Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911) Automatic translate
The wonderful Russian artist Valentin Serov was lucky to be born in a prosperous and gifted family. The painter’s parents were talented and versatile people. Alexander Nikolaevich Serov, the father of the future artist, was a composer, author of the operas Enemy Force, Judith and Rogneda. He was considered the best music critic of his time and was also a great original artist. In his youth, he was going to be engaged in painting, but then he became interested in music and completely surrendered to it.
It was from his father that Valentine inherited his extraordinary gift, the ability to incredibly accurate perception of form and color, as well as his great love for animals, which Serov Sr. most often depicted on his canvases. Alexander Nikolayevich was married only at forty-four years old, being already an accomplished composer and a mature man. His chosen one was a young talented pianist Valentina Semenovna Bergman, a former student of the musician.
The only son of the Serovs was born on January 7, 1865. From infancy, Valentin was surrounded by creative and extraordinary personalities from various social backgrounds, who regularly gathered in the house of the composer and his young wife. They included all the talented people of that time, musicians, scientists, writers, artists and actors. Among the close friends of Alexander Nikolayevich, who often visited his house, were sculptor Mark Antokolsky, writer Ivan Turgenev, with whom Serov was closest and the artist Nikolai Ge, the first to instill in little Valentine, who remained with him for life, love for horses.
The Serov family often held literary readings and concerts, as spectators to which the maid was often invited. Such educational evenings were not their personal invention, but rather a tribute to the then fashion.
Little Valentine often accompanied his parents to the opera. And in 1869 they first took their son abroad. After this trip, Serov, the youngest, remembered for a lifetime his visit to the house of the great Richard Wagner, however, the indelible impression on the boy was not made by the famous composer himself, but by a cage with outlandish pheasants and his huge dog. With such an outwardly interesting life, Valentine from childhood was not spoiled by the attention of parents who each lived in their own work.
In 1871, when the future artist was only six years old, his father passed away. The time of serene receptions in the living room and literary readings are forever in the past. Now they lived with their mother in Munich (from 1872 to 1873). These two years were a very fruitful time for the little draftsman. While living in a hotel, Serov met the already famous painter Kegshing, who was interested in a talented boy. Kegshing not only began to take the child to studies, to help him with professional advice, but also influenced Valentina Semenovna, recommending her to develop and encourage the young talent in every possible way.
Believing that the son’s abilities can become his fate, Serov’s mother began to consciously encourage and develop them. So, in 1874, nine-year-old Valentine with his mother moved to Paris, where Ilya Repin was in this period. The decision of Valentina Semenovna to turn to Repin with a request to educate her son was the most successful choice in the life of a future painter.
It was Ilya Repin who was the only master who could fully develop and reveal the abilities of young Serov. So, the boy began the first regular and serious drawing lessons. Repin at that time worked in Paris on the paintings "Cafe" and "Sadko", he did many sketches from nature, not forgetting to constantly give assignments to the student. Young Valentin Serov received at that gracious time a lot of valuable advice, tips and clarifications, which he later remembered all his life. Repin allowed him to copy his work, sometimes he asked to write certain objects from memory, but he paid most attention to drawing from nature.
The aspiring artist completely surrendered to his hobby, spending all his free time on it. In the daytime he painted, and in the evening he made sketches and drawings endlessly. Thanks to the serious attitude of his mother, many of Serov’s student works were perfectly preserved. In his early albums, most of the paintings and sketches devoted to horses. Of course, Serov also painted other animals, but it was the horses that became his love for life.
This was without a doubt a fruitful period in the formation of the great Russian painter. But with all the seeming prosperity, the life of a nine-year-old boy in Paris was lonely and dull. His mother, completely immersed only in her work, was constantly absent during the day, and in the evenings attended the opera. Valentine was left alone for a long time, left to his own devices. This forced retreat left its mark on Serov’s character, giving him the sullenness and isolation that the artist had retained throughout his life.
The influence of Savva the Magnificent
Like many talented residents of Moscow, Valentin Serov’s mother was familiar with Savva Mamontov, which was a great success for the future artist. This philanthropist and industrialist was at the center of the Moscow spiritual and intellectual life of the second half of the 19th century. Gathering the whole color of the Russian artistic intelligentsia around him, Mamontov provided the guests at his Abramtsevo estate with a unique opportunity for inspirational, free, not burdened by any, including financial problems and life of creativity. For more than twenty years, the Mamontov estate near Moscow was a major center of Russian culture, where artists, sometimes for the whole summer, came to communicate, share experiences and combine work with leisure.
