Friday, October 26, 2012

Kramskoy, Ivan Nikolaevich

Portrait of an Unknown Woman
oil on canvas
75.5 × 99 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy (1837 - 1887) was a Russian painter and art critic, a master of genre, historic and portrait painting and an art critic. He was an intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement in 1860-1880.

He was born in the town of southwestern Russia into a poor petty-bourgeois family. He received a basic education in a district school. During his childhood he independently studied drawing and later began working with aquarelle. From 1857 to 1863 Kramskoi studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts; he reacted against academic art and was an initiator of the "revolt of fourteen" which ended with the expulsion from the Academy of a group of its graduates.

Influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary democrats, he asserted the high public duty of the artist, principles of realism, and the moral substance and nationality of art. He became one of the main founders and ideologists of the Company of Itinerant Art Exhibitions. In 1863–1868 he taught at the drawing school of a society for the promotion of applied arts. He created a gallery of portraits of important Russian writers, scientists, artists and public figures in which expressive simplicity of composition and clarity of depiction emphasize profound psychological elements of character. He created a series of portraits of prominent people of the time, such as Leo Tolstoy, Nikolay Nekrasov, Petr Tretyakov and Ivan Shishkin. And, his democratic ideals found their brightest expression in his portraits of peasants, which portrayed a wealth of character-details in representatives of the common people. During his lifetime, he also executed many orders for church paintings and portraits to earn his living.

The democratic orientation of Kramskoy’s art, his acute critical judgments about it, and his persistent quest for objective public criteria for the evaluation of art exerted an essential influence on the development of democratic art and aesthetics in Russia in the last third of the nineteenth century. He died at work, while standing at his easel.