Ilya Repin (1844 - 1930)



Repin was born in the town of near Kharkov in the heart of the historical region called Sloboda Ukraine. His parents were Russian military settlers. In 1866, after apprenticeship with a local icon painter Bunakov and preliminary study of portrait painting, Ilya went to Saint Petersburg and was shortly admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts as a student. One of his apprentices was Joseph Boris Geller, father of the American Modernist architect Andrew Geller. From 1873 to 1876 on the Academy's allowance, Repin sojourned in Italy and lived in Paris, where he was exposed to French impressionist painting, which had a lasting effect upon his use of light colors. Nevertheless, his style was to remain closer to that of the old European masters, especially Rembrandt, and he never became an impressionist himself. Throughout his career, he was drawn to the common people from whom he himself traced his origins, and he frequently painted country folk, both Ukrainian and Russian, though in later years he also painted members of the Imperial Russian elite, the intelligentsia, and the aristocracy, including Tsar Nicholas II. In 1878, Repin joined the free-thinking "Association of Peredvizhniki Artists", generally called "the Wanderers" or "The Itinerants" in English, who, at about the time of Repin's arrival in the capital, rebelled against the academic formalism of the official Academy. The young artist’s fame was already established then by his painting of the "Volga Barge Haulers", a masterpiece that portrayed the hard lot of the poor Russian peasants. From 1882 he lived in Saint Petersburg but did visit his Ukrainian homeland and on occasion made tours abroad.


Beginning shortly before the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, he painted a series of pictures dealing with the theme of the Russian revolutionary movement: "Refusal to Confess", "Arrest of a Propagandist", "The Meeting", and "They did not Expect Him”. In 1885, Repin completed one of his most psychologically intense paintings, Ivan the Terrible and his Son. This canvas displayed a horrified Ivan embracing his dying son, whom he had just struck and mortally wounded in an uncontrolled fit of rage. The visage of terrified Ivan is in marked contrast with that of his calm, almost Christ like son.


One of the Repin's most complex paintings called “The Cossacks letter to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire” occupied many years of his life. He conceived this painting as a study in laughter, but also believed that it involved the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The talented Russian artist started working on this painting in 1870s and has completed only in 1891. The painting was immediately purchased by the Tsar. The Tsar paid 35,000 rubles for the painting which was an enormous amount for that time.
During his maturity, Repin painted many of his most celebrated compatriots, including the novelist Leo Tolstoy, the scientist Dmitri Mendeleev, the imperial official Pobedonostsev, the composer Mussorgsky, the philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov and Afanasyi Fet.

Later in his career, Ilya Repin designed a house for himself and settled in Grand Duchy of Finland called Kuokkala. After the 1917 October Revolution, Finland declared independence. The artist Repin was invited by various Soviet institutions to come back to his homeland but refused to do so referring to his old age. During this period, Repin devoted much time to painting religious subjects, though his treatment of these was usually innovative and not traditional. His last painting, a joyous and exuberant canvas called "The Hopak", was on a Ukrainian Cossack theme. In 1930, Ilya Repin died in Kuokkala, Finland. After the Continuation War Kuokkala was ceded to the Soviet Union and was renamed to Repino, the suburb of St. Petersburg.

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