Often living with his mother in "Abramtsevo", Valentin Serov from childhood took a direct part in almost all areas of creativity, which was developed by this creative environment of enthusiasts and like-minded people of new art. Here his bright and multifaceted talent developed. The Abramtsevo club, supported by Savva Mamontov, opened two art workshops at once: ceramic and joiner’s cutting, where old handicrafts and crafts were revived. Great attention was also paid to the theater. Serov with pleasure participated in the Mamontov’s home performances, he brilliantly performed comedic roles of animals, while having a resounding success. It is not surprising that Valentine created his first and most inspirational works that brought him fame, such as, for example, The Girl with Peaches, in this wonderful estate.
But, the beneficial influence of the Abramtsevo circle appeared much later, and at first, carried out by a young talent in the estate of Mamontov, did not bring benefit to his talent. According to the biographer of the artist Igor Grabar, in the summer of 1875, when Valentina Semyonovna first brought her son to the estate, the boy abandoned regular drawing classes and all his albums, being carried away by the fun and carefree life of Mammoth children. What did not fail to reflect on his artistic abilities. The few drawings of the time in his children’s albums serve only as confirmation that innate abilities without practice do not mean much, because the original talent of the painter and drawing skills are quickly lost without constant work to grow and maintain them. It is not for nothing that they say that true genius is 10 percent of talent and 90 percent of hard work.
So it happened with Serov, without constant training in improving the accuracy of the stroke and displaying color and shape, the young artist began to draw much worse. Therefore, in the fall, his mother took him to St. Petersburg, where the old friend of the family, the artist Nikolai Ge, began to take care of Valentin’s talent, cultivating him and perfecting himself. Soon, thanks to the care of Ge, it became obvious that Serov entered a new round of development.
Then, Valentine and his mother moved again. This time in Kiev, where they spent about three years, which became the happiest in the life of mother and son. In Kiev, the boy entered the school of drawing, having got into the class of Nikolai Murashko, Repin’s old friend at the Academy of Arts.
Deciding not to limit her son’s development to just an art education, Valentina Semenovna returned to Moscow again and arranged her child in a Moscow gymnasium. Here, the artist’s mother again turned to Repin, asking him to resume lessons. The painter’s family received Serov with open arms, and his lessons continued at an even higher level.
Repin himself noted that, despite the constant break in classes, Valentin made excellent progress, and the very successful work instilled in the boy himself the belief that he again managed to portray everything he had planned. Valentine believed in himself and then almost completely abandoned his studies at the gymnasium, with great passion indulging in his favorite pastime. In the end, the director of the gymnasium turned to the mother of the young artist with a proposal to transfer the child to a special institution, where his painting gift could be fully developed. So the boy finally moved to Repin. Now, his studies in drawing and painting did not stop anything else.
Igor Grabar wrote in his memoirs: “Even Repin looks at him already as an artist, not a teenager, and even poses for him for a portrait, while drawing Serov himself. The 14-year-old Serov looks gloomily sullenly - a recognizable purely "Serov" wolf habits, which he retained until the last days. And behind this gloomy appearance lurks a kind heart and the most tender and pure soul. Repin paints a portrait of Serov, and Serov paints the most accurate portrait of Repin that has ever been made. It has the whole Repin essence: his look, his charm, his smile, even his eternal embarrassment - in a word, absolutely everything that we all knew so well, and that he kept up to 70 years. ”
Entering the Academy of Arts in 1880, Serov ended up in the studio of the famous professor Pavel Chistyakov, who was distinguished by an extremely harsh teaching style, criticizing and ridiculing every inaccurate stroke of his students. These methods of the professor helped the artist to develop a thoughtful and unhurried manner of depicting nature. Like his teacher, Valentin Serov could not tolerate haste and approximation in drawing and painting.
Answering questions about his painstaking manner of writing, the painter said: “Otherwise, I don’t know how to write, it’s my fault, I don’t know how much I love it.” Indeed, it would not be fair to say that Serov did not possess superfast imaging techniques. Demanding for his portraits at least forty sessions of posing (and it happened that this number reached one hundred), the talented artist perfectly did instant sketches and perfectly mastered the art of high-speed pencil sketches.
Valentin Aleksandrovich with his inherent skill was able not only to grasp the recognizable shape of the figure and head, but also to convey with a clear and precise touch all the characteristic features of his appearance, up to an instantly captured expression on his face. These short quick sketches are stronger than other works, you can judge the amazing skill of the artist.
