There is hardly any major Russian artist of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, who did not depict the great poet and inspiration Alexander Pushkin — Orest Kiprensky, Vasily Tropinin, Ivan Aivazovsky, Nikolai Ge, Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov, Mark Antokolski and Paolo Troubetzkoy, Vladimir Favorsky, Aleksei Kravchenko, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Arkady Plastov, Mikhail Anikushin, Ekaterina Belashova, Konstantin Yuon, Vitaly Goryaev, Vasili Shukhaev, Nikolai Ulyanov, Viktor Popkov, Petr Ossovsky, Igor Obrosov, and many more.
The poet’s iconography in the collection of the State Pushkin Museum comprises approximately 4,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures. The core of the collection is formed by lifetime portraits of Alexander Pushkin. One of the most precious exhibits is the copy of Orest Kiprensky’s original portrait of Pushkin commissioned from an unknown Russian artist by Pushkin’s close friend Duke Peter Vyazemsky in the mid-19th century. The unique memorial item was named the “Ostafyevo copy”, because it originates from Vyazemsky’s estate of Ostafyevo in the vicinity of Moscow. Among the lifetime portraits of the poet are the engraving of Pushkin by Yegor Geitman, which decorated the first edition of “The Prisoner of the Caucasus”, and the engraving by Nikolai Utkin after Kiprensky’s original, the frontispiece of Anton Delvig’s almanac “Northern Flowers 1828”.
Among the images of the great poet dating from the final years the engraving by Thomas Wright is of major interest. There is a hypothesis that the English painter was commissioned to make a portrait of the Russian poet for the future edition of Pushkin’s collected works.
The engraving was completed soon after the poet’s death, in March 1837. Ilya Repin wrote: “Note what the Englishman emphasized in Pushkin’s appearance. His head is that of a public person, and his forehead is that of a thinker. You can see statesmanship here.”
In many reminiscences about Pushkin that appeared in the press after the poet’s death, his contemporaries strove to capture not only the appearance of the poet, but also his spiritual beauty. Just as interesting is the poet’s view of himself. When a lyceum student, he wrote a comic poem “My Portrait” (1815) in French.
Throughout his life, Pushkin sketched self-portraits on the margins of his manuscripts. Although they were never meant for the broad public, the drawings won acclaim, albeit a century later.
Most of the Pushkin iconography displayed at the museum is comprised by the works by artists of the second half of the 19th century, the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, including V. V. Mate, V. N. Masyutin, M. V. Dobuzhinsky, V. A. Favorsky, K. S. Petrov-Vodkin, V. I. Shukhayev, N. V. Kuzmin, T. A. Mavrina, A. Z. Itkin, A. A. Plastov, A. I. Laktionov, M. Chemiakin, I. D. Shaimardanov.
These retrospective images were created based on lifetime portraits of Pushkin drawn from life, his self-portraits, works and biography. All of them are figments of imagination that bear the mark of their time, because Pushkin’s genius provided every epoch with new and relevant material that suited it the best.
The first truly successful and exciting attempt to create an imaginative portrait of Pushkin is by right the etching by L. E. Dmitriyev-Kavkzsky, completed in 1880 under the influence of a speech by Fyodor Dostoyevsky at the unveiling of a monument to Pushkin in Moscow. Most of the portraits of the great poet were drawn in 1937, 1949, 1987 and 1999 to celebrate his jubilees.
A separate section of the display is formed by depictions of Pushkin in print media. Even during his lifetime, Pushkin’s growing popularity spurred readers’ interest in his personality, which set the stage for the appearance of numerous images of the poet in books and magazines. The famous engraving by Nikolai Utkin served as the frontispiece of the first posthumous edition of Pushkin’s selected works (1838) and P. V. Annenkov’s edition (1855).
