Monday, May 20, 2013

Ivan Kramskoi's Portraits of Character

There are contributing factors. One is the Paris-centric narrative of the history of painting since the mid-1700s. Another is the Cold War between Communism and the West where, despite various "cultural exchanges," paintings by pre-Socialist Realist artists from Russia were largely unknown to the the Western art public. Well, that was the case for me at least.  I never learned about them in art history classes nor did they enter my art appreciation radar for many years thereafter.

Therefore, it wasn't until I started blogging and delving into art history that I finally became aware of Russian painters active 1850-1914. One example is Ivan Kramskoi (1837-1887). His Wikipedia entry is here, but it's a bit sketchy. Another biographical source is here. It is more comprehensive, but perhaps misleading in at least one place. The writer, Cathy Locke, states: "Due to Kramskoi’s strong political beliefs, he always painted people who were either democratic intellectuals or close friends." Except that a few years before he died, Kramskoi painted portraits of the Czar and Czarina.

But portraits were his forte, and usually went beyond surface depictions. Here are examples of his work.


Self-portrait - 1867

Christ in the Desert - 1872
Not a portrait in the accepted sense, but rather an illustration, this painting helped launch Kramskoi's career.

A Girl with a Loose Braid (or Girl with Unruly Disposition) - 1873

Mina Moiseyev (a peasant) - 1882

Woman Under a Parasol (In the Field) - 1883

Czar Alexander III - 1886

Portrait of an Unknown Woman - 1883
This is Kramskoi's most famous work. It is described in this Wikipedia entry. The painting normally resides in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, but a few years ago when I visited the gallery, the painting happened to be in New York.  Woe was me.


Augustin Tougas said...

Great find. Love his works. Love the expression : "Unruly Disposition". Wonderful portraitist.

Rezu Islam said...

Great work Ivan. All of your portraits are really awesome.
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