Coaching his hand on the lightning-fast sketches of parades and military maneuvers, drawing officers and soldiers, Serov did not at all strive for portrait resemblance, but, even against his will, he made genuine portraits. The precise eye and the unmistakable hand of the master did not know how otherwise. The painter could afford to write complex compositions without any preliminary pencil sketch, immediately with a watercolor brush. Coal, a brush and a pencil obeyed him implicitly. Therefore, he painted children who never posed for him as confidently as he depicted adults for months, exhausting them with long posing sessions.
Only five years after admission, Serov leaves the Academy, feeling himself a ready-made master. All his future life, his constant creative self-improvement takes place according to a free schedule in continuous work.
In 1885, Serov painted the painting “Oxen” (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), a year later, the painting “Autumn Evening in Domotkanovo” (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), and “Winter in Abramtsevo. Church ”(State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The formation of the painting style of Valentin Serov took place under the influence of two venerable painters - Repin and Chistyakov, and their art schools.
Nevertheless, already at twenty, the artist had nothing in common with the style and technique of writing with any of the teachers, for he developed his own, unique manner of performance, which cannot be confused with any of the well-known techniques in the history of art. This despite the fact that Serov’s paintings are very diverse in execution.
The painter never stopped at any one successfully found and once worked out way to solve the problem, as is often the case with other painters. All the time looking for new approaches, he tried to choose for each particular plot the most appropriate form and technique of artistic expression. Throughout the entire period of his work. Serov constantly searched and found even more accurate ways of expressing his attitude to the object, never being satisfied with the ones already used.
Innovator of Russian fine art
Serov is often called the first Russian impressionist, comparing his work with paintings by Renoir. Although, some art historians believe that the Russian artist was even ahead of his predecessor in the liveliness of colors, the elegance of light transmission and the nobleness of tones.
If Renoir often used foggy, vague transitions in his work, creating some understatement, then Serov, on the contrary, by all means available to him, demonstrated transparency and depth of background and a bright triumph of life on it. In the artist’s works you can often see a bizarre change of light and shadow, inimitable overflow of light tones and a game with highlights.
Even in his dark classical portraits, Serov was able to introduce a light accent in such a way that he emphasized and emphasized the personality of the depicted person. Valentin Aleksandrovich prescribed even small details and objects with great reliability, consolidating his fame as a very meticulous artist who attaches importance to every element.
It is noteworthy that the artist painted his canvases in the best traditions of impressionism long before he could see the paintings themselves of representatives of this direction, born in France and traveling through Europe to Russia only two decades later.
Such a sensitive genius, like Serov, with all his being took up innovative ideas, suddenly began to work in a completely new and unusual way for our school of painting, called the new realism. We can judge the impression that the first show of the works of young Valentin Serov made on the public, according to the recording made in the monograph by Igor Grabar, who wrote: “The antithesis“ truth of life and truth of art ”can be symbolized in the following names: Manet and Courbet in France, Aable and Menzel in Germany, Serov and Repin in Russia. I remember the first time I felt the full significance of this antithesis. It was in 1888. For us, the then teens, the opening days of the only two Moscow exhibitions of that time, the Periodic and the Mobile, were a real holiday, the happiest days of the year… The exhibition was extremely significant. Now it’s clear that this didn’t happen either earlier or later… she was destined to play a huge role in the history of our latest painting… The most significant of all were… two canvases by then unknown to Serov, two such pearls, that if it were necessary to name only five the most perfect paintings in all the newest Russian painting, then both would inevitably have to be included in this list… ".
The monograph deals with two portraits that instantly lifted the twenty-two-year-old painter to an unattainable height. This work is “A Girl with Peaches” (1887, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) and “A Girl Illuminated by the Sun” (1888, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The first canvas made a real sensation during the period of gloomy realism and the apparent predominance of dark and dull colors in painting. Against this background, the emotional impact of Serov’s radiant painting, filled with sunlight, the rays of which pierce the room through, with a soft transition of all kinds of shades, the bewitching warmth of pastel colors, all together was not just a new word, but a fresh breath of wind of changes in Russian art.
The painter himself described the work on the painting: “All that I achieved was freshness, that special freshness that you always feel in kind and cannot be seen in the paintings. I wrote for more than a month and tormented her, poor, to death, I really wanted to preserve the freshness of the painting when it was completely finished, like old masters… ".
