Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Valentin Serov - Biography

Valentin Serov, Self-portrait, 1880s
Artist and art critic Alexandre Benois said that Valentin Serov had reflected entire Russian reality and its history in his creations. Valery Bryusov, one of the well-known Silver age poets perfectly described the brilliant gift of Serov: “The artist stepped into the realm of painting as his own kingdom. Very few of outstanding painters were awarded such steadfast and many-sided attention yet in their lifetime: lots of writers, artists, composers, actors and even members of the imperial family have become not only characters of his epochal works, but also authors of memoirs about the artist, where he is shown as the exemplar of honesty, simplicity and modest unselfishness in everything”.

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was born in Saint Petersburg, into the family of the famous Russian composer and musical critic Alexander Serov. He studied in a grammar school for three years only and then in 1878 settled in Moscow, in the house of the outstanding artist Ilya Repin, who became his teacher. Two years later Repin sent the teenager to Petersburg to study in the Academy of Arts under the well-known art teacher P.Chistyakov. In 1985 Serov left the Academy of Arts.

Valentin Serov entered the artistic field as a developed master already. His two works shown at an exhibition in 1888 – “The Girl with Peaches” (a portrait of V.S.Mamontova) (1887) and “Sunlit Girl” (a portrait of M. Ya.Simonovich)" (1888) - made a triumph and were appreciated as a new word in art. Both of them are still considered to be pearls of Russian painting.

It was Valentin Serov, with his inborn keenness on the processes occurring in the field of painting at the turn of the 19th century, who was destined to become a link between e classical painting of the 19th century and innovations of the Silver Age.

From 1897 to 1909 Valentin Serov taught in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He brought up an entire galaxy of future innovators: Nikolai Sapunov, Ilya Mashkov, Pyotr Kuznetsov, Nikolay Krymov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Serge Sudeikin, and others.

The creativity of Valentin Serov was diverse and extensive, and he proved to be a true master in all his works. The scope of his possibilities was wide - from unique techniques of coal drawing (a portrait of opera singer Fyodor Shalyapin, 1995), to the miniature images in graphitic pencil (sketches of Vasily Kachalov, 1908 and Tamara Karsavina, 1909. From 1895 till his death he worked on an enormous series (more than 150 graphic sheets) of illustrations to Ivan Krylov’s fables. Only once having tried his wings at painting a theatre playbill, he created an original masterpiece for the famous ballet company Russian Seasons– a picture with the image of dancing Anna Pavlova. He created brilliant scenery for staging his father’s opera Judith (1907) in the Mariinsky Theater, and ballet Scheherazade (1911) set to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s music for the Russian Seasons in Paris.

In his works Valentin Serov addressed historical themes (for example, painting Peter I, 1907) and antique mythology (painting Odyssey and Nausicaa and Abduction of Europe, both 1910). The artist was an unsurpassed portraitist of his time and left an extensive portrait gallery, which embodied people of different age, sex and condition.

Valentin Serov died of a heart attack in Moscow on 22 November 1911. He was laid down to rest at the Donskoye Cemetery in Moscow. Later his remains were transferred to the Novodevichy Cemetery.

RiC 

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