Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. He was a superb draftsman, and particularly masterly in depicting movement, as can be seen in his rendition of dancers, racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and for their portrayal of human isolation.

At the beginning of his career, Degas wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties, he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.

Degas is often identified as an Impressionist, an understandable but insufficient description. Impressionism originated in the 1860s and 1870s and grew, in part, from the realism of such painters as Courbet and Corot. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, “dazzling” colors, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy. They wanted to express their visual experience in that exact moment.

Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air. “He was often as anti-impressionist as the critics who reviewed the shows”, according to art historian Carol Armstrong; as Degas himself explained, “no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing.” Nonetheless, he is described more accurately as an Impressionist than as a member of any other movement.

Degas’s mature style is distinguished by conspicuously unfinished passages, even in otherwise tightly rendered paintings. He frequently blamed his eye troubles for his inability to finish, an explanation that met with some skepticism from colleagues and collectors who reasoned, as Stuckey explains, that “his pictures could hardly have been executed by anyone with inadequate vision”. The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection “to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them”, and was in any case notoriously reluctant to consider a painting complete.

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was a French post-Impressionist artist. Underappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and synthetist style that were distinctly different from Impressionism. Gauguin’s art became popular after his death, partially from the efforts of art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who organized exhibitions of his work late in his career, as well as assisting in organizing two important posthumous exhibitions in Paris. Many of his paintings were in the possession of Russian collector Sergei Shchukin and other important collections.

He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer. His bold experimentation with color led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art, while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential proponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.

Arkhip Kuindzhi

Arkhip Kuindzhi was a landscape painter of Greek descent. He grew up in a poor family; his father was a Greek shoemaker. Arkhip was six years old when he lost his parents, so he was forced to make a living working at a church building site, grazing domestic animals, and working at the corn merchant’s shop. He received the rudiments of an education from a Greek friend of the family who was a teacher and then went to the local school.

In 1855, at age 13–14, Kuindzhi visited Feodosia to study art under Ivan Aivazovsky, however, he was engaged merely with mixing paints and instead studied with Adolf Fessler, Aivazovsky’s student.

During the five years from 1860 to 1865, Arkhip Kuindzhi worked as a retoucher in the photography studio of Simeon Isakovich in Taganrog. He tried to open his own photography studio, but without success. After that Kuindzhi left Taganrog for Saint Petersburg.

He studied painting mainly independently and at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (from 1868; a full member since 1893). He was co-partner of traveling art exhibitions, a group of Russian realist artists who in protest to academic restrictions formed an artists’ cooperative which evolved into the Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions (Peredvizhniki) in 1870.

In his mature period Kuindzhy aspired to capture the most expressive illuminative aspect of the natural condition. He applied composite receptions (high horizon, etc.), creating panoramic views. His later works are remarkable for their decorative effects of color building.

Ilya Repin

lya Repin was the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century, when his position in the world of art was comparable to that of Leo Tolstoy in literature. He played a major role in bringing Russian art into the mainstream of European culture.

Repin had favorite subjects, and a limited circle of people whose portraits he painted. But he had a deep sense of purpose in his aesthetics, and had the great artistic gift to sense the spirit of the age and its reflection in the lives and characters of individuals. Repin’s search for truth and for an ideal led him various directions artistically, influenced by aspects of hidden social and spiritual experiences and national culture. Like most Russian realists of his times, Repin often based his works on dramatic conflicts rooted in reality, drawn from contemporary life or history. He also used mythological images with a strong sense of purpose. Some of his religious paintings are among his greatest.

Repin persistently searched for new techniques and content to give his work more fullness and depth. His method was the reverse of impressionism. He produced works slowly and carefully. They were the result of close and detailed study. With some of his paintings, he made one hundred or more preliminary sketches. He was never satisfied with his works, and often painted multiple versions, years apart. He also changed and adjusted his methods constantly in order to obtain more effective arrangement and grouping and coloristic power.

Ilya Repin, Nude Model from Behind (1896)
Nude Model from Behind (1896)
Ilya Repin, Leo Tolstoy Barefoot (1901)
Leo Tolstoy Barefoot (1901)
Ilya Repin, Portrait of the Artist Daughter Nadezhda (1898)
Portrait of the Artist Daughter Nadezhda (1898)
Ilya Repin, Portrait of Actress Eleonora Duse (1891)
Portrait of Actress Eleonora Duse (1891)
Ilya Repin, Woman's Head, V.A.Repina Lying in Bed (1872)
Ilya Repin, Portrait of Sophia Dragomirova (1889)
Portrait of Sophia Dragomirova (1889)
Ilya Repin, Self portrait with Natalia Nordman (1903)
Self portrait with Natalia Nordman (1903)
Ilya Repin, Landscape (1891)
Landscape (1891)
Ilya Repin, Portrait of the Poet Voinov (1926)
Portrait of the Poet Voinov (1926)
Ilya Repin, Portrait of Jelizaveta Zvantseva (1889)
Portrait of Jelizaveta Zvantseva (1889)
Ilya Repin, To His Homeland the Hero of the Last War (1878)
To His Homeland the Hero of the Last War (1878)
Ilya Repin, Portrait of Nadezhda Repina the Artist's Daughter (1900)
Portrait of Nadezhda Repina the Artist's Daughter (1900)
Ilya Repin, St. Nicholas Saves Three Innocents From Death (1888)
St. Nicholas Saves Three Innocents From Death (1888)
Ilya Repin, Autumn Bouquet Portrait of Vera Repina (1892)
Autumn Bouquet Portrait of Vera Repina (1892)
Ilya Repin, Rest Portrait of Vera Repina the Artist's Wife (1882)
Rest Portrait of Vera Repina the Artist's Wife (1882)
Ilya Repin, Sadko (1876)
Sadko (1876)
Ilya Repin, A Shy Peasant (1877)
A Shy Peasant (1877)
Ilya Repin, Dragon Fly Portrait of Vera Repina the Artist's Daughter (1884)
Dragon Fly Portrait of Vera Repina the Artist's Daughter (1884)

Valentin Serov

Valentin Serov was born in Saint Petersburg, son of the Russian composer and music critic Alexander Serov, and his wife and former student Valentina Serova also a composer in her own right. Raised in a highly artistic milieu he was encouraged to pursue his talents by his parents and in his childhood he studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin and in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1880–1885) under Pavel Chistyakov. Serov’s early creativity was sparked by the realistic art of Repin and strict pedagogical system of Chistyakov. Further influences on Serov were the old master paintings he viewed in the museums of Russia and Western Europe, friendships with Mikhail Vrubel and (later) Konstantin Korovin, and the creative atmosphere of the Abramtsevo Colony, to which he was closely connected.

The greatest works of Serov’s early period were portraits: The Girl with Peaches (1887), and The Girl Covered by the Sun (1888), both in the Tretyakov Gallery. In these paintings Serov 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 (though Serov was not yet aware of works of French impressionists at the time of making those paintings).

Valentin Serov, The Girl Covered by the Sun (1888)

The Girl Covered by the Sun (1888)

Initially abstaining from the polychromatic, brightly colored painting style of the 1880s, Serov often preferred a dominant scale of black-grey or brown tones. Impressionistic features appeared sometimes in composite construction of a portrait, or to capture a sense of spontaneous movement.

At the start of the 20th century, Serov 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.

Serov frequently called upon various graphic techniques – watercolors, pastels, lithographs and so forth. Figures in Serov’s portraits gradually became more and more graphically refined and economical, particularly during the late period. From 1890 to 1900 Serov produced many landscape compositions on country themes, in which the artistic direction took a romantic turn.