The canvas depicts a specific child - Verusha Mamontova, but the work itself was so much more composition than a portrait of a particular person that its general name - “Girl with Peaches” became famous. The work is as if woven from sunlight and joy, filling the room to the brim, enveloping all objects with a sparkling halo. Rays of light glide along the walls, fall onto a white tablecloth, play on the shoulders and sleeves of the pink dress of the girl, penetrating through the thin fabric, warm "bunny" lie on the dark skin of the cheeks. It seems as if the air of the room is ringing and transparent, filled with the delicate smell of peaches and sparkling sparks of gold.
The painting is painted with colors so full of light that uniquely accurately convey reality that the harmony of true vitality overlaps the undoubted beauty of this work and breathes literally in every subject depicted. Verusha’s dark eyes shine with childlike spontaneity, behind which her restlessness is also guessed, the child barely holds back a smile, she is already impatient to bite the chosen peach, which she holds with an amazingly painted tanned hand. The whole look of the girl, from a tousled lock of hair to a little bit of a laugh in her eyes, is full of tireless energy and gives her a lively curious nature. Even after more than a hundred years, the twelve-year-old girl in the picture continues to live a carefree life.
Even the peaches in the picture are participants in the action. They are spelled out with literally striking imagination. Their velvet peel is almost physically palpable. The backs of chairs and the polished tabletop are also stunningly outlined. In an incomprehensible way, Serov manages to convey the texture of things from brilliant polishing to magical velvet, gently absorbing light and harmoniously harmonizing with the same velvet skin of a child. The Moscow Society of Art Lovers awarded the prize to young Valentin Serov for this work.
Another work - “The Girl Illuminated by the Sun” (portrait of Serov’s cousin M. Ya. Simonovich), is another solar canvas, in which the artist paid special attention to the transmission of the captivating play of light and shadow. A girl sitting under a tree is shrouded in a pattern of lace foliage pierced by the sunshine of a calm summer afternoon. Her face is calm, her whole posture is feminine and relaxed, as if she is in the realm of rest and peace. Openwork overflow of sun glare floods the blouse and skin of the heroine. They are written in almost mosaic strokes, creating a contrast with the unexpectedly soft velvet blue-violet skirt. Again, the painter was able to incredibly accurately convey the velvet overflow of fabric with several long strokes. The work traces a completely different pace of life than in the “Girl with Peaches” written a year earlier.These two works seem to overlap, as if pictorial allegories: childhood and adolescence, careless playfulness and dreamy contemplation. Much later, in November 1911, right before his death, Serov, together with Igor Grabar, looked at this canvas in the Tretyakov Gallery. “He stood before her for a long time,” Grabar recalls, “looking at her intently and without saying a word. Then he waved his hand and said, not so much to me as to space: “I wrote this thing, and then all my life, no matter how puffed up, nothing came out, then it was all exhausted.”- Grabar recalls, - looking at her intently and without saying a word. Then he waved his hand and said, not so much to me as to space: “I wrote this thing, and then all my life, no matter how puffed up, nothing came out, then it was all exhausted.”- Grabar recalls, - looking at her intently and without saying a word. Then he waved his hand and said, not so much to me as to space: “I wrote this thing, and then all my life, no matter how puffed up, nothing came out, then it was all exhausted.”
Of course, saying so, the painter was too critical of himself. All his subsequent works only confirmed his remarkable talent, which simply constantly searched for new forms of expression, allowing its owner to show us reality through new forms of his unique perception.
Personal and public life of the master
In a letter from Venice to the bride Olga Trubnikova, Serov in 1887 writes about his fascination with “masters of the 16th century Renaissance”: “It was easy for them to live, carefree. I want to be that way - carefree; in this century they write everything difficult, nothing encouraging. I want, I want something good and I will only write something good. ” Two years later, in January 1889, Olga Trubnikova and Valentin Serov got married in St. Petersburg. After 10 years, in 1999, the artist portrayed their sons Yuri and Sasha in the painting "Children" (Russian Museum, St. Petersburg).
Serov was a talented portrait painter. His first models were familiar and close to him people: writers, artists, artists. He often painted portraits of his friends: Rimsky-Korsakov, Korovin, Repin, Levitan and Leskov.
For each new work, the artist chose a special style, emphasizing the individuality of his characters. For example, creating the painting “Portrait of Konstantin Korovin” (1891, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), the master depicted his friend in a completely “Korovin” manner, using large free strokes and the colors inherent to Korovin, thus enriching the artist’s personal characteristics. Home clothes, a free pose and all surrounding surroundings very accurately convey the temperament and appearance of Konstantin.
