the imagination.

The founder of the Surrealist movement was the French poet and critic André Breton who launched the movement by publishing the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 and led the group till his death in 1966. Surrealist artists find magical enchantment and enigmatic beauty in the unexpected and the strange, the overlooked and the eccentric. In a way, it is a belligerent dismissal of conservative, if somewhat conformist, artistic values. The depictions in the Surrealist paintings are startling often colourful. In some ways they are mesmerising and one wonders what was going through the mind of the painter when they put their ideas on canvas or wood. My featured artist today is French and she was considered to be one of the leading twentieth century French Surrealist painters. Let me introduce you to Agnès Boulloche.

Le Jeu de la Chausse-Trappe (The Trap-Door Game) by Agnès Boulloche

Agnès Boulloche was born in Paris in 1951. She was the daughter of André Boulloche, who in 1940 joined the Resistance movement He was captured and deported by the Nazis. In 1959 he was made Minister of National Education under the mandate of General de Gaulle. He was known as a politician of integrity and conviction. Sadly he died in a plane crash, barely 62 years old. Agnès spent much of early childhood in Rabat, Morocco where André was head of the Road Bureau. As a child she loved to paint and draw. Her mother, Anne, once said that she was born with brushes in her mouth, where others have a pacifier! From a young age Agnès was also fascinated by myths and mythical lands and loved to hear about the adventurous tales of the Arabian Nights. Her other interest, and maybe it came from living in an Arab country, was the world of jinn. Jinn being defined in Islamic mythology as a class of spirits, lower than the angels, capable of appearing in human and animal forms and influencing humankind for either good or evil.

Les Marmitons by Agnès Boulloche

From an early age Agnès had always been immersed in a world populated by fabulous beasts, countless chimeras, gorgons and genies. She experiences life in a fantasy world inhabited by humanimal creatures who she depicts in her artwork dancing, riding on each other and even spinning their horned feet around chessboards in stone-paved gardens. This was her fantasy world which she once described:

“…I’ve always had that taste for escape and freedom. Already a child I escaped, taking the side roads to find my close friends, a whole people of fabulous beasts, chimeras and other geniuses. And my left hand lent itself to my dreams and allowed me to evolve in this magnificent dimension that is painting…”

She always had an affinity towards animals, once saying:

“…I do not see so many differences between humans and animals. On the contrary, I see a lot of interference. However, I hate bestiality on one side or the other. What I disliked was the fact that animals are considered objects, which fortunately is no longer the case since the recent vote of the deputies on April 15, 2014…”

The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, by Hieronymus Bosch (1495 – 1505)

Agnes Boulloche paints in oil on wood panels and uses the ancient technique of “glaze”, a superposition of thin transparent layers of colours. She also uses many chemical recipes to create her pigments and varnishes.
When she was a teenager, she and the family left Morocco and returned to Paris where she enrolled at the École des arts décoratifs, a school which had a major role in the development of the Art Deco design movement in the 1920s and in the creation of new design concepts. Agnès focused on oil-on-wood painting. Except for a short period at art school Agnès was self-taught. One of her main artistic influences is the artist Hieronymus Bosch, whose works are often populated with strange and exotic animals.

Le renard dans le bestiaire médiéval

Agnès also liked to look at the illustrated bestiaries, which must have inspired her works. A bestiary was a compendium of beasts. A bestiary means a manuscript of the Middle Ages gathering fables and morals on the “beasts”, real or imaginary animals, mystical animals. They originate in the ancient world and were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals. She would study works by Philippe de Thaon, Guillaume le Clerc, Gervaise de Fontenay and Richard de Fournival in a modern version. The themes of her inspiration were creatures, half-men, half-beasts, but according to her, they were “more than human”.

Agnès Boulloche – Self Portrait  entitled We Two (2013)

Her painting technique followed traditional methods. Agnes used her own different alchemical formulas for her colours and mixed her own colours, pigments and varnishes. She would then use these oils and paint on wood panels in “glazing technique” used by the Old Masters, in a way in which many transparent layers of colours are laid on top of each other in several passes. This made it possible to work out very fine details and attain delicate, bright colours. Agnès Boulloche paintings are often set in landscapes, which appear similar to those we see in Renaissance compositions.

Danse avec la Lune by Agnès Boulloche

Besides her paintings, she would spend time in the production of sculptures, which were mainly cast in bronze in wax castings and hand chased and then patinated.

Agnès Boulloche in 2014 creating one of her favourite animals -an owl

In the photograph above, taken by her daughter, Julie Lipinski we see her working on one of her favourite animals, the owl.

Oiseau Au by Agnès Boulloche

Soon after completing her studies, she opened her first exhibition in Paris. She was invited by friends to visit them on the Ile de Ré but for Agnès it was not love at first sight. She recalled that at first she deemed it to be ugly and flat. However, she returned the following year and, had a change of heart:

“…When I came back the following summer, I noticed the lack of bars on the ground floor windows and the houses that were not necessarily closed twice when we were away, etc….. I said to myself, this is a place where the notion of freedom must still have a meaning…”

Le Rat de Bibliothèque by Agnèes Boulloche

She used to live and work alternately in Paris and in the town of Foix on the Île de Ré, which lies on the southern French Atlantic coast. In 1994 she finally made Loix her permanent home. She knew it was her destiny to live in Loix saying:

“…Convinced that it was there that I had to be, I first rented a house in Loix, then quickly bought a first home, still in Loix, my village for 18 years. Even though I have always been painting and if I’ve been living for about forty years, in Loix, when I leave home, I am not permanently stamped “painter”. No, I am a Loidaise [term for people of Loix] full, I participate in a real village life and I feel adopted. So to honour this shared friendship, I contribute artistically, and of course voluntarily, to the daily life of the village by making street signs and various other things such as the cemetery or the children’s kitchen garden of the school…”

Le chien tiroir (The Drawer Dog)  by Agnès Boulloche

She bought her first house, but it had no garden and she missed that aspect of living. Then she met Michel Héraudeau, a local builder and in 1996 they joined forces and bought some land in the heart of Loix. He then built Agnès’ house first, then his own, but by this time they had fallen in love and he moved in with Agnès. Soon their common garden was full of flowers and their life became a great love story, which lasted until her death.

Le Bal des Masques by Agnès Boulloche

In 2011, her daughter, Julie Lipinski, also moved to Loix with her partner, Thibault Chenaille, and their 13-year-old son Swan. Then, in 2013, Agnès Boulloche became a grandmother for a second time with the arrival of Julie’s second child, a son, Marlow. Now, Agnès’ life could not be bettered. She was a very successful artist who was now surrounded by her daughter and her grandchildren. Julie described her mother as being a passionate lover of life, a very sensitive person but for all that, one who has a natural authority.

L’Atelier de la Lune by Agnès Boulloche

Sadly in June 2018 she was diagnosed with having cancer. Her daughter said that she accepted the news and never complained as she was a woman of great strength of character. Agnès Boulloche died on April 7th 2019. On that Sunday afternoon, her daughter announced her passing in Facebook, simply writing:

“…My mom joined her fantasy world this morning…”

A tribute was held together with the dispersion of her ashes at the port of Loix Saturday, on April 20th. The local newspaper, Ré à la Hune, recorded the news of her death writing:

“…Since her death, there has been a shower of tributes that sweeps over the social network, on the island of Ré, and more precisely to Loix. For twenty-five years, Agnès Boulloche had put her baggage in this village she loved so much, because in the middle of the salt marshes, the land, the sea and the sky were her horizons and especially her anchors. In her suitcases, she had first brought back her brushes and paintings, and of course, all this universe of her own, populated by animals like the rhinoceros, the cat, the owl, the unicorns, but also angels and little girls or young women with bare breasts, but with ruffles and pointed hats…”

La Licorne de Troie (The Trojan Unicorn) by Agnès Boulloche

Agnes Boulloche had her paintings exhibited in Paris, as well as several other European countries. Her Surrealist works of art have also been seen in the United States, and in Africa. Her work brings out the energy of the colour she uses and seemed well suited in her imaginary world, a world where dreams prevail over reality. An art critic once wrote:

“…Agnes is a ghost who dreams with her eyes wide open …”.

L’Ecuyère (The Rider) by Agnés Boulloche

At the start of this blog I talked about the meaning of Surrealism paintings and pondered on what went through the artist’s mind when they formulated their depictions. Are there hidden meanings or were the depictions just amusing fantasies? In the case of Agnès Boulloche we may get closer to her reasoning for she decided to put her ideas on paper with her Dictionary of Symbols. I am not sure they help but here are some of the examples from her dictionary:

Cochon; animal très pieux et avenant toujours prêt à se faire atteler ou chevaucher par n’importe qui
Pig; a very pious animal, always ready to be hitched or ridden by anyone.

