January 22, 2016 by AK

Ten years ago – yes, eight days short of ten years! – Donald Pittenger ran this memorable post at 2Blowhards about the Russian artist Valentin Serov (1865-1911):

Serov was an extremely talented painter. His abilities were apparent in childhood. And his blazing debut in his early twenties was noted above.

On the other hand, Serov was never an innovator of art movements unlike Manet, Monet or Picasso. This, plus the fact that he practiced in distant (from Paris) Russia, probably accounts for his footnote-status in art history.

Definitely not so in the history of Russian art: Serov is the author of the near-iconic Girl with Peaches and The Abduction of Europa.

…I tend to look [at] a painting from a technical perspective, having been an art student as an undergraduate… I’m less likely when seeing a masterpiece to say “Oh wow!! What an experience!” than I am to think “Oh wow!! Look how he painted that silk gown!”

Pittenger was particularly impressed by Serov’s treatment of gradations in skin color:

…Serov varied his coloration treatment of faces, hands, and so forth from painting to painting to fit the color key while keeping the flesh colors realistic. Possibly these color differences were simply what he found in the various sittings. Perhaps he was trying to stretch his already formidable skills by setting up challenges to resolve. Or maybe he simply sought different color keys in order to amuse himself…

It makes me wish I had a wall covered with Serov originals to serve as inspiration and guides the next time I try doing a portrait.

Fast forward to January 2016.

Today, The Associated Press reported from Moscow:

Russians wait hours in freezing weather to see art exhibit.

An English-language Russian news site has more details (The Moscow Times also has a video):

Visitors excited by new exhibition break down door at the Tretyakov.

The artist is Valentin Serov; the exhibition marks his 150th birthday. It’s not at the central Tretyakov Gallery complex but in the Krymsky Val building, the usual venue for modern (20th-century and later) art events.

I have no clue what caused such inordinate interest in Serov’s work: a fair number of his paintings are always on display both in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Two years earlier, a major exhibit of Natalia Goncharova‘s works loaned from all over the world was not nearly so well attended.

The fact that Putin visited the Serov event earlier this week may have turbo-charged its appeal but abnormally long queues had already been reported for weeks.


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