Monday, November 24, 2014

Ivan Kramskoi

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

The identity of the model is unknown and depicts a woman of "quiet strength and forthright gaze". It is one of Russia's best-known art works, although a number of critics were indignant when the painting was first exhibited and condemned what they saw as a depiction of a haughty and immoral woman. Its popularity has grown with changes in public taste.

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887) was a Russian painter and art critic. He came from a poor petit-bourgeois family. He was an intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement in 1860-1880. From 1857 to 1863 he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts; he reacted against academic art and was an initiator of the "revolt of fourteen". 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.

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. The democratic orientation of his 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.

In one of Kramskoi’s most well known paintings, Christ in the Desert (1872), he continued Alexander Ivanov's humanistic tradition by treating a religious subject in moral-philosophical terms. He imbued his image of Christ with dramatic experiences in a deeply psychological and vital interpretation, evoking the idea of his heroic self-sacrifice.