Kustodiev – “Portrait of Ivan Bilibin”

In his portraits, Kustodiev, as a rule, abandoned the traditional use of a neutral background and replaced it with elements of the interior (or, later, landscape), which gives his works a touch of genre. Some of them turn into portraits-paintings. Everywhere there is an interest in the transmission of a light-air environment, an addiction to the contrasts of dark and light, to large spots of a dull color with a range with a predominance of deep black, brown-red, gray-silver tones. All this is combined with a soft, free style of painting, with the desire to use long, flowing, sweeping (“like Zorn’s”) strokes. Kustodiev’s palette is still quite dark and does not yet foreshadow those bold color schemes that he turned to later.

The image of Ivan Bilibin, Kustodiev’s fellow student at the Academy, is dynamic in composition and posture of the person being portrayed, who is also active in his direct “communication” with the viewer. The portrait was created at a time when Bilibin was developing his original style in illustrating Russian fairy tales and achieved his first successes and growing recognition. Kustodiev emphasized Bilibin’s very manner of behaving – free, relaxed, independent. A man with attentive artist eyes and sophisticated features, Bilibin is combed like a peasant, parted in the middle, and dressed, according to Bilibin himself, “Onegin-style”, in a specially sewn long frock coat, reminiscent of a tailcoat, with which the owner liked to shock others a little. The coat is elegantly decorated with a juicy blot of red carnation, in the manner of life-passers.

Kustodiev painted the portrait broadly and freely, as if playing along with his manner of relaxedness of a model who wants to appear in the guise of a dandy, to enter the role in the spirit of Pushkin’s hero. Artistry, charm, independence of character – these are the features of Bilibin, which Kustodiev revealed. This spectacular theatrical portrait is typical of the turn of the century by combining a “cut” of the composition in an impressionistic way with the love of a large color silhouette spot characteristic of Art Nouveau style. The portrait was shown in Munich at an international exhibition and received an honorary award – the second gold medal. This was the first recognition of Kustodiev’s art abroad.

Year of painting: 1901.

Painting dimensions: no data.

Material: canvas.

Writing technique: oil.

Genre: portrait.

Style: realism.

Gallery: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

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