Saturday, August 17, 2019

Serov's Fable Illustrations

Though better known for his portraits, Valentin Serov (1865-1911) illustrated the animal fables of Ivan Krylov with expressive line drawings.

In "The Monkey and Her Glasses," an older monkey with poor eyesight buys some eyeglasses. Unfortunately, she doesn't know how to wear them. Since she can't see better, she breaks them in anger. 

In "The Quartet," a bear, a goat, and donkey, and a monkey decide to play music as a string quartet. Having no luck at playing the instruments, they keep trading instruments, but still they can't make a good sound. Finally a musically inclined nightingale appears to remind them that you can't play music without skill and talent.

It's interesting to see how a great portrait painter explores gesture and character in loose line drawings that blend the real with the imaginary.

In the book Valentin Serov, Dmitri Sarabyanov says: "This combining of the imaginary with the real was something Serov always tried to achieve, whether in his portraits or drawings for Krylov's fables or historical themes."

Some of Serov's later paintings explore mythological themes such as "Rape of Europa" (left), where his stylization departs from naturalism and becomes more expressionistic.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia: "Europa was charmed by the docile animal and decorated him in flowers. Then, thinking she might ride such a gentle beast, she climbed on his back. The bull swam with her into the sea, soared into the air and carried Europa far away from Phoenicia."

Book: Valentin Serov: Paintings, Graphic Works, Stage Designs 
Wikipedia: Valentin Serov


Michaelangelo Reina said...

Wonderful use of body language. I almost feel like I am seeing the work of an old animator.

Unknown said...

James. Really enjoy your videos. Do you think you would ever consider doing any pure watercolor videos again? I've noticed you don't really use the medium anymore. I love the way you approach it. Have a great day.

Unknown said...

My name is Brion. I did not post my name for some reason. Thanks

James Gurney said...

Brion, Yes, it's likely. I tend to go through phases where I explore a given medium for a while. I'm sure I'll come back to watercolor.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

It's said that he drew these in a specially made vellum sketchbook, working from back to front. He would redraw the sketch on the immediately preceding page, and again, and again, using the previous sketches seen through the vellum as guide, until he was satisfied, and then tore out all the pages but the one with the last sketch.

James Gurney said...

Eugene, wow, thanks for that fascinating insight into his working method. Totally makes sense.
Another question came up on Facebook that I didn't have the answer for. Were these the finished works? Were they reproduced in the form of these drawings, or were they in preparation to something else?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the response. Your work has inspired me to get out there and paint. Looks forward to more watercolor! :)