In 1899, P. P. Konchalovsky, the father of the artist P. P. Konchalovsky, engaged the best artists of his time — V. I. Surikov, I. E. Repin, I. I. Levitan, M. A. Vrubel, the Vasnetsov brothers, K. A. Korovin and S. A. Korovin and many others — to illustrate the first edition of Pushkin’s works in three volumes. A portrait of Alexander Pushkin by Valentin Serov was used as the frontispiece. Subsequently the practice of using portraits of Pushkin as frontispieces became widespread.
Books of Pushkin’s works were published in a great number of copies, and the portraits of the poet were created by both prominent and little known authors.
In the late 19th century, Pushkin became a protagonist of various fiction books — short and long stories, novels and plays (such as K. G. Paustovsky’s “Our Contemporary (Pushkin)” and M. A. Bulgakov’s “The Last Days (A. S. Pushkin)”.
S. I. Erber
The watercolor was for the first time published in the comic magazine “Shut” (Jester) (1897, No.6). To the left is Alexander Pushkin with his wife, in the center is I. A. Krylov, to the right, wearing a yellow waistcoat, is F. V. Bulgarin; in the background halfway to the right is N. I. Gnedich.
P. I. Geller
Petr Isaakovich Geller (1862-1933) was a historical painter and graphic artist, portrait painter and author of genre pieces. He was a graduate of the Academy of Arts (1887). Alexander Pushkin is depicted inside V. A. Zhukovsky’s drawing room in the Winter Palace.
M. V. Dobuzhinsky
Mstislav Valeryanovich Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957) was a graphic artist, designer of scene designer and painter, illustrator and book designer, portrait and landscape painter, and educator. He was member of the 'Mir iskusstva“ (”Art Community") society.
N. P. Gavrilov
Nikolay Pavlovich Gavrilov (1898–1964) — sculptor. He graduated from the Higher Art and Technical Studios; his professors were S. M. Volnukhin and S. T. Konenkova. He created sculptural portraits of F. M. Dostoyevsky (1935), V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko (1936), K. S. Stanislavsky (1939). He designed monuments to A. S. Pushkin (1938, 1947).
S. V. Gerasimov
Sergey Vasilyevich Germasimov (1885-1964) — historical painter, graphic artist, landscape artist, author of genre pieces, portrait painter, illustrator. He was a student of K. A. Korovin and A. E. Arkhipov. S. V. Gerasimov created a series of portraits of Alexander Pushkin celebrating the jubilee of the poet in 1937. When depicting the poet against the backdrop of the landscapes of Mikhaylovskoye or the Caucasus, the artist manages to render the image of the poet lyrical and illuminated, or, at times, dynamic and filled with inner strain.
V. A. Svitalsky
Vladimir Alexandrovich Svitalsky (1904-1937) — graphic artist, silhouette artist, illustrator; author of illustrations to Pushkin’s “Boris Godunov”, “Eugene Onegin”, “The Belkin Tales” (1935).
N. P. Ulyanov
Nikolai Pavlovich Ulyanov (1875-1949) — painter and graphic artist, scene designer, portrait painter, landscape painter, still life painter, author of historical and mythological paintings, educator, memoirist, essayist. Ulyanov was member of the Union of Russian Artists and Mir iskusstva. His “Pushkin in Life” is a major cycle of drawings, watercolors and paintings centered on the figure of the poet.
His first works dedicated to Pushkin date from 1909, and all throughout his career he kept drawing inspiration from the great poet. “I have always been drawn to Pushkin as a source of sophisticated and joyous artistic inspiration. I liked Pushkin during the early years of his biography for his freedom-loving personality, his uncontrollable vigor, whereas during the final period of his life in high society, he touched me as a person who was tragically doomed.” N. P. Ulyanov. My Pushkin. 1959.
J. L. Obolenskaya
Julia Leonidovna Obolenskaya (1889-1945) — graphic artist, painter, book illustrator. Her works were displayed at exhibitions arranged by the Mir iskusstva society. The portrait of Pushkin against the backdrop of cosmic swirls and the silhouette of the horse that flung off “The Bronze Horseman” is filled with the emotions of revolutionary transformation.
