Saturday, October 17, 2015

Serov's Gouache Portraits

Gouache is an effective medium for portraits. Here are some examples by Valentin Serov (1865-1911) to serve as inspiration.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman. 1904. Gouache on cardboard. 100.8 × 70 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Gouache lends itself to exploratory studies, allowing you to try out a composition quickly and efficiently. The board chosen can be a light brown, approximately equal to the dark halftone of the model's skin. Skin tones can be modeled with gossamer layers above and below that base tone.

Gouache can also be handled as a finished medium in its own right. This 1909 portrait of Yelena Oliv is 37 x 26 inches, and combines gouache, watercolor, and pastel on cardboard. 

Portrait of Alexei Morozov. 1909. Gouache and pastel on cardboard. 37 x 23.5 in.
Serov loved water media and drawing media because they lend themselves to simplification, to finding the essence of a sitter. In his later years, Serov was obsessed with the purest expression of line and shape, not for caricature, but for truthful, simple character. 

According to a recent article in the Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, he also used tracing-paper to help find the essential statement: "Having drawn a figure on a semi-transparent sheet, he would put another such sheet over the drawing and, having traced the best lines, continue to draw on this new base."  

Starting at age 9, Serov was a student of the great Russian portrait painter Ilya Repin. He also studied in Paris, where gouache was quite popular. 

According to Igor Grabar, "Serov believed that the artist ought to be adept in every available medium because nature itself is infinitely diverse and inimitable, just as the artist's mood and feelings differ from one day to another: today he wants to work in one way, tomorrow in another." 

"For this reason he worked with oil paint, watercolours, gouache, tempera, pastel and coloured hard pencils, recommending his students to follow suit."

An exhibition of the work of Valentin Serov, in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth, is currently on view at the Tretyakov Gallery through January 17, 2016. The show takes up three floors of the museum, with extensive areas devoted to watercolors and drawings.

Valentin Serov on Wikipedia
Check out my tutorial video "Gouache in the Wild"


Paul Sullivan said...


Thanks for featuring Valentin Serov's magnificent work. I just saw another of his portraits of Henrietta. I think I'm in love!

Paul Sullivan

Allen Garns said...

Thanks for another wonderful post. These are all beautiful paintings/sketches. The fourth one, at first, looked like a Burt Silverman or David Levine, I was a little surprised to see the similarity.

Unknown said...

i love your blog
keep up the good work:)