Chien: ne laissez jamais un chien nu sinon il fugue. Vêtissez le plutôt d’un chapeau de lune et d’une fraise empresée de dentelles
Dog: never leave a dog naked otherwise he runs away. Wear a moon hat and a strawberry with lace

Hibou: à tiroirs, il garde nos secrets
Owl: with drawers, he keeps our secrets

Licorne: sa corne telle celle du narval, son sosie marin, peut empaler les mérous, trépaner les dés ou décrocher la lune                                                                      Unicorn: its horn, like that of the narwhal, its marine look-alike, can impale the groupers, skewer the dice or catch the moon

Nef: folle, elle navigue bondée de créatures insensées qui se jouent de sa ligne de flottaison
Ship or boat: crazy, it sails full of crazy creatures who play with her waterline

I am not sure they help you decode the paintings but they do give you a further insight into the mind of the artist

Le Retable du Poisson Rouge (The Red Fish Altarpiece)  by Agnès Boulloche

Agnès seemed to have lived a happy life surrounded by her family on the Ile de Ré and yet she also loved to escape that land and journey to her imaginary world which brought her equal happiness.  She will be sadly missed.

Alfred Robert Quinton, the chocolate box painter.

People’s taste in art is a very personal thing. What some of us like is anathema to others. The main consideration when we choose our favourite paintings or favourite artist should be that they or their work make us feel good, inspired and happy. Why should we decry art that others like even if we consider it to be trivial or amateurish? What makes people who are critical about a certain painting or certain genres think that they are the great experts on art. Let us just like what we like and allow others to like what they like.

Alfred Robert Quinton

This is all a round about way of justifying the art genre of today’s featured painter. It is a genre which is liked by many but decried by others. My featured artist today is Alfred Robert Quinton, an English nineteenth century watercolour painter who was known for his depictions of villages and landscapes. Detractors label his work as being chocolate-box art. This term derives from scenes of a highly stereotypical nature found on biscuit and chocolate boxes. They were often scenes of the English countryside depicting charming cottages with little girls adorned in pretty dresses dancing happily with their pets. Now the term chocolate-box art is more of a judgemental and derogatory expression. The decriers call these works over-sentimental and kitsch and yet, at the time, they were very popular, albeit in recent years they have fallen slightly out of favour.

Cottages at Lake, Nr Salisbury, Wiltshire, from The Cottages and the Village Life of Rural England by Alfred Robert Quinton published by Dent and Sons Limited, 1912

Alfred Robert Quinton was born in Peckham, London on October 23rd 1853. He was the youngest of seven children, the fifth son of John Allan Quinton and Eliza Quinton (née Cullum). His parents came from the county of Suffolk. John Quinton was from Needham Market and his wife, whom he married in 1840, was from Ipswich. John and Eliza Quinton moved from Suffolk to 5 Ellington Terrace, Islington, London in 1850. John Quinton, a printer, editor of periodicals, and supporter of the Liberals, was staunch Congregationalist and worked for the Religious Tract Society, an organisation which published Christian literature intended originally for evangelism, but also incorporated literature aimed at children, women, and the poor. John eventually became editor of titles such as The Boys’ Own Paper, The Girls’ Own Paper and The Sunday at Home. Alfred was influenced by his father, who lived to be eighty-eight, and was a regular Congregational Church attender and supporter of the Liberal Party.

Marlow by Alfred Robert Quinton

Alfred attended the Hornsey School in North London and excelled in art. He was a hard working pupil and when he was fourteen years old, received a book prize for his hard work, entitled Drawing From Nature. A Series of Progressive Instructions in Sketching To Which are Appended Lectures on Art Delivered at Rugby School. It was to be one of his favourite possessions and an inspiration to him on his artistic journey.

The Bell Inn Waltham St Laurence, Berkshire by Alfred Robert Quinton

Alfred left school and went to study at Heatherley’s Art School, which boasted Burne Jones, Rossetti, Millais, Lord Leighton, and Walter Sickert amongst its former students. From there Alfred became an apprentice engraver but soon decided to concentrate on becoming a professional artist. Initially Quinton worked in oils but his last-known work in that medium is dated 1885. From then on he concentrated on watercolour painting and black and white drawings. He exhibited his work at many London galleries and exhibited a large painting, Above Wharfedale, Yorkshire at the Imperial Jubilee Exhibition in Liverpool on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In 1879 his watercolour work, At Gomshall, Surrey was his first work to be exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Rottingdean near Brighton by Alfred Robert Quinton

Although Quinton was not a member of the Academy, his paintings were seen there on a regular basis, in fact, he had twenty works of art exhibited on the walls of the Academy between 1879 and 1919. Later however, his work was banned by the Royal Academy because they disapproved of what they termed, his ‘commercialisation’ of art. Quinton also exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists and the New Watercolour Society, which later became the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. Quinton’s original London studio was in Bolt Court, Fleet Street but in 1880 he moved to a studio in New Court, Lincoln’s Inn which he shared with a contemporary of his, the artist Henry Bailey.

Granny’s Cottage, Henley Common, near Midhurst, Sussex by Alfred Robert Quinton

Alfred Quinton regularly travelled throughout Europe in the early 1880’s. His favourite foreign trips were his sea voyages to Spain and the coastal town of Malaga and it was during one of his return trips home from the Spanish port that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Annie Crompton. The couple married at Bolton, Lancashire on May 20th, 1885. He was thirty-two and she was twenty-seven years of age. The couple went to live with Quinton’s parents who had a house in Finchley, London and they stayed there until his mother died in 1886. That year, on March 5th 1886, their son Leonard was born at Hampstead, London. A second son, Edgar, was born in 1891. Sadly, Edgar, who suffered from heart problems, died aged twenty-one, in 1912.

Dudging-Exhall Shakespeare Village by Alfred Robert Quinton

Quinton had a routine for each year. He would go off on his travels for three months during the summer and during this time would make hundreds of sketches and took and bought photographs of the places he visited, and then settle down at home to convert the sketches into paintings during the autumn and winter months. Quinton’s paintings were very popular and sales of them allowed him to purchase Westfield, a large eleven-roomed house with its own studio in Finchley, which, at the time, sat alone among the fields in the countryside. This home remained in the family until 1974, forty years after Alfred Quinton’s death.

Windsor Castle, from the Brocas by Alfred Robert Quinton

Not only did Quinton sketch during his summer journeys but he also kept a diary of his travels in England and Europe and these would be published in articles with accompanying illustrations by him. One such journey happened between May and October 1895 when he and his cycling companion, thought to be his artist friend, Henry Bailey, travelled from Land’s End to John O’Groats and this mammoth cycling trip was serialised in the journal, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Of the long journey, Quinton wrote:

“…Our idea was to tour leisurely from end to end, to enjoy varied scenery which our native land presents in such variety to those who care to see it and to study the life and character which we might meet with on the road…”

This was just one of the many he completed during his lifetime and was typical of the Victorians desire to travel.

The Cottages and Village Life of Rural England.by P H Ditchfield with Coloured and Line Illustrations by A.R. Quinton

The well-known English historian and a prolific author, Peter Hempson Ditchfield (P.H. Ditchfield) wrote a book The Cottages and the Village Life of Rural England in 1912 and Quinton provided seventy-one illustrations for it. Quinton recalled the collaboration fondly:

“…We have explored together some of the quaint nooks and corners, the highways and byways, of old England, and with the pen and brush described them as they are at the present time. We have visited the peasant in the wayside cottage…..entered the old village shop, and even taken our ease at an inn…”

The Historic Thames by Hilaire Belloc with illustrations by Alfred Robert Quinton

He provided illustrations for other books and magazines including a set of illustrations featuring the Wye Valley and Wharfedale in 1902 for the Art Journal. One of his most prestigious collaborations was his fifty-nine illustrations for Hilaire Belloc’s 1907 book The Historic Thames, which is considered a minor classic during the early part of the twentieth century.

Victoria Statue, Castle Approach, Windsor by Alfred Robert Quinton

The illustrations included views of Lambeth Place, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle and it took Quinton the summers of 1905 and 1906 to complete the illustrations, many of which were exhibited at the Suffolk Street Gallery which was the home of the Royal Society of British Artists. Two of the paintings on display were purchased by The Duke and Duchess of York for their private collection.

Chiddingstone, Kent by Alfred Robert Quinton

During the 1870’s and 1880’s Quinton struggled to sell his paintings, achieving a top price of fifteen guineas if he was lucky. But his fortunes changed by the early twentieth century and by 1920 his large 4 x 5ft works were fetching around one hundred guineas. In the early days of his career, most of his money came from book and booklet illustrations, but during the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s when he became a recognised landscape painter his paintings began to sell well

Village Cross, Crowcombe, Somerset by Alfred Robert Quinton

The postcard publisher Raphael Tuck began to produce images from Quinton’s watercolours in a series called Village Crosses.

However Quinton’s main outlet for his work came from Joseph Salmon, the Kent printer and art publisher who founded and owned J Salmon Limited.  Joseph Salmon, who had a personal interest in photography, had begun to publish black and white reproductions of photographs of the Sevenoaks neighbourhood in Kent as postcards. By the end of 1903 Salmon decided that picture postcards reproduced from paintings would be the way forward and he commissioned local artists to paint pictures of their local area.

A By-lane at Houghton, Sussex by Alfred Robert Quinton

Around 1911 Joseph Salmon visited the Selfridges Store in London and visited its art department where he noticed an art display featuring watercolour paintings of cottages and countryside scenes mainly of the Worcestershire area. The signature on all the works was A R Quinton. Salmon bought six of the watercolours and arranged with Quinton to have the copyright of the works and then had them reproduced as postcards. They proved a great success and it was to be the start of a collaboration between artist Quinton and printer J. Salmon which would last until Quinton’s death in 1934.

Footbridge, near Porlock, Somerset by Alfred Robert Quinton

Quinton was a prolific painter. In 1924, he completed one hundred and forty-three paintings which were delivered to J. Salmon for reproducing as postcards. Even in the last year of his life he managed to complete forty-seven commissioned works and one, an unfinished work, was on the easel where he had left it, the day before he died. His total artistic output was approximately two thousand watercolour paintings for Salmon postcards. For Quinton it was a lucrative association with Salmon as up until November 1922 he received four pounds for each painting, then his fee increased to five guineas per work. The artistic genius of Alfred Quinton was his ability to capture the flavour and colour of English rural life at the turn of the century. In his paintings, he was able to combine accuracy with an impression of rural peace and harmony which made his work so popular with the public. He was in love with the English countryside.

Alfred died at his beloved Finchley home, Westfield, on 10 December 1934, aged 81. His wife Elizabeth died ten years after her husband on February 16th 1945. She was 86. Their eldest son Leonard died on January 14th 1981.

Why was his work so popular? It is probably the nostalgia of the carefree days spent in the countryside, away from the fast paced towns and cities. P.H. Ditchfield, the author, whom Quinton collaborated in 1904 and 1912 summed it up, writing:

“…Agitators are eager to pull down our old cottages and erect new ones which lack all the grace and charm of our old-fashioned dwellings. It is well to catch a glimpse of rural England before the transformation comes, and to preserve a record of the beauties that for a time remain…”

The Tretyakov Gallery – My favourites.

The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

The Tretyakov Gallery is one of the world’s richest museums, a veritable treasure house of the finest works of Russian and Soviet art. In all, there are in excess of fifty thousand paintings, sculptures, drawings and engravings in the storerooms and galleries of this great establishment. The magnificent collection of art was founded by Pavel Tretyakov who began to collect art in the mid nineteenth century with a clearly formed conception of founding a museum that would be open to all to see and appreciate. It was to be a gallery for the people whereas entry to the Hermitage in St Petersburg was granted exclusively to visitors in full dress or tailcoats and the titles of all the paintings on show were in the French language. The Hermitage was only for the elite. In my final look at paintings housed in the Tretyakov Gallery I am going to showcase my five favourite works. Although my five previous Tretyakov blogs were solely about portraiture, and I do marvel at the technical ability shown by artists of that genre, the favourite paintings I am showing you today are all quite different, but gems in their own right.

The Appearance of Christ Before the People by Alexander Ivanov (1837-1857)

My first offering is a painting by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov who was born in St. Petersburg on July 16th 1806. It is entitled The Appearance of Christ Before the People (The Apparition of the Messiah) which he started in 1837 and yet did not complete until 1857. This monumental oil on canvas work measures 540cms x 750cms (18ft x 24ft 6ins) and the depiction is set on the banks of the River Jordan. The painting is based on the first chapter of the Gospel According to John (1: 29–31):

“…The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel…”

Ivanov’s fame is inseparable from his great masterpiece. The finished painting is based on hundreds of preparatory studies he made over twenty years, many of which are gems in themselves and are considered by art historians as masterpieces in their own right. This painting and about 300 preparatory sketches are housed in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Art critics believe that the preparatory sketches reveal greater expressiveness and psychological depth than the finished painting itself.

In the middle ground we see the solitary figure of Christ on a rocky mound approaching the gathering. Behind him in the background is a wide plain and the distant mountains. His figure is small in comparison to the others but nevertheless stands out because of it being a lone figure. In the foreground of the picture there are a number of male figures of varying ages, some of whom are already undressed waiting to be baptised.

John the Baptist

The main figure with his wavy black hair, dressed in his animal skin under a long cloak, is John the Baptist. In his left hand he holds a crosier. He is standing on the banks of the River Jordan and has raised his hands aloft and gestures towards the approaching solitary figure of Christ. To John the Baptist’s left, we see a group of apostles: the young John the Theologian, behind him – Peter, further on – Andrew and behind his back – Nathaniel, the so-called “doubter.” To the right of the approaching Christ and below the two soldiers on horseback, we have the Pharisees and scribes who unbendingly reject the Truth. In the centre of the painting we see a haggard old man struggling to his feet buoyed by the words of John the Baptist.

There are two interesting inclusions in the depiction. Firstly, to the right there is a figure that stands nearest to Jesus and it was he who was depicted as the Repin’s good friend, the writer and dramatist, Nikolai Gogol.

Self portrait

Ivanov also included a self-portrait. Just under the raised right hand of John the Baptist, one can make out a seated man with a red headgear – this is Ivanov himself.

In 1858, Alexander Ivanov went with his beloved painting to St Petersburg where it was exhibited. Its lukewarm reception must have been heart-breaking for Ivanov. Just imagine how you would feel if you had spent almost half of your life on one painting and then after all that effort it was not well received. Ivanov died of cholera in St Petersburg on July 3rd 1858, just a fortnight before his fifty-second birthday, not knowing that some years after his death his work of art would be hailed, by the likes of Ilya Repin, the most celebrated Russian painter of his day, as “the greatest work in the whole world, by a genius born in Russia

Barge Haulers on the Volga by Ilya Repin (1873)

My second choice is a painting by Ilya Repin. In an earlier blog regarding the Tretyakov Gallery I looked at some of Repin’s portraiture but my favourite works by him are his Social Realism works of art. His most iconic and most famous work is one he started in 1870 and completed in 1873. It is his painting entitled Barge Haulers on the Volga, which was bought by the Tsar’s second son. After the Russian Revolution the art collection of the grand duke was nationalized and it is now housed in the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.

Religious Procession in Kursk Province by Ilya Repin (1880-1883)

However, the Tretyakov Gallery houses another great painting by Repin. It is his 1883 work entitled The Religious Procession in the Province of Kursk. Like the Barge Haulers on the Volga it is a monumental painting measuring 175 × 280 cm. It is the annual religious procession in honour of Our Lady of Kursk at which the famous icon, Our Lady of Kursk, is carried twenty-five kilometres from the Korennaya Monastery, south, to the city of Kursk.  The setting for the painting is a time of drought and we see a large group of people crossing the parched earth. The hillside to the right appears to have been recently cleared of timber, and we can see fresh tree stumps in the ground. Further back along the procession we can see another platform, holding what appears to be a circular icon, besides which are two large banners. Further back along the procession we can just make out a large processional cross which is being held aloft.

The icon bearers

The leaders of the procession carry aloft a bier on top of which is the icon inside an elaborate neo-classical case. The light from the many candles inside the glass case gleam and this reflects off the gold riza icon-cover. A riza is a metal cover protecting an icon. To the left we see a line of peasants holding hands in an attempt to prevent any of the crowd getting too close to the icon. We see a peasant holding a stick out in front of him to try and prevent the crippled boy breaking through the cordon.

The priest

 

Following behind the icon are the priests and better-dressed people, some of who clutch icons to their chests. Note how Repin has portrayed one of the priests in a dandified manner as he carefully straightens his hair. Repin has also scornfully depicted the large stout woman in a yellow dress and bonnet carrying an icon behind the priest. She clutches an icon case to her chest.

 

What is interesting about the procession is that there is a great mix of people of various social standing in the community. Look carefully at the painting and observe the various characters Repin has depicted. He, by his portrayal of how the people are dressed, stresses the difference in their social status and highlights life’s inequalities. Some are in rags whilst others are bedecked in rich caftans.

The crippled boy

We focus our eyes on the young hunchback as he struggles along with his makeshift crutch totally focused on the icon, which is being held on the shoulders of the monks. To him, the icon may mean salvation. To him, life cannot get any worse and for him this procession will lead him to a better existence. Compare that with the posture of the cavalry officer atop of his horse who oozes a kind of sanctimonious piety, his attitude appears to be of one who only half believes in the power of the icon and who probably, unlike the hunchback, needs little that the icon can possibly offer anyway.  This is a “them and us” scene, a “have and have not” scenario, which Repin liked to depict in his social realist paintings. This was part of a slow build up to the revolution which would take another twenty years to arrive with its 1905 initial uprisings leading eventually to the ultimate revolution in 1917 which finally destroyed the Tsarist rule and the inequalities of life. For Repin, the procession we see before us in this painting maybe an allegory for the slow but unyielding forward advance of the working classes towards social change. Of his painting Repin wrote:

“…I am applying all of my insignificant forces to try to give true incarnation to my ideas; life around me disturbs me a great deal and gives me no peace – it begs to be captured on canvas…”

David L Jackson wrote in his book, The Wanderers and Critical Realism in nineteenth-century Russian painting, that one art critic at the time wrote with obvious disapproval with regards Repin’s painting and the people viewing it, saying that they were:

“…undesirables who thronged around it at exhibition, noting a preponderance of liberated women with short haircuts, nihilistic young men, and a strong Jewish element; the chief characters of Imperial xenophobia…”

While the American writer and educator, Richard Brettell, wrote about the painting in very unflattering terms, in his book, Modern art, 1851–1929: capitalism and representation, that the painting depicted:

“…fat, gold-robed priests, stupid peasants, wretched cripples, cruel mouthed officials, and inflated rural dignitaries…”

The painting was bought by the leading collector of the time, Pavel Tretyakov for a record 10,000 roubles and there is an interesting tale connected to this purchase. Tretyakov wanted Repin to replace the maids carrying the empty icon-case with “a beautiful young girl, exuding spiritual rapture”. Repin refused !

The Rooks have Returned by Alexei Savrasov (1871)

My third choice is a landscape work. It is Alexsei Savrasov’s 1871 painting entitled The Rooks have Returned, which is considered to be one of his finest works. Savrasov is looked upon as one of the most important of all the 19th century Russian landscape painters and is regarded as being one of the early architects of the “lyrical landscape”, sometimes referred to as “mood landscape”. In 1870 Savrasov became a member of the Peredvizhniki group of Russian realist artists who had protested about academic restrictions, and, with other disenchanted aspiring artists, formed an artists’ cooperative, which eventually evolved into the Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions in 1870, which allowed the artists to break away from government-sponsored academic art. In December 1870, Savrasov and his wife went to Yaroslavl and later, Nizhny Novgorod, which was close to the Volga River. The artist was overwhelmed by the splendour of the beautiful Russian countryside and spent much of his time outdoors painting landscapes en plein air.

The painting, The Rooks have Returned, depicts the start of Spring, evidenced by the return of these birds. Savrasov’s landscape works were influenced by the great English landscape painter, John Constable.  This painting is considered by many critics as being the high point in Savrasov’s artistic career. The depiction we see before us is a simple, and depicts the somewhat inconsequential occurrence of birds returning home in spring to an extremely unpretentious landscape, but it was Savrasov’s way of communicating the change of seasons from Winter to Spring. Simple and yet beautiful. Ivan Kramskoy, the Russian painter and art critic who was the intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement wrote that the landscape in “The Rooks Have Come Back” was the best he’d ever seen; and despite the fact that there were similar landscapes painted by other renowned Russian artists, only “The Rooks” mirrored the artist’s soul. Another famous Russian painter, the classical landscape painter, Isaac Levitan commented about its simplicity saying that although the painting was very simple, beneath its simplicity there is the tender artist’s soul, who loves nature and values it.  The painting enhanced Savrasov’s reputation as a landscape painter and it contributed to the success of the first exhibition organized by the Peredvizhniki.

My final two choices are both historical painting by Vasily Surikov which Pavel Tretyakov bought for his Gallery. Surikov was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia on January 24th 1848 and at the age of twenty-one, he moved to Moscow. Many believe that he was the greatest Russian historical painter. The paintings like many others by Surikov have one thing in common – the depiction of crowds. He once wrote:

“…I cannot see individual historical figures acting without the people, without the crowd, I want them all out in the street…”

Boyaryna Morozova by Vasily Surikov (1887)

Both these works of art I have chosen hang in the Tretyakov Gallery. The first one is his monumental 1887 work entitled The Boyarynia Morozova which measures 304 x 588cms. A boyarynia is a woman of high nobility.
Tzar Alexey Mikhailovich Romanov who ruled between 1645 to 1676 was the father of Peter I the Great, and he started the reforms in Russia; one of which was intended to subordinate the church to the tsar. The reforms resulted in the Russian Orthodox Church split into Nikonians (those who followed the new course set down by the tsar, the name comes from the revolutionary patriarch Nikon) and the Old-Believers who were against the radical changes. The changes included the revision of icons and holy books, and there were even changes in the divine service. It was also deemed that making the sign of the cross should be done with three fingers, instead of two. In the picture the Boyarynya and her supporters are shown with two fingers up, which means they are Old-Believers.

Boyaryna Morozova

The painting depicts the arrest of Feodosia Morozova, one of the most well-known of the Old Believers in 1653. She is being driven, bound in chains, on a simple peasant sledge through a narrow Moscow street. She has been condemned to a terrible death and is now being exposed to shame and abuse. She remains unbending in her beliefs and we witness her as she sweeps her hand upwards with two outstretched fingers – the sign of the schism. She looks pale and emaciated but still her eyes sparkle defiantly. Few of her followers dare to copy her gesture as they are afraid to openly show their support with the woman because of the brutal oppression by the authorities. However, a beggar to the right holds up his two fingers in a gesture of solidarity whilst others bow their heads in grief.

The Morning of the Streltsy Execution by Vasily Surikov (1881)

The second work by Surikov, and my final choice, is his 1881 painting entitled The Morning of the Streltsy Execution.  Surikov’s very large historical work (218 x 379cms) depicts an event during the reign of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, the second Streltsy Uprising of 1698. The Streltsy were infantry units which were formed in the 16th century by the Russian Tsar Ivan IV ‘Ivan the Terrible’. These units were considered elite units. Over time the Streltsy became a power behind the throne and in 1682 they attempted to prevent Peter the Great from coming to the throne in favour of his mentally disabled half-brother, Ivan. Whilst Peter the Great was on a scientific tour in western Europe during 1697 and 1698, the four thousand men from the Streltsy-regiments of Moscow rebelled. The rebellion was crushed, Peter the Great cut short his tour and returned to Moscow to punish the rebels with savage reprisals, including public executions and torture. Surikov’s painting depicts the crushing of the rebels. The setting is Red Square, with the large Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the background. The stone platform on the left is the Lobnoye Mesto, a 13-meter-long stone platform situated on Red Square in Moscow in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. On the right, on horseback, we can see Tsar Peter the Great, with his advisors standing next to him. To the left we can the Streltsy rebels on carts, their family and loved ones surround them agonising over their impending fate. Fifty-seven Streltsy were executed in Red Square by hanging, with seventy-four more to follow four days later. Many Streltsy were also whipped, drawn and quartered, and buried alive, with the total number of executions eventually reaching 1,182. Six hundred were sent into exile. The Streltsy-regiments were then disbanded.

Of all the world’s Art Galleries the Tretyakov in Moscow is one to visit.

The Tretyakov Portraits. Part 4

The portraiture of Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy

Russian Stamp from 2012 celebrating 175th anniversary of Kramskoy’s birth

My third look at portraiture exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery features the work of Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, the artist who was born into an impoverished lower middle social class family on June 8th 1837 in the village of Novaya Sotnya, near Ostrogozhsk, a town in south-west Russia. He was the third son of a town council clerk of the municipal duma. He attended the local school but, at the age of twelve, when is father died, he was unable to continue his education. During these early years Ivan showed a great interest in and a talent for drawing but lacked the support of family and friends to follow his dream of becoming an artist. Help finally came his way when he was employed by a visiting photographer who employed him to work as a colour correction artist. In October 1853, aged sixteen, Ivan left his native village and after much travelling arrived in St Petersburg.

Portrait of the Photographer Andrey Denier by Ivan Kramskoy (1883).                      The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Having already worked for a photographer back home he found a job with a well-known St Petersburg photographer, Andrey Denier. Ivan gained many friends whilst living in the city and many were amazed at the quality of his artwork and persuaded him to study art. In the Autumn of 1857, aged twenty, Ivan Kramskoy enrolled at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.

