Thursday, December 4, 2014

Valentin Serov

Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova
oil on canvas
 237.5 x 160.0 cm
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
 (formerly the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III)

Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911) was a Russian painter, and one of the premier portrait artists of his era. In his childhood he studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin and in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts under Pavel Chistyakov. His early creativity was sparked by the realistic art of Repin and strict pedagogical system of Chistyakov. Further influences on him were the old master paintings he viewed in the museums of Russia and Western Europe, and the creative atmosphere of the Abramtsevo Colony, to which he was closely connected.

He was born in St. Petersburg into the family of a famous Russian composer Alexander Serov, and his wife Valentina Bergman, a composer of German-Jewish and English background. In 1871 his father died, and in 1874, they moved to Paris, where he regularly visited the studio of Ilya Repin, who was very fond of the little boy. In 1875, the Serovs came to live at Abramtsevo, the estate of the industrial tycoon Savva Mamontov, and the cultural center of the time, where artists, musicians and actors were always welcome. He grew up in an atmosphere of constant creativity. He studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin in his childhoodand, and at the age of 15 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

The greatest works of his early period were portraits, and from 1890 on, the portrait became the basic genre in his art. In such paintings he concentrated on spontaneity of perception of the model and nature. In the development of light and color, the complex harmony of reflections, the sense of atmospheric saturation, and the fresh picturesque perception of the world, there appeared the features of early Russian impressionism. The girl with peaches (1887) was the painting that inaugurated Russian Impressionism. His favorite models were actors, artists, and writers.

From 1890 to 1900 he produced many landscape compositions on country themes, in which the artistic direction took a romantic turn. During his late period, at the start of the 20th century, he was at a stylistic turning point: features of impressionism disappeared from his work, and his modernistic style developed, but the characteristic truthful and realistic comprehension of the nature of his subjects remained constant. He created heroic portrait images, focusing on the dramatic depiction of creative artists, writers, actors, and musicians. The last years of his life were marked by works on themes from classical mythology. While addressing images from the ancient tradition, he endowed classical subject matter with a personal interpretation.

In 1903, he was elected the academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He became the most successful and brilliant portraitist in Russia of the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century.