The poet’s face is inspired and formidable, illuminated by the gleam of the “world fire.” The sharp contrast of white and black figures and dynamic strokes correspond to the ultimate message of the created image of romantic revolutionary burst.
K. F. Yuon
Konstantin Fyodorovich Yuon (1875-1958) — painter, graphic artist, scene designer, landscape painter, portrait painter, author of genre pieces, educator. During the decade following the Great Patriotic War, the image of Pushkin became lighter, more cheerful and ingenuous.
The poet appeared against the background of landscapes — which added a special emotional tone to artistic works — in increasing number of paintings and drawings. On Yuon’s watercolor, the beauty of the middle- Russian landscape in fall and its expressiveness are amazingly harmonious with the image of Pushkin sitting on horseback, inspired and sublime.
A. I. Laktionov
Aleksander Ivanovich Laktionov (1910-1972) — painter, graphic artist, author of genre pieces, portrait painter, educator. The sketch and the painting are dedicated to Pushkin’s last visit to Mikhaylovskoye in the fall of 1835. The thoughts of his family’s hard financial situation discouraged him to continue his work, making the last autumn a fruitless one. Two weeks after his arrival, he wrote to his wife: “Imagine that I have not written a line since I got here, and it is because of my concerns.” The artist makes us share the poet’s anxiety — Pushkin’s posture is unstable, his gesture is mechanical, and his face is filled with worries.
A. A. Plastov
Arkady Aleksadrovich Plastov (1893-1972) — painter, graphic artist, portrait painter, landscape painter, author of genre pieces, still life painter. The artist knew and loved the life of the Russian village and could relate perfectly well to that period of Pushkin’s biography and creative life.
The graphic structure of the painting and its artistic tonality are close to Pushkin’s disposition: “Behold, what a view: a row of wretched huts, Then black soil, sloping incline of the plain, Above a thick band of grey clouds...” A. S. Pushkin. “My rosy critic, my potbellied scoffer.” 1830.
A. G. Tyshler
Aleksandr Grigoryevich Tyshler (1898-1980) — painter, graphic artist, scene designer, portrait painter, sculptor. A visionary artist, Aleksandr Tyshler first addressed the Pushkin theme back in the 1930s and 1940s, when he created comic sketches “Pushkin and the Golden Fish”, “Pushkin and Mayakovsky”. The portrait made in 1964 is a symbol.
“I have always wanted to depict the poet the way I saw him. Pushkin was highly plastic. Artists, especially his contemporaries, somehow missed this quality of the poet, especially of his face. He was drawn ‘handsome’, and there was everything in the paintings, except for the main thing: the inner poetic wealth of the poet.” A. G. Tyshler.
V. A. Milashevsky
Vladimir Alekseyevich Milashevsky (1897-1979) — graphic artist, painter, illustrator, portrait painter, landscape painter. In the 1970s, images of Pushkin became increasingly frequent in illustrations to his works and among his literary characters. In his watercolor, the artist captured the poet’s fondness of brisk walking, his swiftness, lightness of his pace and impetuous movements. “He would go to some archive every day.
Even in the summer, he would walk to archives from his summer house. <...> However long it took him, he was always breathing freely and evenly. He valued the lucky organization of a human body and was indignant whenever he noticed anyone’s ignorance of anatomy.” P. A. Pletnev.
B. A. Talberg
Boris Aleksandrovich Talberg (1930-1984) — monumental painter. He worked in various manners and genres of monumental decorative art, as well as easel painting (narrative painting, portrait) and drawing.
Sh. B. Nadrov
Shamil Bariyevich Nadrov (born in 1955) — painter. “The Poet and the Sea” is part of the series “Short Stories of Pushkin’s Life”, in which the painter “creates a miraculous world, filled with mysteries and secrets, which so unexpectedly looks like ours.”
Curator — The State A.S.Pushkin Museum