The Portrait of I. I. Levitan (1893, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) was executed in a completely different manner. For him, Serov finds other graphic means, a different, more restrained color. The aristocratic high forehead and graceful hand stand out on the canvas with two light spots, everything else is absorbed in the calm brownish twilight. There is not a single object in the picture, at least hinting at the kind of activity of the person portrayed, although Levitan posed in his workshop. For Serov, it was much more important to convey the character of his friend, his romance, melancholy, constant sadness, thoughtfulness and poetry.
Valentin Serov led an active public life. Since 1894, he began to participate in the Association of Traveling Art Exhibitions. Three years later, in 1897, he began teaching at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Among his students were such artists as Pavel Kuznetsov, Nikolai Ulyanov, Nikolai Sapunov, Martiros Saryan and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
The interests of the artist were not limited to animals and portraits of friends, as Serov himself said: "I am still a little landscape painter." Its landscapes are surprisingly laconic and unpretentious, which does not prevent them from incredibly subtly conveying the mood of the surrounding nature. Moreover, the artist had a perfectly developed flair for choosing amazing corners for his landscapes.
The painter liked to work mainly on the image of the Russian village. Most of all he liked the middle strip of Russia, which he beautifully and subtly depicted in the paintings “Woman in a Cart” (1896, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), “October” (1895, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), “Winter” (1898, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), “Gargling” (1891, whereabouts unknown), “Woman with a Horse” (1898, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), and “Striguni at a Watering Place” (1904, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).
At the beginning of the XX century, namely from 1900 to 1904, the artist was a member of the association “World of Art”. During this period, Serov was carried away by the image of the Tsar-reformer Peter I, to whom he devoted several of his beautiful canvases. At this time, the painter begins to be keenly interested in the political processes taking place in his homeland. Perhaps this is precisely what caused interest in the figure of Peter, who lived, like Serov himself in the era of change.
The work of the artist “Peter I on the Dog Hunt” (1903, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) is very revealing. According to the plot of the picture, the young king decides to teach a lesson to the nobles who boasted of their success in dog hunting. Peter decides to prove to the proud that their luck depends entirely on the skill of the serf-hounds. The king arranges a hunt in which there is not a single kennel, forcing the boyars themselves to cope with the pack. Naturally, there is a complete bedlam, just for the fun of Peter. Many venerable hunters fall off their horses, being unable to control dogs. In this work, Serov unusually reliably managed to convey the flavor of the Russian winter and the mood of all participants in the scene.
Another painting by the artist, written a little later, in 1907, “Peter I” (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), is dedicated to the Great Russian Reformer. Here we see at the same time a very pathetic and very dynamic scene, filled with the spirit of the rapid transformations of that heroic era. Peter I is rapidly striding to meet the wind, practically blowing his retinue. The picture is designed to emphasize the greatness, strength and determination of the sovereign.
Serov managed to be an academician, having been elected in 1903 a full member of the Academy of Arts. But this did not last long. Two years later, the artist will abandon the honorary status in protest against the mass execution on January 9, 1905.
The painter also took part in organizing the satirical publication “Zhupel”, drawing for him cartoons of a political orientation. Also, for about fifteen years, Veerov created animal illustrations for Krylov’s fables. It was these drawings that became the artist’s favorite brainchild; he repeated them many times, searching with particular care for the necessary traits and emotions. Already in his mature years Serov created a number of masterpieces of neoclassicism and Russian modernism in painting and graphics, proving once again his versatility and the constant search for the style and manner of painting.
In 1907, the master visited Greece, which made an indelible impression on him with his sculptures and monuments. Serov created several decorative panel paintings dedicated to the ancient theme: “Odysseus and Navzikaya” (exists in several versions) and the poetic legend about “The Abduction of Europe” (both works of 1910, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The bull Zeus depicted in the last picture is surprisingly lively, with a completely meaningful look, while the girl’s face, on the contrary, is like an antique mask, allegorically frozen and unemotional.
Like many artists of the time, Serov collaborated with theaters. Its curtain to the ballet "Scheherazade", a true masterpiece of fine art, created in 1911, was a resounding success in London and Paris.
The best portrait painter of Russia
The glory of a talented portrait painter became for Serov a real bondage and a curse. After 1895, orders for portraits of bourgeois and aristocratic nobility poured endlessly on the artist. Despite the enormous industriousness, the painter dreamed of drawing not secular people at all, but animals, so he worked with great enthusiasm on creating illustrations for fables. But, along with the growth of the artist’s skill, his fame of the best portrait painter of Russia steadily grew.
