One of my favourite artists is Valentin Serov. When I first saw his famous pictures - - the Girl with Peaches and the Girl in the Sunlight - - in the Tretyakov Gallery, frankly speaking, I wasn't too impressed. The girls seemed quite ordinary and I couldn't understand what was so special about these portraits.
Some years later I happened to be in Abramtsevo, where these two pictures had been painted. It's a very beautiful place. Abramtsevo belonged to Savva Mamontov, a well known patron of arts. Our guide told us about the people who had been invited there. It seemed that all artists, actors and writers of that period had stayed at Abramtsevo or at least visited it.
When I went to the Tretyakov Gallery after that and looked at the Girl with Peaches again, I suddenly remembered that day in Abramtsevo, and for the first time I noticed the play of light and shade in the picture, the atmosphere of a sunny summer day.
It's surprising that Serov painted this picture when he was only 22 years old. I read somewhere that at the time he had not seen the works of French Impressionists, who tried to catch the sunlight and the air and transfer it to the canvas. But he managed to do it perfectly.
Serov was born in 1865. His father was a well-known composer and the boy grew up in the atmosphere of creative activity. His first art teacher was Repin, who noticed that the boy could catch the likeness of a model often more quickly and surely than older artists.
Later Serov studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and graduated from it when he was 20.
For several years he taught at Moscow School of Painting Sculpture and Architecture. But teaching did not interfere with his painting. Probably now he would be called a workaholic. He painted almost 700 canvases, though, unfortunately, his life was not very long — he died in 1911.
He was a brilliant landscape painter, he created genre scenes, but he is mostly remembered as a portraitist. The list of his portraits reads as "who-iswho" in Russian culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He painted Sawa Mamontov, Konstantin Korovin, Ilya Repin, Isaak Levitan, Nikolai
Leskov, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the great actress Yermolova ... The list can be continued. And practically all his portraits are excellent from the technicalpoint of view — the colours, the composition, but there is more than that - they show people's personality.



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