: 18 2021
: LIBRARY.BY ( : BY-1631986225)
: (c) Science in Russia, 2, 2011, C.86-92

by Leonid LYASHENKO, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Moscow State Pedagogical University


One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1861, a first-guild merchant, Mikhail Korovin, owner of a big coachmen's office, had a grandson born to him in his house on Rogozhskaya Street in Moscow.


His age and college mate at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, the remarkable artist Mikhail Nesterov once said: "Kostya was lucky..." Indeed, many significant events in his life happened as if "by chance"! Perhaps Korovin overcame all difficulties due to his confidence in the main mission of arts--to make people happy.


Korovin's path to glory was not easy at all. His father was declared bankrupt soon after the future artist's birth, and the family had to leave Moscow for the countryside--they settled in a small town of Mytishchi


Portrait of Korovin.


Artist, Valentin Serov. Early 1890s.


State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow).

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Portrait of a Chorister.


Artist, Konstantin Korovin.


1883. State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow).


where Korovin senior was employed as a clerk. It was there that the boy first perceived and got in love with the tame beauty of Russian nature. Adults who were busy with their own problems and housekeeping did not give much attention to Kostya and his brother Seryozha, who, meanwhile, were carried away with painting. Moreover, the children were inspired by their imagination that sometimes was really uncontrollable. Having read plenty of travel books, the boys with their cousin set off to find the Cape of Good Hope, which, according to them, was located somewhere on the other bank of the nearby river. But some strangers they met by chance put an end to their "expedition".


lllarion Pryanishnikov, a distant relative of the family at that time, already known in Russia as one of the founders of the Peredvizhnik Society*, determined the fate of the brothers (the first lucky event in Korovin's life). It was he who in 1875 persuaded their parents to let the gifted children enter the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. At that time Korovin, who was only 13, had to study architecture there for 2 years (their parents wanted to give to at least one of their sons a "lucrative" profession).


Kostya was allowed to attend the paint class only in 1877 when Sergei showed his brother's works to the eminent landscape painter Savrasov, who taught at the school (once again the finger of fate!). It is worth mentioning that disciples of the maestro, including Isaac Levitan** and Mikhail Nesterov, were among the first national artists who felt tired of the "public order" of the epoch, requiring disclosure of social injustice and vileness of life. As a result they faced one of the challenging problems for artists: what to prefer, what and how to paint?


Art historians are still arguing: had Impressionism that appeared in France in the 1860s ever reached Russia and did Korovin belong to this art school, which is characterized by striving to depict transitory and inimitable state of nature or man using clear, unmixed colors. Here are the words of Korovin, describing his creative principles: "We need pictures waking good emotions, we need light--more gratifying and bright... Say, firewood in the yard. It can be depicted in many different ways. What a range of colors! The sun rays are playing on it. The yard no longer seems empty and deserted--it is alive."


Now a few words about Korovin's drawings. At one of the student exhibitions of the early 1870s he presented a small sketch Early Spring ("picturesque and spontaneous,--Nesterov noted,--with a big crow on a leafless tree"), which, according to specialists, paved the way to numerous Marches, Springs and Last Snows in the national pictorial art of late 19th-early 20th centuries. When you look at this painting, it becomes absolutely clear: the European notion "plain air" can be perfectly translated into Russian--it helps the artist to look at the nature and man in a new fashion. It is not by chance that one of the main precepts of Impressionism is to paint only in open air, where the artist can fully enjoy spontaneity and perception pungency of making colors on the canvas fresh and bright. Here we have to point out that soon Korovin painted The Picnic (1880), which in a strange way echoed with the famous Le dejeuner sur l'herbe (1863) by Edouard Manet, though at that time he knew nothing about him.


* Society of Traveling Art Exhibitions (or Peredvizhniks)--Russian artists of late 19th century, involved in educational activities; in particular, they organized traveling exhibitions. Their drawings showed tense psychologism, social tendency, high class of typification, realism, tragic perception of reality.--Ed.


** See: O. Bazanova, "Russia Alone Can Beget a True Landscape Painter", Science in Russia. No. 3, 2008.--Ed.

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In winter. Artist, Konstantin Korovin. 1894. State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow).


In 1881, Korovin together with Nesterov went to St. Petersburg to continue studies at St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, but three months later he returned to Moscow: he was either exhausted by dogmatism of recognized professors or was forced to return due to family circumstances--that year his father had committed suicide. The brothers who lived on state grants found themselves in dire straits. And each of them chose his own way out of the crisis.


