Saturday, December 5, 2009

Repin’s State Council Portraits

When Ilya Repin accepted the assignment to paint the Russian State Council in 1903, one of the terms of his contract was that he would be allowed to paint a life study of each individual member.

This example gives a good insight to what Repin finds essential in achieving a portrait likeness. He probably had only an hour or two to work on this study. He quickly stated the big flat tones of the coat, table, and paper. He defined the structural planes of the head like a master woodcarver.

The effect almost looks like a blurry photograph. He didn’t paint the small details of eyes, nostrils, and lips, but instead concentrated on the overall structure.

The final work, based on many of these studies, is amazingly naturalistic. These large-scale group portraits can easily become stagy and artificial.

Both images in this post are fairly large files, so if you click on them you’ll get a lot more detail.

Image courtesy Wikipedia, link.


Russell Dickerson said...

There's a wonderful sense of uniqueness to the piece, and really of sense of how long Repin spent on getting it right. He shows that in many of his other works, his attention to detail is fascinating. On the other hand, I suppose in such a "political" piece he doesn't really have an option. Every individual is going to be looking to make sure his own portrait is correct. That's a lot of pressure for an artist, I'd be curious if Repin ever commented on it.

Charles Valsechi said...

Wow :o

Unknown said...

Everybody on the painting is behaving in a normal way, not posing, and this gives the painting a very strong snapshot-feeling... A very vivid depiction of quite a static happening...

Richard J. Luschek II said...

I love Repin.
The Cincinnati Museum just put up a painting that is a copy of a Repin. Though they did not list it as such. I am sure they have no idea.
This is a wonderful example of the truth that can be gotten from working 'from life'. Amazing stuff.
Great demonstration of working the big over the small.

BTW, I just finished reading your book. Great job! I have already talked some people into buying it for their children that are interested in becoming painters.

jeff said...

Repin's portraits are amazing and he rivals Sargent and Zorn, and was contemporary of both he also out lived them. Which considering that he lived in Russia during the revolution and then in Finland is no small feat.

I love that painting "Barge Haulers on the Volga" and "Arrest of a Propagandist".

In the Barge painting it's great how he uses both realism and impressionism as a compositional device to help with the story. The sense of irony in this piece is quite amazing. The way he painted this beautiful summer day on the Volga in high chroma and then there are the Barge haulers trudging on the banks, laden with their burden.
Amazing stuff.


jeff said...

I forgot to mention that this period of Russian has quite a few excellent painters who are vastly under rated in my opinion.

Besides Repin there is Issac Levitan who is one of the greats of landscape painting.

Issac Levitan

Begnaud said...

If you have ever been a 3 hr+ meeting it is certainly not this glamorous. It's as if he captured each speaker in their mind's eye of brilliance (and long winded-ness.)

Sabin Boykinov said...

Hello James ,
Your book “Imaginative Realism"
arrived here!! It took almost a month from USA to Bulgaria.
I would like to say thank you for this hard work and for so much awesome works.
I was really inspired while look at the painting process and reading all advises
In my school years we studied mostly the Russian Art so Repin is may be my favorite one.
His work “Ivan The Terrible killing his son “ is stunning artwork.
The other favorite Russian artist is Vasily Vereshchagin – amazing military painter who spend his time in traveling to central Asia and also with the army in Russo Turkish war.He spend much time of this period in Bulgaria.
If you are interested:
Thanks again for the book and keep your inspirational Journey up !

Roca said...

It's weird how that first guy looks like Putin!

Unknown said...

that was amazing..

i recently got a mail from a friend of mine regarding the imagination and skill of a painter..
after reading this i thought of adding that content to my blog

Milenko Stevanović said...


Your blog is always an inspiration and a very valuable source. I just wanted to add this article as a further reference to how this painting in particular might have been made: