At the Window
Born: 24 July 1844, Chuguyev, Kharkov Guberniya
I wish to recreate a correct and whole picture of life in its full essence, in its full animated perception, to being into complete harmony the manner of the people depicted and the whole vital movement of the spirit in my paintings… this task is immense. I try to reproduce this ideal, which is an aspiration of most intelligent people, striving to live up to the highest ethical and aesthetical demands!
The portraiture of Repin reached the highest peaks known to the artistic spirit. Some of them are simply stunning in approach and execution.
beginning of the 1860s
Ilya Yefimovich Repin, one of the greatest Russian artists, was born in Chuguyev in Kharkov Guberniya on 24 July (5 August, new style) 1844 into the family of a Great Russian military veteran settled in the region. His first formal artistic training was at the local school for military topographers (1854-57), and then he studied with I M Bunakov, a local iconographer. From 1859, when he was only 15-years-old, he undertook commissions to paint icons and church frescoes.
After moving to St Petersburg in 1863, he studied at the drawing school of the Society of the Encouragement of the Arts. Whilst studying there, he was introduced to the famous artist Ivan Kranskoi, and he continued his training at the Academy of Fine Arts (1864-71). Living on a stipend granted him by the Academy, he travelled through France and Italy from 1873 to 1876, where he thoroughly absorbed the currents found in Impressionism and Symbolism. In 1877, he returned to Chuguyev, then, he went to Moscow, and from 1882 he lived in St Petersburg. He moved into his much-loved estate “Penatakh” near Kuokkala on the Karelian Isthmus in 1900. Repin was one of the most active members in the exhibitions of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) and he warmly supported the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) movement in the early 1900s.
His early religious paintings done according to the programme of the Academy’s exhibitions such as Job and His Friends (1869) and Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus (1871) already show his surprising gift of artistic-psychological concentration, a skill that subordinated all the means at his disposal to create a major dramatic impact. He became a sensation with his Burlaki (Bargehaulers on the Volga) (1870-73), a work he completed only after doing numerous studies, some of which were painted whilst he was on a voyage down the Volga with fellow-artist Fyodor Vasiliev. The youthful Repin created a picture that is redolent of the impressively bright expressiveness of nature, yet, it also rings with a terrible force of protest that is ripening in these outcasts of society.
The best works by Repin became landmarks of Russian social consciousness. Pathos and protest were inseparably connected in them at first, as in the solemn, yet, also sarcastic, Easter Procession in Kursk Guberniya (1880-83), now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. His other social protest works divide into two main parallel streams. Thus, together with his “revolutionary cycle” about the tragic disorder in society, Refusing Confession (1879-85), They did not Expect Him (1884), The Arrest of the Anarchist (1880-92), and The Demonstration on 17 October 1905 (1907), he also painted canvasses lauding the pomp and circumstance surrounding the ceremonial façade of the Empire, such as The Reception of the Small-Holding Elders by Tsar Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (1885) and The Solemn Session of the Supreme Council of State (1901-03). His spirited brush was saturated with a powerful emotional force in depicting the historical tales found in The Zaporozhe Cossacks Write a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan (1878-91) and Tsar Ivan Grozny Murders His Son Ivan (1885). Now and again, these emotions literally splashed outside the canvasses. In 1913, the iconographer A Balashov, positively hypnotised by Repin’s portrayal of the mad tsar Ivan Grozny, slashed the painting with a knife. This became the genesis of a public debate between Repin and M A Voloshin about the boundaries between art and reality.
Repin’s portraiture is amazingly lyrical and attractive. He created sharply-characterised general human studies such as A Peasant with an Evil Eye and The Protodeacon (both 1877), numerous depictions of prominent cultural figures such as Modest Mussorgsky (1881), P. A. Strepetov (1882), Pavel Tretyakov (1883), and several of Lev Tolstoy. He also created graceful portraits of figures in high society such as the Baroness Varvara Iskul von Hildebrandt (1889). His canvasses featuring his family are especially colourful and sincere, as in An Autumn Bouquet (Daughter Vera Repina) (1892), and a whole series of paintings featuring his second wife, Natalia Nordmann-Severova. He was also a virtuoso at graphic portraits done in pencil or charcoal, such as in works portraying E. Duze (1891), Princess M. K. Tenisheva , and Valentin Serov (1901). Repin was also a skilled and exemplary teacher, being the professor-leader of his own atelier (1894-1907), and the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts (1898-99), whilst simultaneously teaching in the school workshop of Princess Tenisheva.
Even in his old age, he continued to astonish the public. The apogee of his impressionistic-picturesque freedom, and at the same time, a sign of his deep insight into the psychology of his subjects, was found in his portrait studies for The Solemn Session of the Supreme Council of State (1901-03). In his mystifying and contradictory painting What Freedom! (1903), with a young couple rejoicing on the shores of the iced-up Neva, Repin expressed an ambivalent attitude to the new generation, one could call it “love-hostility”.
After the October Revolution in 1917, the artist found himself outside of Russia as the part of the Karelian Isthmus where his estate, “Penatakh”, was located became part of independent Finland. It became part of Russia again only in 1946, after the artist’s death. In 1922-25, he painted some of his best religious canvasses, especially the pitch-dark tragic work Golgotha (now in the Art Museum of Princeton University in the USA). In spite of high-level invitations, as was shown by a letter from Klimenty Voroshilov in 1926, he did not return to his native land, although he kept in close contact with his friends there, especially K I Chukovsky. Ilya Repin died on 29 September 1930 in his beloved “Penatakh”. In 1937, Chukovsky issued Repin’s memoirs and an anthology of articles concerning his art entitled The Distant Close One (Dalekoye Blizkoye). The book has been reprinted numerous times up to the present.
Art-Katalog: zhivopis i grafika