The St Petersburg Academy had, like most European Academies of art, a fixed way of teaching and pushed the long-established practice of depictions focusing on the Neoclassical tradition, as suitable subjects. However, many of the young aspiring painters were not interested in old fashioned historical and mythological subjects preferring to dwell on works of art, the depictions of which embraced social realism. The students were also critical of the social environment that caused the conditions which were depicted in their social realism paintings. It came to a head in 1863 when fourteen young artists, all studying at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, rebelled against the choice of topic for the annual Gold Medal competition, “The Entrance of Odin into Valhalla”. Instead, the fourteen wanted to depict in their paintings the reality of contemporary Russian life, a Realist style similar to what had emerged in the art world in  19th century Europe and in protest, had refused to take part in the competition. The rebel students asked to be allowed to choose their own subjects but the Academy Council turned down their request, and so they left the Academy. It was such a sensitive issue with political connotations that the rebel artists were put under secret surveillance and the press was forbidden to mention them.

Ivan Kramskoi, who had already spent six years at the Academy, led this “group of fourteen” rebels. The protest was not just about what they had to paint but in the unjust conservatism of Russian society and the desire for democratic reforms which he believed could be furthered if artists developed a political responsibility through their art. His views were anathema to the Academy hierarchy and he soon became a figurehead for an increasing number of disillusioned artists who believed in his artistic and political philosophy.

Artel of Artists (1863-1864) (l-r) Venig, Zhuravlev, Morozov, Lemokh, Kramskoi, Litovchenko, Makovsky, Dmitriev-Orenburgsky, Petrov, Kreitan, Peskov, Shustov, Korzukhin, Grigoryev

The revolt of the fourteen, as it was termed, led to the formation of the Artel of Artists which was a cooperative association (artel). It was formed and organised by the art students who had been expelled from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. because of the “revolt of fourteen”. Ivan Kramskoy and four other artists set up home and a workshop in an apartment in the apartment house of Gudkov on Vasilievsky Island.  It was here that they formed a kind of commune with the common workshop. Almost every evening young people gathered in Kramskoi’s apartment.

The Peredvizhniki (1885)  Ivan Kramskoy (back row, 5th from the left)

In 1870, seven years after the establishment of the Artel for Artists, the group under the leadership of Kramskoy formed the Peredvizhniki (Передви́жники, mobile workers), often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants. This group of Russian realist artists formed an artists’ cooperative in protest of academic restrictions. They formulated plans to hold a series of “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” in provincial locations which could be funded without State assistance allowing them to choose what was being exhibited without State interference. It was also a chance for them to preach political reform. They decided that the subject of their paintings should showcase the achievements of Russian art to the common man and woman. They hoped to foster public understanding of art and at the same time develop new markets for the artists. The first of Peredvizhniki’s “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” was held in 1871, in Nizhny Novgorod and from then on, the group organized a series of shows across Russia. Running besides the exhibition of their paintings were artists’ lectures and talks on social and political reform.

Fedor Vasilev by Ivan Kramskoy (1871)

Surprisingly, the St Petersburg Academy initially welcomed the Peredvizhniki and even allowed them to host their first exhibition 0n November 29th, 1871. In all there were forty-seven paintings exhibited which received favourable reviews from the art critics. Ten of the paintings were portraits establishing the role of portraiture within the group. Kramskoi put forward three portraits of fellow artists, one of which was a monochromatic one depicting Fedor Vasilev.  Vasilev was a Russian landscape painter who brought to the Russian art scene the term “lyrical landscape”. Lyrical landscapes were those which exhibit a certain spiritual or emotional quality. It could be that the depiction is of a sensitive and expressive nature. It could also be that the landscape, as well as depicting a picturesque view, conveys a particularly reflective, ardent or tender feeling, conceivably associated with romanticism. Vasilev was one of the twenty founder members of the Peredvizhniki Association in 1870. In 1871, aged just twenty-one, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and so left St. Petersburg and travelled to Crimea, where he had hoped to find a cure for his illness. The plight of Fedor Vasilev touched the heart of many of his friends and contemporary artists. Kramskoy regularly contacted his friends asking them to help the ailing artist. The Society for Promotion of Artists sponsored his stay in the Crimea, but to meet his living costs he had to sell his paintings. He died in Yalta on October 6th, 1873 at the age of 23. A posthumous exhibition was held in Saint Petersburg and was an outstanding success with all his paintings being sold prior to the start of exhibition. Kramskoy’s portrait of Vassily avoided a mawkish depiction of a dying young man. Instead he depicts the young artist as a dapper young professional with an aura of dignity and professionalism wearing his attractively tailored three-piece suit and fob watch. Feodor Vassily reputation as a “boy genius” was well founded.

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy (1872)

My next offering, in a way, is not actually a portrait, per se, but it is one of my favourite paintings by Kramskoy which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery. It is entitled Christ in the Wilderness and was completed in 1872.  It was first shown in 1872 at the Peredvizhniki exhibitions in St. Petersburg and later in many cities throughout the country.  The haunting depiction is radical and, some may say, shocking.  Kramskoy offers us an image of Christ that is very different from the usual sterile submissions of the past. In his depiction of the temptation of Jesus we can see his unbending realism. Jesus is seated on a boulder in a barren and dry wilderness. He is hunched over and has a dishevelled appearance.  It depicts Christ sitting in a state of profound dejection and indecision, hands clasped due to tension not prayer. We see the suffering of Jesus as he endures life in the barren arid wilderness. He has his back to the rising sun as he sits hunched forward on a boulder. Mentally he looks anxious. Maybe he is contemplating the forty-day exile and whether he should or is able to continue despite all the temptations. Physically, he looks dishevelled. He looks tired and his face is gaunt and there can be no doubt that he is suffering. We can empathize with his hunger and thirst and through Kramskoy’s realist depiction we are able to sense Jesus’ loneliness during this period of haunting isolation. Leo Tolstoy described it as the best Christ he had ever seen.

Actor Alexander Lensky Pavlovich as Petruchio in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew by Ivan Kramskoy (1883)

The plays of William Shakespeare were very popular in Russia in the nineteenth-century with the first edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare being published in the 1860’s. The Russian actor who was most famous for his portrayal of the Shakespearean characters was Alexander Lensky who often appeared on the stage of the Maly Theatre in Moscow which had opened in 1806. The theatre would often not appoint a director for the plays giving the position to one of the main actors. Lensky would often assume the role of main actor and director. Kramskoy and Lensky became good friends and in 1883 the artist gave the actor some painting lessons. Maybe it was the number of hours spent teaching Lensky that gave Kramskoy the chance to study him at close quarters. In his portrait entitled The Actor Alexander Lensky as Petruchio in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew we see the actor in the costume of Petruchio, with his leather gauntlet, heavy jewelled chain and white ruff, so arranged to form tiers of differing textures. Against this, we have the tousled hair and downcast eyes of the actor who is immersing himself in his theatrical role.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ivan Kramskoy (1873)

Fourteen years before Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Ilya Repin to paint portraits of Leo Tolstoy, he had approached Ivan Kramskoy with the same task once he realised that Kramskoy lived near Leo Tolstoy. Whether Tretyakov told Kramskoy that he had approached Tolstoy requesting him to be a sitter for a portrait on several occasions only to be refused, we will never know, but he did add that Kramskoy should use all his charm to persuade Tolstoy to acquiesce. Tolstoy did agree and artist and writer ended up becoming great friends. Tolstoy was working on his novel Anna Karenina at the same time Kramskoi was at the writer’s home painting his portrait. It is believed that Tolstoy ended up creating the character of Mikhailov, a Russian artist who paints Anna’s portrait in his book, and was based on Kramskoi’s personality. Kramskoy’s portrait is a dark and sombre depiction of the great man but one which Tretyakov liked and paid Kramskoy 5oo roubles for it in 1874.

The final portrait by Kramskoy, belonging to the Tretyakov Gallery, which I am going to show you, is one surrounded in mystery as to who is the beautiful sitter for the painting. The unknown female is seen leaning back on the leather seat. She is exquisitely and sophisticatedly dressed. She wears a dark blue velvet fur coat which is trimmed with silver fur and decorated with satin ribbons. She has an elegant hairstyle which is almost hidden by a stylish hat with a white ostrich feather. Her right hand is concealed inside a furry clutch whilst the other hand can be seen covered by a dark kid glove. On her wrist we can see her lustrous gold bracelet. This majestic beauty is composed and looks down upon us with a somewhat haughty expression. She is very aware of the power her beauty commands. The architectural landscape in the background occupies an important place in the painting, with its pink/brown colouring. It is the blurry outlines of the Anichkov Palace that we glimpse as it emerges out of the fog.