The portrait of S. M. Botkin (1899, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) speaks of Serov’s pronounced talent as an artist-psychologist. The painter could not resist making a small amount of irony in secular portraits. Elegant Sofya Botkina in a luxurious golden dress embroidered with artificial flowers is located on a sofa upholstered in blue silk, richly woven floral ornament. The artist was annoyed by this fanciful luxury of the interior, the excessive abundance of gold and the lady herself, whom he called the “bored mistress”. The work, filled with subtle irony, immediately after publication, was dubbed the “lady on the couch in the desert”.
Indeed, the artist has so blurred the background of the picture that he seems to extend far deeper, as if beyond the horizon. But this is not the most interesting thing in the portrait, against all the laws of composition, Serov shifted the posing "mistress" from the center to the right, and strictly in the center of the canvas he planted a tiny Italian greyhound, written with almost more care and love than her elegant and luxurious mistress. The artist was sure that the presence of animals adds naturalness to the tense and elaborate postures of people.
The most striking example of the above is the "Portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich" (1897, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). On it, the prince himself is depicted in an unnatural tense, as if frozen pose, while his horse - sensitive, lively, with smart eyes - gives the canvas dynamics and naturalness. For this ceremonial portrait, which was one of the first portraits of this kind in the artist’s career, Serov received the Grand Prix gold medal at the world exhibition in Paris in 1900.
The image on portraits of animals became a kind of outlet for the artist. So, in “Portrait of Count F. F. Sumarokov-Elston with a Dog” (1903, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), the painter himself insisted on the presence on the canvas of his beloved dog a young count, who, in the end, looks almost more significant its noble owner. The same story with a magnificent white horse on the “Portrait of Prince F. F. Yusupov” (1903, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg).
According to Serov’s contemporaries, it is his brush that owns the best portrait of the last Russian tsar. The painting “Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II” (1900, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) was not easy for the artist, who was least suitable for the role of a court painter, according to his creative aspirations and spiritual disposition. The painter was already famous, had a huge number of orders, which he often rejected because of the physical impossibility of doing everything.
Of course, Serov did not want to paint a portrait of the ruler of the power, but he could not refuse the emperor himself either. The portrait did not work for a long time. Most of all, the empress annoyed the painter, who constantly intervened in the creative process with her advice. As a result, Serov could not stand it and gave the brush with the palette to her hands, offering to finish the portrait herself, since she is so good at painting. Never being arrogant Nikolai, apologized to the artist for the tactlessness of his wife. But the portrait still eluded the sharp eye of the master, the image of the emperor conveyed by him was falling apart. Serov was extremely dissatisfied with himself, he could not finish the failed picture, this would have hurt his pride too much for Russia’s best portrait painter. In the end, the artist had to admit to the sovereign that he could not continue, since the portrait did not succeed.Emperor Nicholas II, dressed in a plain jacket of an officer of the Preobrazhensky regiment, reconciled with the situation, sat down at the table, folded his arms in front of him and looked at the portrait painter with genuine sadness. It was this view, revealing the inner essence of the emperor’s personality, perfectly characterizing his delicacy and vulnerability, that Serov needed.
After many years, Konstantin Korovin will speak of the canvas like this: “Serov was the first of the artists who caught the softness, intelligence, and at the same time the emperor’s weakness, and captured them on canvas…” In its execution, the portrait is almost sketchy, but thoughtfully accurate and harmonious, completely lyrical and simple. A surprising similarity of the emperor was noted by all contemporaries. The artist was able, with the light movements of the brush, emphasized by simple execution and discreet color scheme, to concentrate the attention of the viewer in the eyes of the sovereign, showing not the emperor, but a simple man, with his anxieties, concerns and expectations. Thanks to this approach, the portrait turned out to be very successful. Unfortunately, the original canvas was destroyed in 1917, an original copy has come down to us.
Often the artist wrote symbolic works. As, for example, the painting "Portrait of Actress M.N. Ermolova" (1905, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The architect Fedor Shekhtel, seeing the work, said that: "This is a monument to Ermolova!" And, indeed, the canvas is monumental, and the great actress herself resembles an ancient sculpture or even a column directed upward. Ermolova’s head is written against the background of a mirror reflecting the ceiling, which creates the illusion of the ascension of the actress’s figure, like a caryatid. The monochrome and chamber nature of the portrait seems to elevate the heroine on a pedestal, while emphasizing the stamp of exclusivity and loneliness of the creative person.
