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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 June 2014
Ilya Efimovich Repin, 1844-1930, born of peasant stock in Tchuguev, Ukraine, and, trained as an icon painter as a boy. He entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1863, and was friendly with Ivan Kramskoi and other young artists who reacted against academic art and asserted the high public duty of the artist, principles of realism, and supported the moral substance and nationality of art. Kramskoi went on to become one of the main founders and ideologists of the Company of Itinerant Art Exhibitions (Peredvizhniki).

After painting his first great works, “Christ Raising Jairus’ Daughter from the Dead”, 1871, and “Barge Hauling on the Volga”, 1870-73, the artist travelled to Italy and France, remaining in Paris until 1876 [“A Beggar-Girl, Veules”, 1874, “A Parisian Café”, 1875, “A Negro Woman”, 1875-76 and “Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom”, 1876]. The artist, most of whose works are in Russian collections, went on to paint psychologically-insightful portraits of notables, including “Ivan Turgenev”, 1874, the storyteller “Vasily Shchegolenkov”, 1979, the writer “Aleksei Pisemsky”, 1880, composer “Modest Mussorgsky”, 1881, art critic “Vladimir Stasov”, art collector “Pavel Tretyakov”, both 1883, and the student “Lidiya Kuznetsov”, 1901, a detail of which is shown on the front cover. Most famously, he painted a number of portraits of Tolstoy, “Leo Tolstoy” and “Leo Tolstoy Ploughing”, both 1887, “Leo Tolstoy in the Forest” and “Leo Tolstoy Barefoot”, both 1891, and “Tolstoy in the Pink Armchair”, 1909.

Repin also painted many ordinary people, “The Archdeacon”, “A Cautious One” and “A Peasant with an Evil Eye”, all 1877, and portraits of his family, “Portrait of Vera Shevtsova”, later the artist’s wife, 1869,“Portrait of Vera Repin”, his daughter, 1874, “Portrait of Vera Repin”, his wife, 1875, “Girl with a Bunch of Flowers, Vera Repin”, 1878, “On a Park Bridge”, 1879, “Portrait of Nadya Repin”, 1881, “Vera Repin Resting” and “Portrait of Yuri Repin”, both 1882, “A Lively Girl, Vera Repin”, 1884, “Self-Portrait”, 1887, “Autumn Bouquet, Portrait of Vera Repin”, 1892, “In the Sunlight, Portrait of Nadya Repin”, 1900, and “A Study, Family Portrait”, 1905.

His genre works reflected the religious faith of the Russians [“Religious Procession”, 1877, and “Krestny Khod (Religious Procession) in Kursk Gubernia”, 1880-1883] and the lifestyles and social ills of the country in the last decades of the 19th-century [“He Returned”, 1877, “Going Home, A Hero of the Last War”, 1878, “Arrest of a Propagandist”, 1880-92, “Vechornitsky”, 1881, “A Secret Meeting”, 1883, “Revolutionary Woman Awaiting Execution”, c. 1884, ”They did not Expect Him, 1884, “Refusal of the Confession”, 1879-1885, “Death of a Migrant Peasant”, 1889, and “They did not Expect Her, 1883”, 1898]. He painted only a few historical works, notably “Tsarevna Sofya”, 1879, “The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mahmoud IV”, 1880-1891, and “Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan”, 1895.

The last quarter of the 19th century was the artist’s most fruitful period, when he regularly visited Abramtsevo, the country estate of Savva Mamontov, one of the most famous contemporary Russian collectors. Although he continued to work well into the 20th-century he did not paint any masterpieces in his later years [“Portrait of Aleksandr Kerensky”, 1917, “Golgotha”, 1922, and “Gopak, Dance of the Zaporozbye Cossacks”, 1927]. From the early 1900s the artist experienced problems with his right, painting, hand and increasingly used his left. He also designed a palette that hung from his shoulder to facilitate long periods of work.

In this profusely illustrated book David Jackson explores the artist’s life and work in illustrated chapters that address ‘Rural Beginnings and the Road to St Petersburg’; ‘A Russian in Paris: Foreign Travels and Reactions to Western Art’; ‘History Painting: Interrogating the Past’; ‘Peasant Life: Contemporary Russia’; ‘’Political Paintings: The Art of Dissent’; ‘Portraiture: The Face of Russia’; ‘Modern Times: Artistic Innovations in the 1890s and Beyond’; ‘Repin at Penaty 1907-1930: Recurring Themes and Stylistic Changes’ and ‘Conclusion: Truth to Life’. There is also a Chronology, Select Bibliography, List of Illustrations and an Index.

There are 118 colour reproductions, mostly by Repin but including paintings by other contemporary Russian artists [including Perov, Surikov, Perov, Ivanov, Vasnetsov and Kramskoi] together with contemporary photographs.

In his Introduction, the author speculates on the reasons for Repin’s declining reputation in the 20th-century both in Russia and the West. Since the break-up of the USSR, Repin’s work is much more accessible, being shown in Russian museums, exhibited widely and included in many art books. In the West, the Groninger Museum hosted a groundbreaking exhibition, ‘Ilya Repin, Russia’s Secret’, in 2001-02, and all these, together with this sumptuous book, have helped to restore the artist to his rightful position.
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on 3 January 2016
Beautifully illustrated with pictures, drawings and photographs, a book of this quality on the historically very important artist Ilya Repin is well overdue. An artist of Repin's calibre deserves to be better known outside of his native Russia. I had never heard of him until I visited the Russian art museum in St Petersburg last year and I just had to learn more. Well done to David Jackson for producing this fabulous book.
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