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Ilya Efimovich Repin was born in 1844 in a small Ukrainian town of Tchuguev
in 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 to the capital coincided with an important event in artistic
life of the 60s, the so-called ‘Riot of the Fourteen’, when 14 young artists
left the Academy having refused to use mythological subjects for their
diploma works. They stood on the point that art should be close to real
life. Later Repin would be closely connected with some of them, the members
of the Society of Peredvizhniky.
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 considerable work painted by Repin after graduation.
It immediately won recognition.
In 1873, Repin went abroad. For some months he had been traveling in Italy
and then settled and worked in Paris up to 1876. It was in Paris that he
witnessed the first exhibition of the Impressionists, but, judging by the
works created then and by his letters home, he didn't become the ardent
follower of this new Paris school of painting, though he didn't share the
opinion of some of his country-men 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
in Abramtsevo – the country estate of Savva Mamontov,
one of the most famous Russian patrons of art. It was a very fruitful period
in his creative activity. During 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 different attitude of the participants of the procession
to the wonder-working icon carried at the head of the procession. There
were two different versions of the picture. The second one, completed in
1883, became the most popular. At first glance, the spectator discovers
an abundance of social types and human characters in the crowd .
A series of paintings devoted to the revolution theme deserves special
attention. The artist was no doubt interested in creating the character
of a fighter for social justice. The range of social, spiritual and psychological
problems, which attracted Repin, is revealed in his works: Unexpected
Return (1884) and Refusal from
the Confession (1879-1885).
Repin is the author of many portraits, which are an essential part of his
artistic heritage. Repin never painted faces, he painted real people, managing
to show his models in their natural state, to reveal their way of communicating
with the world: Portrait 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 characteristic 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 Zaporoguus freemen, who, according to the artist, had a particularly
strong sense of "liberty, equality and fraternity” undoubtedly gives the
picture its significance. The contemporaries saw it as a symbol of the
Russian people throwing off their chains.
The last quarter of the 19th century is the best period in Repin’s work,
though his creative activity continued in the 20th century (the artist
died in 1930), he did not paint any masterpieces then. After the bolsheviks’
revolution in 1917 he lived and worked in his estate Penates in Finland.
There is a Repin museum. The museum visitors have the opportunity of gaining
a detailed knowledge of the artist's life and work.
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