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Efimovich Repin was born in 1844 in the small Ukrainian town of Tchuguev
into the family of a military settler. As a boy he was trained as an icon
painter. At the age of 19 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.
His arrival in the capital coincided with an important event in artistic
life of the 60s, the so-called ‘Rebellion of the Fourteen’, when 14 young
artists left the Academy after refusing to use mythological subjects for
their diploma works. They insisted that art should be close to real life
and formed the Society of the Peredvizhniki to promote their own aesthetic
ideals. Later, Repin would be become a close friend and associate with
some of them.
For his diploma work Raising of Jairus' Daughter
(1871) Repin was awarded the Major Gold Medal and received a scholarship
for studies abroad. Barge Haulers on the Volga
(1870-1873) was the first major work painted by Repin after graduation.
It immediately won recognition.
In 1873, Repin went abroad. For some months he travelled through Italy
and then settled and worked in Paris until 1876. It was in Paris that he
witnessed the first exhibition of the Impressionists, but, judging by the
works he painted during the period and by his letters home, he was not
enthused for this new Paris school of painting, though he didn't share
the opinion of some of his countrymen who saw a dangerous departure from
“the truth of life” in Impressionism.
After returning to Russia, Repin settled in Moscow. He was a frequent visitor
to Abramtsevo, the country estate of Savva Mamontov,
one of the most famous Russian patrons of art of the late 19th Century.
It was a very fruitful period in his creative career. Over the next 10-12
years Repin created the majority of his famous paintings. In 1877, he started
to paint religious processions (krestny khod): Krestny
Khod (Religious Procession) in Kursk Gubernia (1880-1883).
The composition was based on the dramatic effect of the different social
statuses and attitudes of the participants of the procession, all united
by the miracle-working icon carried at the head. There were two different
versions of the picture. The second one, completed in 1883, became the
more popular. In a single glance, the spectator discovers an abundance
of social types and human characters in the crowd .
A series of paintings devoted to the revolutionary theme deserves special
attention. The artist was no doubt interested in exploring the character
of a fighter for social justice. The range of social, spiritual and psychological
problems that attracted Repin is revealed in his works Unexpected
Return (1884), which depicts the father of a household returning
from prison, and Refusal of the Confession
(1879-1885), which shows a dying man refusing a deacon's offer of the last
Repin is the author of many portraits, which are an essential part of his
artistic legacy. Repin never painted just faces, as many portraitists of
the period tended to; he painted people fully, managing to show his models
in their natural state, to reveal their way of communicating with the world:
of the Composer Modest Musorgsky (1881), Portrait
of the Surgeon Nikolay Pirogov (1881), Portrait
of the Author Alexey Pisemsky (1880), Portrait
of the Poet Afanasy Fet (1882), Portrait
of the Art Critic Vladimir Stasov (1883), and Portrait
of Leo Tolstoy (1887) and many others are distinguished by
the power of the visual characteristics and the economy and sharpness of
Repin rarely painted historical paintings. The most popular in this genre
is Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan (1895). The expressive, intense
composition and psychological insight in rendering the characters produced
an unforgettable impression on the spectators. Another popular work of
the genre is The Reply of the Zaporozhian
Cossacks to Sultan Mahmoud IV (1880-1891). The faithfully rendered
spirit of the Zaporozhian freemen, who, according to the artist, had a
particularly strong sense of “liberty, equality and fraternity” undoubtedly
gives the picture its power. The contemporaries saw it as a symbol of the
Russian people throwing off their chains.
The last quarter of the 19th century is the most notable period in Repin’s
work, though he continued to work well into the 20th century (the artist
died in 1930). He did not paint any masterpieces in the latter years of
his life. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, he lived and worked in
his estate Penates in Finland, where there is a Repin museum today.
Repin. by G. Stepnin. Russian Painters of the XIX century. Moscow.
Ilya Repin. by A. Fedotov-Davydov. Iskusstvo. Moscow. 1989.
Repin: Russia's Secret by H. W. Van OS. B.V. Waanders Uitgeverji,
Repin and the World of Russian Art by Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier.
Columbia University Press, 1990.
Art and Architecture of Russia (Pelican History Art) by George
Heard Hamilton. Yale Univ Pr, 1992.
Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Artists 1420-1970 by John
Milner. Antique Collectors' Club, 1993.
Biography by Olga Mataev and Yuri Mataev. Historical notes by Olga