Unknown by Ivan Kramskoy (1883)

The 1883 work by Kramskoy is simply entitled Unknown. In all the papers and notes left by Kramskoy nothing sheds light as to the identity of the beautiful woman. The Kramskoy portrait appeared at the eleventh exhibition of the Peredvizhniki’s Association Itinerant Art Exhibitions in November 1883. Viewers were mystified by who the model was for this work. Speculation came fast and furiously that it could have been a member of minor royalty or an actress but Kramskoy would not reveal the model’s name. Could she just be Kramskoy’s idea of the fictional heroine in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s female character Nastasya Filippovna, in his novel Idiot.  Another possible answer to the identity of the woman comes from a book written by Ilya Repin. In 1916 Repin worked on his book of reminiscences entitled Far and Near, with the assistance of Korney Chukovsky and in the book Repin tells of an incident which occurred in the workshop of the Artel of Artists group. He wrote:

“…One morning, on Sunday, I came to Kramskoy … From a troika-sleigh that arrived, a group of artel artists-artists with cold frost on fur coats fell into the house with a beautiful woman. I was just dumbfounded by this wondrous face, the height and all proportions of the black-eyed… In the general turmoil, chairs quickly boomed, easels moved, and the general hall quickly turned into a study class. They set the beauty on an elevation … I began to stare at the back of the artists … Finally, I got to Kramskoy. Here it is! That’s her! He was not afraid of the correct proportion of eyes with a face, she has small eyes, Tatar, but how many shine! And the end of the nose with nostrils is wider between the eyes, just like hers, and what a beauty! All this warmth, charm came only from him…”.

Dis Kramskoy remember that incident and make the lady the subject of his Unknown painting ?   We will never know.

Portrait of the Doctor Karl Rauchfus by Ivan Kramskoy (1887).                                                   The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Ivan Kramskoy died at work 0n April 6th 1887 in St. Petersburg while standing at his easel. He was painting the Portrait of Doctor Rauchfus, which remained unfinished.  He was forty-nine years of age.

In my final blog regarding the Tretyakov Gallery’s paintings I will talk about my favourite works housed by the Moscow institution, other than the portraits which I have looked at in the previous blogs.

The Tretyakov Portraits. Part 3.

The portraiture of Valentin Serov.

Valentin Serov

In today’s blog I want to look at another artist who has many of his works of art featured in the Tretyakov Gallery, including a number of portraits. Let me introduce you to Valentin Alexandrovich Serov who was a Russian painter, and one of the leading portrait artists of his era.

Self portrait by Valentin Serov (1887)

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was born in St Petersburg in 1865 and was to become one of the foremost portrait artists of his time. He was the only-child of Alexander Nikolayevich Serov and his wife, Valentina Serova née Bergman. His father Alexander was a Russian composer and one of the most important music critics in Russia during the 1850s and 1860s.

Valentina Serova by Ilya Repin (1878)

His mother, Valentina had studied for a short time at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Anton Rubinstein but left to study with Alexander Serov whom she married in 1863. Valentin Serov was brought up in a musical and artistic household. At the age of six his father died from a heart attack and his mother sent him to live with a friend in a commune in Smolensk province and later he accompanied his mother on her travels throughout Europe as she sought to further her musical career. In 1874 mother and son arrived in Paris where they met Ilya Repin who took the nine-year-old Valentin under his wing and gave him daily drawing lessons. In 1880 Repin arranged for Valentin to attend and study art for five years at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts under Pavel Chistyakov. Serov was very interested in the Realism genre of art and was greatly influenced by what he saw in the major galleries and museums of his home country and those of Western Europe.

Portrait of Savva Mamontov, 1887 by Valentin Serov. (Private collection)

In 1874, Repin introduced Valentin Serov and his mother  to Savva Mamontov the railroad tycoon and entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder and creative director of the Moscow Private Opera. Mamontov was best known for supporting a revival of traditional Russian arts at an artists’ colony he led at Abramtsevo. On returning to Moscow from Paris, he and his mother were invited by Savva Mamontov to settle at Abramtsevo, an estate located north of Moscow, on the Vorya River. This estate had become a centre for the Slavophile Movement, an intellectual movement originating from the 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history.

Abramtsevo, 1880 painting by Ilya Repin

Abramtsevo was originally owned by the Russian author Sergei Akaskov. On his death the property was purchased by the wealthy railroad tycoon and patron of the arts, Savva Mamontov. Through his efforts, Abramtsevo became a centre for Russian folk art and during the 1870’s and 1880’s the estate was to be home for many artists who tried to reignite the interest, through their paintings, in medieval Russian art. Workshops were set up on the estate and production of furniture, ceramics and silks, ablaze with traditional Russian imagery and themes, were produced. It was during his time here that Serov came into contact with the cream of Russia’s artistic and cultural talent.

Girl with Peaches. Portrait of V.S.Mamontova by Valentin Serov (1887 )

Portraiture can come in a number of forms. Portraits can look official, stiff with a muted background so as not to detract from the aura of the sitter or they can be gentler and loving, often depicting family members. To start with let me show some of Serov’s more “natural” portraiture. One of my favourite works by Serov, and probably his best known, is his 1887 work entitled Girl with Peaches. Portrait of V.S. Mamontova which is housed in the Tretyakov Gallery. It was during his time at the Abramtsevo Colony, that Valentin Serov met and painted the portrait of Vera Mamontov, the twelve-year-old daughter of Savva Mamontov. Some believe that this work launched Russian Impressionism. Serov exhibited this painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, St Petersburg and received great acclaim and it is now looked upon as one of his greatest works. The painting which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is a more relaxed study and is breathtakingly beautiful. In the centre of the painting, we see depicted a portrait image of Savva’s Mamontov’s eldest daughter Vera. Serov was fascinated by the young girl who he looked upon as the little “Muse” of the Abramtsevo circle. The painting is a mixture of portraiture, fragments of interior, landscape, still-life which Serov combined in this beautiful work. The light shines through the window behind the girl and she is depicted using warm tones, which contrast with the cold grey tones of the space around her. The black eyes of the girl look out at us, thoughtful but slightly impatient at the length of time she had to pose for Serov and the number of sittings she had to endure. Valentin Serov knew Vera Mamontova from when she was born as he was a regular visitor to Mamontov’s Abramtsevo estate, and on a number of occasions he would live there for long periods. Serov would later recall painting this picture:

“…All I wanted was freshness, that special freshness that you can always feel in real life and don’t see in paintings. I painted it for over a month and tortured her, poor child, to death, because I wanted to preserve the freshness in the finished painting, as you can see in old works by great masters…”

Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II by Valentin Serov (1900 )

During the 1880’s Serov travelled abroad and came into contact with French Impressionism and the Impressionist painters such as Degas. Due to his family background and the popularity of his paintings, Serov never struggled financially. He was the foremost portraiture artist of his time and his subjects included Emperor Nicholas II.

Watercolour Portrait of Artist Ilya Repin by Valentin Serov (1901)

In 1887, after knowing each other for many years, Valentin Serov married Olga Feerovna Trubnikova and one of the witnesses at the wedding was Ilya Repin. Serov completed a watercolour portrait of his friend and one-time mentor Repin in 1901. It is now to be seen at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Olga Feerovna Trubnikova

Olga was a quiet lady and was once described as a petit, pleasant blonde with beautiful eyes, simple and very modest. She was the ideal wife for Serov. She was supportive, a sympathetic listener who and would listen to her husband’s grand plans for his artistic future. In a letter to his wife dated May 1887 he talked about his love of the Impressionist’s lifestyle writing:

“…I want to be just as carefree. At present they all paint heavily without joy. I want joy and will paint joyfully…”

Olga Trubnikova by the Window by Valentin Serov (1886)

Olga Serova featured in many of his paintings. One example of this is his 1886 work entitled By the Window. Portrait of Olga Trubnikova.

In Summer (also known as Portrait of O. F. Serova) by Valentin Serov (1895)

Serov completed another more famous portrait of his wife in 1895 entitled In Summer. In this work we see Olga in the foreground and in the background one can see Olga and Yuri, two of their children, playing in a field in the village of Domotkanovo, at the country estate of Serov’s former schoolfriend and fellow Academy of Arts student, the watercolourist, Vladamir Derviz. Derviz had bought the estate with his inheritance from his father, a St. Petersburg senator. Serov often stayed on the estate as, for him, it was a welcome relief to get away from the large city of Moscow and the professional networking he had to endure to secure commissions. It is a modest depiction of great charm. It is a plein air painting which really captures the qualities of the light. The painting is full of silver-greys and muted green, blue and white colours. Olga’s dress is a mixture of pale pink, a hint of gold and blueish lilac colours.

Girl in the Sunlight (Portrait of M. Simonovich), 1888 by Valentin Serov.

