L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Russian ladies, portraits by Serov

Henrietta Girshman, 1907. (Detail.)

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (19 January 1865, St. Petersburg – 5 December 1911, Moscow), Russian painter, one of the finest portrait artists of his day. The son of two composers, he showed early promise as an artist and studied in Paris and Moscow, and at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts from 1880 to 1885. He was strongly influenced by his study with the great Russian Realist Ilya Repin. Early on, he was one of the artists that formed the Abramtsevo Colony, while late in his career he was associated with the Mir iskusstva ("World of Art") artists. He is known for his portraits - his subjects ranged from those in the Arts and literature to the aristocracy and the Imperial family - but he also did genre paintings on historical and mythological themes and designs for the theater. Over time, his work developed from a recognizably Russian Impressionism to an individual style that was increasingly pared-down, rather graphic, and in some ways presaged Modernism.

Married at twenty-two, he and his wife had two sons; his family features in much of his work. He died of a heart attack at the age of forty-six, at the very height of his career.

Henrietta Girshman, 1907.

I've always loved Serov's work. He's probably my favorite of the portrait painters - most of them associated with the Mir iskusstva group - who made art during that remarkable late blossoming of Imperial Russia. His work manages to be pictorially decorative, graphically vigorous and, above all, psychologically insightful. Sometimes shockingly so. The fact that most of his portraits were well-compensated commissions, that his subjects were often very important personages, indeed, didn't seem to temper Serov's rigorous truthfulness. If his honest, characteristic portrayals of his sitters sometimes bordered on the unflattering, his very great artistry ensured that he got away with it.

Henrietta Girshman, 1907. (Detail.) The artist at work is seen reflected in the mirror at right.
Yevdokia Loseva, 1903.
Princess Zenaïda Yusupova, 1900-02.
Model, 1899.
Princess Olga Orlova, 1911.
Maria Akimova, 1908.
Maria Morozova, 1897.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, 1893.
Maria Yermolova, 1905.
Maria Yermolova, 1905. (Detail.)
Yevdokia Morozova, 1908.
Model, 1905.
Sophia Botkina, 1899.
Sophia Lukomskaya, 1900.
Yelena Oliv, 1909.
Mara Oliv, 1895.
Henrietta Girshman, circa 1904-06.
Maria Zetlin, 1910.
Princess Olga Orlova, 1911.
Princess Olga Orlova, 1911. (Detail.)


  1. I have never hears of Serov but he reminds me of John Singer Sargent.

    1. They were roughly contemporary, though Serov died young. The work of both is obviously influenced by the Impressionist movement, though of a more refined finish than the French leaders of the movement. Serov's portraits are certainly less concerned with flattering the subject, more realistic than Sargent's.