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Ilya Efimovich Repin

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Ilya Efimovich Repin

(1844 - 1930)

One of the most famous Russian artists of all time, Ilya Efimovich Repin was born on August 5, 1844 in Chuguyev near Kharkov in the Ukraine, where his parents were stationed as military settlers. His artistic career began in 1866, when after completing an apprenticeship with the local icon painter named Bunakov and some preliminary study of portrait painting, he went to Saint Petersburg and was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts. From 1873 to 1876, Repin was permitted to travel through Italy and France. While in France, Repin became enamored with the Impressionist movement and while Repin’s style remained tighter and more conservative, the Impressionist use of light and color had a profound effect upon him. In 1878, Repin joined the Peredvizhniki, known as the Itinerants in English. This group of artists was formed of students from the Imperial Academy of Arts who rebelled against the rigid structure of the Academy, and particularly it’s division of high art and low art. The Peredvizhniki were progressives who fought to take art to the common people through traveling shows and to worked for the furtherance of progressive causes such as emancipation of the serfs and a reduction in censorship. They possessed a deep-rooted slavophilism and believed that art could unite the Slavic people and that they had a duty to create art that revealed the struggles of the current social milieu. Repin’s painting “The Barge Haulers” is an archetype of the Peredvizhniki ideals. Shortly before Alexander II’s assassination in 1881, Repin painted many revolutionary pictures. “They Did Not Expect Him” is considered to be his greatest masterpiece of this time because of its deep psychological moods. His paintings at this time were becoming well-known for their psychological depth and social tensions. Another example of these tendencies is found in “religious Procession in the Province of Kursk, which is considered an archetype of the Russian National Style because of its depiction of various social classes and the tensions between them as all participate in this religious right of slowly progressing forward together. In 1885, Repin completed one of his most well-known paintings, the psychologically charged “Ivan the Terrible and His Son” which depicts Ivan the Terrible’s look of horror as he holds the peaceful body of his son whom he slew in a fit of rage. One of Repin’s most complex paintings, “Reply of the Zaporozhin Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV” took him more than a decade to complete. He explored the Cossack republicanism of his native Ukraine with its ideals of liberty, brotherhood, and equality. Begun in the late 1870s, this monumental painting was not finished until 1891 when it was purchased by the Tsar for 35,000 rubles, an incredible sum at the time. Repin was most celebrated for his portraits. His fame and connections allowed him to paint some of the most famous Russians of the time including: writer Leo Tolstoy, scientist Dmitri Mendeleev, philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov, Ukrainian poet Taras Shevechenko, and even Tsar Nicholas II. By the time of the 1917 Revolution, Repin had retired to his self-designed home, Penates, located in Kuokkala, Finland. When Finland declared its independence in 1917, Repin was urged by various Soviet Institutions and friends to return to Russia, but he declined saying he was too old for the journey. Repin died in 1930 in Kuokkala and when as a result of the Continuation War, Finland ceded the city to the Soviet Union, the city was renamed Repino in honor of the great artist. Repin was idolized early on in the Soviet Union and Social realists were taught to emulate his progressive, realist style and in 1947, Repin’s own Imperial Academy was renamed in his honor and remains to this day the Repin Institute of the Arts.

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