The painter liked to portray artists in their theatrical roles. Serov created the wonderful “Portrait of Francesco Tamagno” (1903, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), where the magnificent singer is captured in a theatrical beret, and a symbolic reflection of gold is visible on his throat. The second example is the “Portrait of Chaliapin” (1905, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), which was famous for the fact that in life it almost never left the stage image that had become familiar.
But the peak of the artist’s skill was “Portrait of Ida Rubinstein” (1910, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), depicted in the image of Cleopatra. It was not for nothing that the choreographer Mikhail Fokin considered the appearance of the ballerina indispensable for the then fashionable ballets Scheherazade and Cleopatra in the famous Diaghilev seasons. The idea was the charismatic sophistication of Art Nouveau, a la Beardsley, and the perfect match with the tastes of that era. Rubeinstein appeared in Cleopatra, barely covered by an almost transparent coverlet, which Lev Bakst invented specially for her.
The artist brilliantly combined art and life in this picture, bringing together the theatrical images of the heroine with her stylish, east-exotic appearance. Cleopatra and Zobeida forever united in the silhouette of a ballerina, the East fused with Egypt on the fine line of fiction and reality.
But a living person in this paradoxical fusion of the "theater of life" and the "truth of art" is defenseless in his nakedness. The mythological “beautiful nudity” of a fictional heroine suddenly transforms into the shameless “undressing” of a specific real person, and this was precisely the most piercing note of the portrait.
Naturally, when the portrait was presented to the public, a terrible scandal erupted. “My poor Ida Rubinstein… poor, naked…”, Serov himself will comment, describing the scandal when, in spite of the rising wave of indignation, the portrait was acquired by the Museum of Alexander III.
The picture is made in the Art Nouveau style. The clearly defined contours of a fragile body make the figure seem to be embossed on a completely flat background. A bright green scarf, almost twisted into a bundle, streams along the graceful ankles of a ballerina, resembling a snake at death hour. This moment weaves as if by chance into a portrait the theme of imminent death. The heroine’s look is almost absent, farewell, otherworldly, stopped by the artist at that almost elusive moment, when the angle of the head’s rotation still allows you to touch. There is no doubt that this is the last, already doomed look of the Egyptian queen, which she sends to the world before turning forever into stone.
This canvas literally stunned Ilya Repin, like a bolt of thunder from a clear sky: "… and, like Venus from the sink," Ida Rubinstein "appeared… It seemed to me that the ceiling of our slippery pavilion fell on me and crushed me to the ground; I stood with the tongue sticking to the larynx… ”, the artist described his impressions. Naturally, secular criticism subjected the work to a ruthless smash: "bad imitation of Matisse", "decadentism", "ugliness". But, despite all the violent critical cries, Serov was very proud of his work.
Each time, preparing to create a new portrait, the painter sought to avoid any repetition of the angle, pose, surroundings or gesture. He took a long look at the new model, made sketches, looked for the most expressive pose for the hero and the most suitable interior for him.
Serov for a very long time picked up a suitable setting for a portrait of the wife of the influential antiquarian Vladimir Girschman. The artist wanted the interior to emphasize the gloss and grace of this socialite, without simultaneously simplifying and belittling her brilliant beauty. The master was very sympathetic and warm to Henrietta Leopoldovna, considering her “smart, educated, cultured, modest and simple, without the manners of rich upstarts and, moreover, very pretty.” The painting “Portrait of L. L. Hirschman” (1907, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) is an exquisite semantic and pictorial masterpiece of fine art.
The composition of the work is very simple. The only eye-catching figure on the canvas is a luxurious young woman in a strict black suit, who seemed to have just risen from the dressing table and turned to the artist and the audience. Perhaps she wanted to examine herself in another mirror, but between her and the opposite wall with another mirror was an artist who stopped this turn with his brush and fixed the lady’s soft but exacting look, turning him to us. The beautiful Henrietta Leopoldovna peers into the viewer, as if in a mirror, her demanding look as if addressed to those who will look at her through the ages. A strict black suit is refreshed only by a small snow-white boa, which a woman coquettishly straightens with her thin lily handle, studded with rings.A gracefully curved pose allows the heroine to lean with her second hand on the dressing table. Unlike luxurious socialites, which the artist did not like, here we see a young, austere, but beautiful woman, endowed with character and charm.