Another of Serov’s female portraits was of his cousin, Maria Simonovich, entitled Girl in the Sunlight which he completed in 1888. His cousin remembered the long plein air sittings for the painting, writing:

“…He was looking for new ways to transfer to the canvas infinitely varied play of light and shade while retaining the freshness of colours. Yes, I sat there for three months, and almost without a break…”

Portrait of Nadezhda Derviz and Her Child by Valentin Serov (1889)

During one of his stays at the Domotkanovo estate of Vladamir Derviz, Serov completed a portrait of his host’s wife, Nadezhda with her young child. Nadezhda was Serov’s cousin. The painting entitled Nadezhda Dervi with Her Child is dated 1888-1889 but is unfinished. It was experimentally painted on an iron roofing-sheet, presumably purchased for the replacement of the old wooden lath roof of the Domotkanovo house with a new one. Serov initially started painting this portrait in 1887 when baby Maria was a breastfed baby and Serov continued with the painting a year later when baby Maria had become too big.

Portrait of Ivan Morozov, 1910 by Valentin Serov

Art needs artists. Artists need commissions. Commissions come from wealthy patronage. In the late nineteenth-century many of the Russian patrons were wealthy industrialists. A prime example of this was the Morozov family. Savva Vasilyevich Morozov was the eighteenth-century entrepreneur, who founded the Morozov dynasty of entrepreneurs. Two of the descendants from this ultra-wealthy family were the brothers,  Ivan and Mikhail Morozov, both art collectors and patrons of the art. Ivan, a major collector of avant-garde French art, was known for his patronage of both the theatre and visual arts and was a painter himself. Ivan Morozov had a passion for paintings by Matisse and in Serov’s 1910 portrait of Ivan Morozov we can see Matisse’s 1910 painting, Fruit and Bronze which the industrialist had acquired that year.

Portrait of Mikhail Abramovich Morozov by Valentin Serov (1902)

Ivan’s brother Mikhail was also featured in a Serov portrait. Mikhail like Ivan was a wealth patron of the arts as well as being an avid collector of works by Van Gogh, Gaugin, Degas and Renoir. Serov’s portrait of Mikhail is a much sterner depiction. He stares out at us with a stern gaze which is somewhat unsettling. In the early 1900s Mikhail had built up a collection of eighty-three paintings by Russian and West European artists. The highlight of his collection were works by Maurice Denis, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh. It was Mikhail who brought these artists to the attention of his brother Ivan and another art collector by the name of Sergei Shchukin. Mikhail sadly died in 1903, and sixty paintings from his collection were bequeathed to the Tretyakov Gallery.

Mika Morozov, 1901 by Valentin Serov.

In complete contrast to this disconcerting portrait of Mikhail, that same year Serov painted a wonderful portrait of Mikhail’s son, Mika. It all came about when Serov and Mikhail Morozov were sitting talking when Mika bounded into the room, full of energy, full of life. Mika’s childish innocence amazed Serov and he agreed to carry out a portrait of the young boy. Serov’s problem with carrying out such a portrait was how to get the child to sit still. Serov’s solution to this problem was to start telling Mika Russian fairy tales and Mika listened with his eyes wide-open and that is what we see in this poignant portrait by Serov. In return to hearing the stories, Mika also retold the tales back to Serov, which he had heard from his nanny and so with the story telling continuing, the portrait was completed.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman by Valentin Serov (1904)

My final set of portraits completed by Valentin Serov features Henrietta Leopoldovna Girshman, a lady who was once referred to as the most beautiful woman in Russia. From 1904 Serov’s favourite model was Henrietta Leopoldovna Girshman. She was the hostess of a famous Moscow salon as well as being the wife of the prominent industrialist, art collector and patron of arts, Vladimir Girshman. Strikingly beautiful, Henrietta inspired several well-known Russian artists to paint her portrait. Serov’s 1904 gouache on cardboard Portrait of Henrietta features the subject sitting with its flowing lines associated with the modernist style. Yet Serov was not satisfied with this drawing and attempted to destroy it.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman by Valentin Serov (1906)

Valentin Serov’s 1906 portrait of her in her boudoir hangs at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Henrietta stares confidently out at us in the knowledge that she has attained her status as the influential centre of Russian culture. Serov mimics Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” with his image appearing in the reflection of himself at the right side of the mirror.

Henrietta Girshman and her husband, Vladimir nurtured cultural exchanges and initiatives by organizing art-oriented programs and meetings and by founding the Society of Free Esthetics in 1907. They often opened their home for recitals, poetry readings and theatrical improvisations and welcomed such friends as Valentin Serov, Sergei Diaghilev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Maxim Gorky.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman by Valentin Serov (1911)

Of all the paintings featuring Henrietta, Serov’s favourite was his final portrait of her, an oval, which he completed in 1911.  The 1917 Russian Revolution forced the Girshmans into exile. Their house was confiscated and its contents and their art collection were nationalized. They eventually settled in Paris, and Henrietta revived her salon albeit on a much smaller scale.

Serov taught in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture from 1897 to 1909. He died in Moscow on December 5th 1911, from a form of angina that eventually led to cardiac arrest and heart failure due to severe complications. He was just forty-six years old. He was buried at the Donskoye Cemetery and later his remains exhumed and reburied at the Novodevichy Cemetery. A retrospective of his work was held at the Tretyakov Gallery in 2016 and it attracted record crowds.

The Tretyakov Portraits. – Part 2

The portraiture of Ilya Repin

Self portrait by Ilya Repin (1878)

This is my first blog in a series which looks at Russian portraiture on display at the Tretyakov Gallery. As I wrote in my previous blog about the art gallery, the founder Pavel Tretyakov had wanted to have a large collection of portraits of famous Russians in his gallery. The first Russian artist I am featuring, who has paintings in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, is Ilya Repin.
Ilya Yefimovich Repin was born in the southern Russian (now Chuhuiv, Eastern Ukraine) town of Chuguyev close to the Georgian border on July 24th, 1844. He was the fourth of six children of Efim Vasilievich Repin and his wife Tatyana Stepanovna Repina. His parents were a family of military settlers. Military Settlements in those days were places at which there was a combination of military service and agricultural employment. His father traded horses and his grandmother ran an inn. From the age of ten, Ilya studied at the Chuhuiv School of Military Topography and in 1857, Ilya studied art as an apprentice with the local icon painter, Ivan Bunakov. During his apprenticeship he would help paint icons and frescoes for the local churches. Throughout his life religious representations remained of great importance to him.

Portrait of A.S. Bocharova, the Artist’s Aunt by Ilya Repin (1859)

Even at the early age of fifteen, Repin demonstrated a rare talent for painting portraits which can be seen in his 1859 painting of his maternal aunt, Agrafena Stepanovna Bocharova, entitled Portrait of A.S. Bocharova, the Artist’s Aunt.

In 1863, at the age of nineteen, Repin moved to St Petersburg and enrolled for a one-year course at the School of Drawing of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists, a school which was created by a decree of Tsar Nicholas I in 1839 and was a preparatory school for the St. Petersburg Art Academy. Here he studied under the portrait painter Rudolf Zukowski and the Realist painter, Ivan Kramskoi, an intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement in 1860-1880.

It was whilst at that artistic establishment that the Rebellion of the Fourteen took place in September 1863. The rebellion consisted of fourteen young artists who left the Academy in protest against its rigid neoclassical dicta and who refused to use mythological subjects for their diploma works. The rebel artists insisted that art should be close to real life and they formed the Society of the Peredvizhniki to promote their own aesthetic ideals. In order to reach the widest audience possible, the society organized regular travelling exhibitions throughout the Russian Empire.

Portrait of V. E. Repin, the Artist’s Brother by Ilya Repin (1867)

In 1864, Repin, having completed his preparatory year, was accepted at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Repin completed another portrait of a family member in 1867. It was a painting featuring his younger brother, Vasily Efimovich Repin.

Later, Repin would be become a close friend and associate with some of rebel artists of the Society of the Peredvizhniki and fifteen years on after returning from Europe he would join the group. But for the time Repin remained at the Academy and in 1871 won the prestigious Major Gold Medal award and received a scholarship to study abroad.

Portrait of Vera Shevtsova by Ilya Repin (1869)

In 1872 Repin married Vera Alekseevna Shevtsova and in 1873 they travelled to Paris where Repin exhibited work at the Salon. The marriage lasted ten years but ended in divorce in 1884, on the grounds of Repin’s infidelity.

