Sunday, 20 December 2015


“The Iron Curtain may be a thing of the past, but Mother Russia is as mysterious as ever.” - Robert Gottlieb

The artist Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (1865-1911) was born into the family of famous Russian composer Alexander Serov. In 1871, his father died, and in 1872-73 Valentin and his widowed mother, née Bergman, lived in Munich, where he took lessons from the artist K. Kepping. In 1874, they moved to Paris, where Valentin regularly visited the studio of Ilya Repin, who was very fond of the little boy.

In 1875, the Serovs came to live at Abramtsevo, the estate of the industrial tycoon and patron Savva Mamontov, where artists, musicians and actors were always welcome. Valentin grew up in the atmosphere of constant creativity that characterised the Mamontovs’ household. He was fortunate to receive a professional education from the earliest childhood from the some of the best Russian artists, and he soon showed himself to be a remarkably precocious draughtsman. He could catch the likeness of a model often more quickly and confidently than older artists in the spontaneous drawing competitions that were part of the daily life at Abramtsevo.

At the age of 15, Serov entered Academy of Arts in the class of professor Pavel Tchistykov. There he met his lifelong friend Vladimir Derviz. His first exhibited works “Girl with Peaches. Portrait of Vera Mamontova”. (1887) and “Girl in the Sunlight. Portrait of Maria Simonovich.” (1888) were a sensation. Critics called them groundbreaking. When he painted them, Serov was unfamiliar with the works of the French Impressionists, but these luminous, sunny, splendidly composed portraits are strongly reminiscent of Renoir.

Serov tried himself in different genres: He was a beautiful landscape painter in a more sensuous and less nostalgic vein than another teacher of his, Isaac Levitan. Serov’s historical paintings are also of value and interest: Peter II and Princess Elizabeth Petrovna Riding to Hounds. (1900), Peter the Great. (1907). However, Serov was best recognised for his portraiture, and was one of the most successful and brilliant portraitist in Russia in the period 1890-1910. His most famous portraits are “Portrait of the Actress Maria Yermolova”. (1905), “Portrait of Henrietta Girshman”. (1907), “Portrait of Ida Rubenstein”. (1910), “Portrait of Maria Zetlin” (1910), “Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova”. (1911).

Serov travelled a lot, participating in exhibitions in Russia and abroad. In 1897-1909, Serov taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. His students noted that Serov was a superb technical master of many painting media. Among his pupils were N.N. Sapunov, M.I. Mashkov, P.V. Kuznetsov, N.P. Krymov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, C.Y. Sudeykin, K.F. Yuon and others. In 1903, he was elected member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Serov died in 1911.

The painting above is a wonderfully spontaneous impressionistic work, “Bathing a Horse” from 1905. The artist has captured the light beautifully, and the swift brushstrokes and vivid colour give the painting a vitality and movement that captivates the viewer.

1 comment:

  1. I think the passion for fresh air, exercise and sea water really impressed these artists. Serov's work reminds me a bit of Max Liebermann's Bathing Boys 1900 or Joaquín Sorolla's Washing The Horse 1909. Naked males on the beach .. what could be better?