Ilya Repin was a Ukrainian-born painter of Russian Realism movement, famous master of portraiture, historical and genre painting, prominent pedagogue.
Future painter was born on August 5 1844, in a small town Chuhuiv in Russian Empire (now Ukraine), in a family of a military colonist. Rein revealed hi gift for drawing in the early age and enrolled training, working in the icon painting workshop and studied in the topographic school. Experience he got there occurred to be useful in the future.
For hundred rubles he had got for his icons and restorations of iconostasis Ilya decided to left for St. Peterbrug in 1863. But he failed with his first attempt to enter the Imperial Academy of Fine arts as had no background in the academic drawing. To fill up this gap young artist started visiting drawing lessons of Ivan Kramskoy. Kramskoy soon noticed a talented student and gave a recommendation letter for Repin, so he was accepted as an auditor to the Academy. At the end of the first year Repin created a canvas “Jeremiah lamenting on the ruins of Jerusalem” for which he got the highest mark and became a student of the Academy. At his spare time Ilya kept in visiting Kramskoy’s house, where artists-“peredvizniki” used to gather. Specialists believe that communication with them defined futher artistic credo of the painter.
In 1871 27-years-old Ilya Repin graduated from the Academy and received the highest award – golden medal – on the competition there for his work on evangelic subject “The resurrection of Jair’s daughter”. Major golden medal gave the owner right to study abroad for six years with academic scholarship.
Before leaving for France and Italy, in spring of 1873 Repin and fellow artist Fedor Vasilyev set off for Volga, where they made etudes and sketches. According to Repin’s words, he had got an idea of a huge canvas back in 1868, but it had required grandiose and detailed work. This idea was realized in 1873 and Ilya called it “Barge Haulers on the Volga”. It was displayed in Vienna and public immediately appraised the author’s mastery – he got recognition in Europe. “Barge Haulers on the Volga” were bought to the collection of the Grand Prince.
Repin spent almost three years in Paris with his family. Ilya didn’t favored then-contemporary art of France and in his letter to Savrasov (a famous master of landscape) there was little Russian artists could learn there because of different mentality and tasks. Anyway, he worked hard, depicting street scenes, numerous etudes of suburbs, portraits and completed a large-scale painting “Parisian cafe”. His last work from this period is the portrait of his wife Vera, praised for vigorous and fresh manner.
Next year Repin together with his family visited his native places – the town of Chuhuiv. There he rendered a series of sketches, among which “A timorous peasant”, “Protodeacon” should be singled out. There, in Chuhuiv, Ilya got an idea of another dimensioned painting – “Religious Procession in Kursk Province”. The artists made a lot of drawings of people from various social classes, so he was able to represent a crowd, united by a religious inspiration. The master paid special attention to the details. Repin also created a first canvas on the revolutional subject “Under the gendarme escort”. He would further refer to this topic several times and would always, like in “The arrest of the propagandist”, show the hero as a lonely person abandoned by those, for whom he had surrendered his liberty.
Ilya Repin spent summer of 1878 in Ambramtsevo – the estate of Sava Mamontov, famous patron of art. Abramtsevo was a birth-place of Russian Modern (version of Art Nouveau style). After moving to Moscow the painter demonstrated great interest in Russian history, evidenced by such pieces as “Soldier of the 17th century” and “Tsarevna Sophia Alexeevna in the Novodevitchy Convent” (both created in 1879). Repin’s friends disaccorded in their views on the latter painting, as Kramskoy thought it to be good, meanwhile Stasov (main ideologist of Realism in Russia) claimed this work to be untypical for Ilya Repin, as he should concentrate on depicting reality.
Following years the artist spent working over commissioned portraits and making etudes from nature. Apart from this he gradually collected material for his grandiose canvases. In 1885 Repin finished one of his major paintings – “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan”. It literary created a furore. However, the conservative part of the Russian society disliked it: the attorney Pobedonostsev of the Holy Synod report to the Emperor Alexander III that the painting insulted the government feeling of many people. Famous collector Tretyakov bought the canvas but was forced to keep it under the lock, without displaying it. The masterpiece was first exposed only in 1913.
In his memoirs, Repin claimed creation of the “The Cossacks, composing a letter to the Turkish Sultan” was complicated. The master was preoccupied with it for 13 years – 1878 – 1891. In a certain sense, he didn’t hope to finish this multifigural composition and even once “close the painting”. All-in-all, it was included into the anniversary exhibition of the artist, provoking enthusiastic reaction. The Emperor bought it himself for thirty-five thousands of rubles – an enormous sum for those times!
The end of 1880s was extremely difficult for Ilya Repin. He divorced with wife in 1887, so she took son Yuri and younger daughter Tanya from him, leaving elder Nadia and Vera. At the same time, the painter had a conflict with peredvizniki, accusing them in bureaucratism. Though he had returned to the group next year, he finally broke up with them in two years, protesting against changes in the Statute of the group. All these troubles undermined Repin’s health – the artist was depressed but kept on working as didn’t want to leave unfinished canvases after himself.
Moneys he earned for “The Cossacks” allowed him to buy a mansion in Zdravnevo on the Eastern Dvina (Vitebsk province). Concentration on the arrangement of the new workshop distracted him from the problems, so the inspiration returned to Repin and in 1892 he created a beautiful portrait of his daughter Vera “The autumn bouquet”.
In 1899 Ilya Repin married again – on Natalya Nordman-Severskaya. For a new family the painter oranges the estate called “Penates” in Kukalla (now Finland). Very soon a whole settlement of Russian writers and artists arranged around it. The master spent most of the time fruitfully working in Penates, rarely visiting St. Petersburg. Every Wednesday his houses was attended by guests, among them such prominent names as Maksim Gorky, Vladimir Behterev, Fedor Chaliapin.
In 1901 the painter started a truly giant canvas “Ceremonial session of the State Counci” – 8,5×4,6 m. He created it in cooperation with his students Boris Kustodiev and Ilya Kulikov. Its execution took a couple of years, during which the main conception had changes for many times, slowly approaching to the finalized version.
Finland (including territory of Kukalla) separated from Russia aand became independent after the October revolution on 1917. Ilya Repin didn’t come back to his Motherland anymore. He was nostalgic, yet captivated with Finnish nature and had close relations with poet Eino Leino, artist Albert Edelfelt and other important persons of Finnish culture. In 1919 the painter donated 23 works of Russian masters and seven personal canvases to the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki. This was the beginning of his collection in Atheneum.
Repin died in 1930, and was buried at the Penates.
Legacy of Ilya Repin is one of the greatest achievements of Russian realism in painting of the second half of the 19th cent., one of the high-points of Peredvizniki’s movement. His talent is many-sided and powerful, occupying various genres – the artist left us various historical, genre and portrait paintings, defined by exquisite coloring, combination of lyricism and epic character.
Repin was realist to the bone and often had to listen to the reproaches in poor imagination. But the case wasn’t in his fantasy, but rather in the fact that the artistic nature of Ilya didn’t allow him to be carried with something assumed. Life in all its aspects, crucial events and bright personalities were his source of inspiration. Anyway, he didn’t copy nature but aesthetically transformed it, using wide, liberate impressionistic manner of painting. He believed in ability of art to serve people’s interest and in its potential to solve social problems.