Turgenev, by Ilya Repin, 1874

In 1874 whilst living in Paris Repin was contacted by Pavel Tretyakov who offered him a commission to paint a portrait of Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, a popular Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, and playwright who at the time was also living in the French capital. Turgenev was at the time the undisputed figurehead of the Russian artistic community in France. Repin was delighted and proud to be asked to paint the portrait of such a famous and influential man and Turgenev in turn held Repin in high regard as can be seen in a letter he wrote to the writer and art critic, Vladamir Stasov in November 1871, praising the talent of Repin:

“…I was delighted to learn that the young man [Repin] is moving ahead so vigorously and rapidly. He has great talent and unquestionably the temperament of a painter, which is most important of all…”

Portrait of the Author Ivan Turgenev by Vasily Perov (1872)

Pavel Tretyakov planned to fill his museum with portraits of the “great and the good” of Russia and a portrait of Turgenev was a prime example of what he wanted. Vasily Perov, another Russian portrait artist, had already completed a portrait of Turgenev in 1872 but Tretyakov was unimpressed by it and so had approached Repin, who by this time had established a reputation as one of the most promising artists of his generation. Tretyakov was pleased with the Repin’s final portrait but Turgenev was less pleased with the result. Turgenev was a steadfast supporter of modern French painting which he considered should serve as a model for Russian artists. Repin disagreed and poured scorn on the French paintings Turgenev was buying. The portrait of Turgenev prompted such heated debate, with one side who believed Russian artists should follow the Western style of painting whilst the opposing view was one which believed Russian artists and their art should follow their own path. The extent to which Russian artists should look inward or outward for inspiration was becoming a highly controversial debate.

Portrait of Alexei Pisemsky by Ilya Repin (1880)

Alexei Pisemsky was a novelist and dramatist, who, in the late 1850’s was looked upon as an equal to Turgenev and Dostoyevsky and in the late 1850’s wrote two hard-hitting books, One Thosand Serfs and A Bitter Fate both of which were critical of the peasant/master relationship. Later in the 1870’s he wrote about the evils of Russia’s emergent capitalism but his later books were often ignored by the reading public. Despite his fall from grace Pavel Tretyakov wanted Pisemsky’s portrait in his Moscow gallery and commissioned Repin to complete the task. Repin’s 1880 portrait of the fifty-nine-year-old Pisemsky depicts him as an ageing man with pouchy eyes clutching a walking stick. His coat is rumpled and his bow-tie droops giving the impression that Pisemsky’s best days are well passed and yet he seems alert and looks at us with a fixed stare. Alexei Pisemsky died shortly after the portrait had been completed.

Ilya Repin’s celebrated portrait of Mussorgsky, painted 2–5 March 1881, only a few days before the composer’s death.

One of Repin’s most moving and beautiful portraits was of the Russian composer, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. He was, as well as working as a civil servant, a giant of Russian music and was therefore an ideal subject for one of Pavel Tretyakov’s paintings. Although a genius, Mussorgsky had one great failing; he was an alcoholic.  Mussorgsky’s decline in health became increasingly steep and he was increasingly unable to resist drinking. He was aware of the dangers of alcoholism and despite a succession of deaths among his closest associates which caused him great pain, he was unable to abstain. The decline could not be halted, and in 1880 he was finally dismissed from government service and through help from friends, managed to stave off destitution.

In early 1881 Mussorgsky suffered four seizures in rapid succession and was hospitalized. It was at this time that Tretyakov commissioned Repin to paint Mussorgsky’s portrait. Repin started the work on March 2nd 1881 in the ward of the Nikolaevsky Mlitary Hospital. It was the day after Emperor Alexander II was assassinated by, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a young member of the Narodnaya Volya, a radical political organisation. Repin wrote about working on Mussorgsky’s portrait in the hospital ward:

“…When I painted M.P.’s [Mussorgsky’s] portrait in the Nikolaevsky Hospital, a terrible event had just occurred: the death of Alexander II; and during the breaks between sittings we read a mass of newspapers, all on one and the same terrible topic……[Mussorgsky] lived under a strict regime of sobriety and was in a particular fine sober mood….But as always, alcoholics are gnawed by the worm of Backus; and M.P. was already dreaming of rewarding himself for his long patience. Despite strict orders forbidding cognac…..an attendant obtained a full bottle of cognac for M.P.’s birthday…. My last session was planned for the next day. But when I arrived at the appointed hour, I did not find M.P. among the living…”

Mussorgsky died a week after his 42nd birthday. This beautiful portrait depicts the composer wearing a dressing gown. The striking burgundy decorative flap frames the florid features of this once-great man. We catch a glimpse of his highly decorative shirt between the folds of the dressing gown. His expression is one of rebelliousness but with a hint of feared inevitability. His eyes are turned away from us maybe in embarrassment at his parlous state. His hair and beard are unkempt. It is an uncompromising portrait but ever so poignant. Repin refused to keep the commission fee that Tretyakov gave him for the portrait and donated it to a memorial for the composer. Pavel Tretyakov was delighted with the finished work as he recognised it as one of the most passionate and emotional deathbed portraits of all time.

Portrait of Art Critic Vladimir Stasov by Ilya Repin (1873)

With Pavel Tretyakov’s desire to build a collection of portraits of famous Russians for his gallery, it was inevitable that he would want a painting depicting the great writer Leo Tolstoy who had cemented his position as one of the greatest writers of the century with his 1869 historical novel, War and Peace and his 1877 novel Anna Karenina. Through an introduction by Vladamir Stasov, the art critic, Repin and Tolstoy met in Moscow in 1880. Vladamir Stasov pointed out to Tolstoy that Repin’s exalted reputation  in painting was the same as Tolstoy reputation in literature. By 1880, despite Tolstoy being a prominent writer he began to renounce his earlier works and decided to devote himself to religious and philosophical enquiry. He was in a state of “spiritual quest”, re-evaluating the values and his achievements of his earlier years. He took to wearing peasant clothes and renounced earthly pleasures. That first meeting of the two great men took place at Repin’s studio and Repin often visited Leo Tolstoy at his house in Khamovniki in Moscow. A number of portraits of Tolstoy were completed by various artists in the 1870’s but Ilya Repin’s worked on the great man’s portraits in August 1887 when he stayed with Tolstoy for eight days at his estate, Yasnaya Polyana at Tula, some 120 miles south of Moscow. In all, Repin produced twelve portraits, twenty-five drawings, eight sketches of Tolstoy and his family members, as well as seventeen illustrations to enhance Tolstoy’s works.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy as a Ploughman on a Field by Ilya Repin (1887)

One of the portraits entitled The Ploughman. Leo Tolstoy ploughing, depicts the fifty-nine-year-old artist guiding a plough in bright sunlight. Repin remembered his time at Yasnaya Polyana and watching Tolstoy move around his estate, talking to the peasants. Repin recalled one hot day in August when Tolstoy was in the field ploughing for six hours without a break. Repin said that he had his sketchbook with him and kept sketching each time Tolstoy with his horse-driven plough passed by. Lithographic prints depicting Tolstoy the Ploughman followed and they were popular throughout the whole world.

Ilya Repin, Portrait Of Leo Tolstoy, 1887

In that same year, 1887, Repin completed a large portrait of Tolstoy sitting in a chair dressed in a black robe. On his knee is a book which Tolstoy has marked in two places as if to emphasise his passion for reading.

Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildebrandt by Ilya Repin (1889)

Another stunning portrait by Ilya Repin which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery is entitled Portrait of Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt which he completed in 1889. It is a narrow oil on canvas work with unusual dimensions. It is 197cms tall and yet only 72cms wide and yet it skilfully depicts this beautiful slender woman. Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt was the wife of the Russian ambassador to Rome who hosted soirées at her home in Moscow during the 1880’s with eminent writers and artists as her guests, one of whom was Ilya Repin. She was the hostess of a noisy and motley literary salon, who herself used to write a lot in her youth. Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Repin to paint a portrait of the salonnière in 1889. On receiving this commission, Repin wrote to Tretyakov:

“…The Baroness is in rapture at the thought that her portrait will be in such a famous gallery……..She is an interesting model and poses like a statue…”

The almost life-size portrait is brought to life by Repin’s use of red and black. The artist has captured the detail of the lady’s attire with great skill, from the ruched skirt and tightly cinched blouse with its high-necked bow to the curious points and folds of the headdress. There is a concealment of flesh with just the hands and face bared and even the latter is partially veiled, partly concealing her eyes. Yes, the pose is quite static but one cannot deny it is a dynamic one. In 1917 following the Revolution, the baroness was forced to leave her mansion and flee to Finland and later Paris.

Ilya Yefimovich Repinwas was, without doubt, the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century.  In this blog I have just concentrated on some of his portraiture which can be found at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow but he is probably best remembered for his realist paintings such as his 1873 work Barge Haulers on the Volga

https://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/barge-haulers-on-the-volga-by-ilya-repin/