Ilya Repin and Leo Tolstoy were close friends for many years. The artist frequently visited the writer at Yasnaya Polyana, where he painted an entire gallery of portraits from life. In 1891, Repin made a study of the writer praying in a maple forest; this modello later grew into the large canvas painted at Tolstoy’s estate. The writer posed several times for the artist in his garden. Leo Tolstoy Barefoot reflects many of the writer’s spiritual quests. Aspiring to adopt the “simple life”, Tolstoy often engaged in peasant labour. Repin was impressed by the great writer: “No matter how this giant humbles himself or covers his mighty body in mortal rags, the Zeus in him always shines through.”
The artist took ten years to complete the portrait, which conveys the writer’s state of concentration and self-immersion. Repin was also interested in the plastic expressiveness of his outer appearance. The writer’s posture is lively and the gesture of his hands tucked into his belt is characteristic. Natural and simple, Repin’s portrait of Tolstoy reflects the significance to which the artist always aspired.
Count Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828–1910): Writer of novels, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences (1873), honorary academic (1900).