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© Courtesy of the State Tretyakov gallery

Transforming nature

by Joy Neumeyer at 26/12/2011 19:36

Until May 20 at the State Tretyakov Gallery, 10 Lavrushinsky Per., m. Tretyakovskaya, www.tretyakovgallery.ru

‘In a Village. Peasant Woman With Horse,’ 1898

© Courtesy of the State Tretyakov gallery

‘In a Village. Peasant Woman With Horse,’ 1898

Open Tue.-Sun. 10 am-7:30 pm, closed Mon; ticket office closes at 6:30 pm

Trace turn-of-the-century artist Valentin Serov’s evolution from doodling schoolboy to master portraitist in a new exhibition of drawings at the State Tretyakov Gallery. Though most famous for his oil paintings, Serov was also a talented graphic artist, whose skillful sketches served both as studies for larger paintings and stand-alone works.

“Serov was one of the few artists who was as strong in drawing as he was in painting,” said Irina Shumanova, deputy director of the Tretyakov’s graphics department.

‘Model With Flowing Hair,’ 1899

© Courtesy of the State Tretyakov gallery

‘Model With Flowing Hair,’ 1899

Born in 1865, Serov studied under painting greats Ilya Repin and Pavel Chistyakov at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He rose to fame in the 1890s with stunning portraits of nobles such as Princess Zinaida Yusupova, which combined bright colors and impressionistic brushstrokes with precise psychological insight.

Serov was acquainted with philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov and served on the Tretyakov Museum’s board; the collection the museum acquired after his death at age 46 is immense, comprising over 750 items. The current exhibition includes works done in pencil, charcoal, watercolor and pastel.

The exhibition begins with Serov’s early domestic portraits and landscapes, and ends with his late interest in Greek mythology and turn towards modernism. There are famous works – a massive charcoal drawing of opera star Feodor Chaliapin and the popular poster he created for the Russian Seasons ballet featuring ballerina Anna Pavlova, on loan from the Russian State Library.

But there are also smaller surprises. A set of Serov’s notebooks reflects his artistic development over the course of his life, from childhood experiments sketching birds and dogs to late drawings of his wife.

Shumanova said the exhibition traces the artist’s shift from “comprehending nature to transforming nature.” “As an artist he searched for that single, unique, magical Serov line,” Shumanova said.

“By the end of the exhibition, you understand: there it is. He finally found it.”

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