Valentin Aleksandrovich created on the canvas a game of mirrors, a double reflection, noticeable only from the side of the painter and open to the viewer. He depicted not only the back of Henrietta Hirschman reflected in the mirror, but also her blurry, small copy visible in the distant mirror, thus closing a circle and showing the viewer in reflection what was beyond the borders of the portrait canvas. Also, Serov for the first and last time for all his work depicted on the canvas an open dialogue between the model and the master. He portrayed himself in reflection at the very edge of the mirror. Although the artist’s face is distorted by faceting, it clearly reads the tension with which he is trying to do work for this woman.
Serov’s very characteristic X-ray view frightened many secular people so much that they were afraid to pose for him. The painter always clearly saw and impartially showed in his works the essence of the person being portrayed, the basis of his personality. Everyone knew that it was “dangerous” to pose for this artist, although Serov never deceived the expectations of customers, creating magnificent and very realistic portraits that they could be proud of.
The master himself has always recognized that he is not interested in the appearance of the posing person, but in his characterization, which can be expressed on canvas. The features revealed by artists in their heroes were often so unexpected for their owners that he was repeatedly accused of caricature. The master himself commented on this: “What if the cartoon sits in the model itself, what am I to blame? I just looked out, noticed. "
An example of such a finely thought out and fulfilled cartoon is the “Portrait of Princess O. Orlova” (1911, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg). Igor Grabar wrote about Olga Orlova: “She could not stand, sit, talk or walk without special tricks to emphasize that she was not just an ordinary aristocrat, but… the first lady at court.” According to the surviving reviews of contemporaries, the princess was not distinguished by high intelligence, she was practically not interested in art, but she was the most elegant fashionista of St. Petersburg, she spent fortunes on the most luxurious Parisian toilets. Numerous Orlova considered Serov, who was just at the peak of popularity, worthy of honor for centuries to maintain the appearance of this secular lioness of the early XX century. What the artist did, however, in his own manner.
The painter began by bringing the princess’s pose to absurdity, sitting on a low ottoman high and slender Orlova, so that her sharp knees protruded up and forward. The luxurious mantle slipped slightly, revealing a graceful white shoulder. The princess seems to play with a string of pearls, and in this ambiguous gesture she shows a hand at herself, as if emphasizing the significance and importance of her own person. The compositional center of the picture was the huge black hat of the heroine, which is clearly too much. She seems to slam the model, lowering it even lower compositionally.
The pretext for this situation was the situation, as if the princess had sat down for a moment in anticipation of her crew, having already fully gathered for the exit. Orlova’s face expresses the usual nervous frustration caused by the need to wait. Her high eyebrows are raised perplexedly, and her chin arrogantly raised. Orlova holds an elaborate posture, even being alone in expectation, her defiant arrogance is almost vulgar, but the mannerism and unnaturalness of an exquisite socialite is deliberately emphasized by the portrait painter.
Behind the princess is a large vase, almost copying the silhouette of the model. Representing on the wall a shadow cast by a vase, Serov deliberately distorts it, contrary to the photographic accuracy of his eye. The outlines of the shadow are more reminiscent of the heroine of the canvas in her huge hat. So, the artist subtly hinted that the princess is as empty as the vase behind her. It is not surprising that the princess herself and her admirers were disappointed with the portrait, although the painter very carefully depicted the folds of fabric of an expensive dress, and the ebb of luxurious fur and the chic decor around the heroine.
Serov was accused of subjectivity to Orlova and that he did not use the heroine’s most advantageous qualities - her elegance and high growth. Nevertheless, this picture once again proved the sensitivity and insight of the artist. The customer, without regret, presented the portrait to the Museum of Alexander III (State Russian Museum of St. Petersburg), expressing the only condition that he should not be exhibited in the same hall as the portrait of the naked Ida Rubinstein.
A friend of the artist Vladimir Dmitrievich von Derviz wrote in his memoirs about him: “Valentin Alexandrovich was distinguished by absolutely exceptional directness and simplicity, despite his seemingly rather mild character, he knew how to defend his views and never compromised his convictions.”
The great painter died unexpectedly, on the morning of November 22, 1911, on the way to the Shcherbatovs’ house, where a portrait session was scheduled for him. The cause of Serov’s early death was an angina attack. Having lived only forty-six years, as many as thirty of them, Valentin Serov confidently and enthusiastically weaved the golden strokes of his stunning solar masterpieces into the canvas of the Russian Silver Age. Being in the prime of life, the artist worked a lot. Worshiping the talent of the painter, the poet Valery Bryusov wrote: “Serov was a realist in the best sense of the word. He accurately saw the secret truth of life, his works revealed the very essence of those phenomena that other eyes could not even see. ”
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