Sergei spent all his time painting to order and trying to please the public as he earned very little for his newspaper drawings. Konstantin kept developing his creative talent hoping to become closer to real experts in pictorial art by his works. As it turned out later, he made the right choice, though one can see a lucky chance even here: in 1883, he painted Portrait of a Chorister, rejected by the steering committee of moving exhibitions, but purchased by Savva Mamontov--a well-known businessman who actively supported different types of creative work.


Here is Korovin's description of that event: "One day Polenov invited me to Savva Mamontov's house. At the evening tea... I saw Mamontov, an exceptional person, for the first time. He was light-hearted and unpretentious. 'Let's go to the studio,--Savva Ivanovich proposed.--I'll show you a portrait by a Spanish artist. Ilya Yefimovich* spoke with enthusiasm about Spanish artists, as he liked their vivid and picturesque works'". In the studio I saw my sketch--a woman's head in a blue hat with the sunlit garden in the background (reference to The Portrait of a Chorister.--Ed.). I gave it to Polenov a while ago. "Yes,-Repin said, after looking at my sketch.--The Spaniard! It is clear. Bold and lush manner. Beautiful. But such paintings are for painting's sake. True, the Spaniard is a rather spirited person." Savva Ivanovich laughed looking at me and then said: "what if it is not a Spaniard, but a Russian?"--"A


* Ilya Repin--an eminent artist, portrait painter, master of historical and every-day-life scenes; author of a number of essays that evolved in a book of memoirs Distant Near; teacher, professor (1894-1907) and rector (1898-1899) of the Academy of Arts.--Ed.

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Paris Cafe. Artist, Konstantin Korovin. 1890s. State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow).



Paris. Le Boulevard des Capucines. Artist, Konstantin Korovin. 1906. State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow).


Russian? No, it can't be a Russian..."--"Look at our Spaniard!--Sawa Ivanovich said, pointing at me.--What else do you need? He is a dark-haired man too, like a Spaniard..." And he embraced me laughing."


That was a turning point in Korovin's life. First, he now had enough money to live on (although it took time to become an independent and prosperous painter). Secondly, influenced by the environment, the versatile and universal talent of the young artist showed up. Besides, the painter revealed a new aspect of his talent--a decorator. Konstantin Alexeyevich worked as a decorator for the first performance of Mamontov's private opera (established in 1885)--Aida by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi; the painter used Egyptian sketches provided by his teacher and friend, master of historical, landscape and genre painting Vasily Polenov. But a real fame in theatrical circles came to Korovin after the second performance--The Snow Maiden by the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1886).


Sawa Ivanovich was inspired by the talent he had discovered. His son Vsevolod recollected: "There were a few painters so loved by my father as Korovin." As early as in 1887, notwithstanding the existing rules, the patron gave a benefit performance in Korovin's honor (as a rule, such events were organized in honor of recognized artists, not beginners, and the income was fully transferred to the main person). Korovin traveled with Mamontov abroad, he organized the painter's journey to the Russian North to collect material for decoration of the pavilion of the same name at the Nizhni Novgorod Industrial and Artistic Exhibition (the 1890s). Just then, working for the above-mentioned Private Opera, Konstantin Alexeyevich married Anna Fidler, whom he lived with the whole life notwithstanding their different temper; Korovin's son Alexei was born in 1900.


They lived rather happily. In 1894, Korovin presented his paining In Winter, after which his works became extremely popular, many of them were copied--the highest recognition of the artist by contemporaries. In addition, he accomplished his main task: Korovin managed to fully express in painting his dominant feeling--joy of life and harmony of man and nature; he established his own method, style of painting, the "music of color"--as the artist called it. This music was not for all, nevertheless it was a success and made its author popular.


All turned out favorably, but in 1899 Korovin, on Polenov's recommendation, got employed as a decora-

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Sketch of the décor to the opera KHOVANSHCHINA. Artist, Konstantin Korovin. 1910. St. Petersburg State Museum of Theater and Musical Art.


tor at the Imperial Theatres. Concurrently, the famous bass and a star of the Private Opera Fyodor Chaliapin resigned and as a result, friendly relations with Savva Ivanovich went to pieces. But Konstantin Alexeyevich had reasons to do so. First, he changed the status of a hired worker for a public service employee and soon (1901) became a professor at his alma mater-the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (among his disciples were gifted painters Sergei Sudeikin, Martiros Saryan, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Pavel Kuznetsov, Robert Falk). Secondly, he improved his material well-being: despite the common opinion that Korovin "lived like a lord" on Mamontov's salary, it was far from the truth. Thirdly, he gained absolute creative freedom, which, however, had its reverse side. Newspapers accused the Imperial Theaters of decadence and ignorance brought by Korovin to the "model stage". Unconventional designs proposed by the painter first seemed too daring and got a hostile reception. Actors tore newly designed costumes (for example, together with a new choreographer of the Moscow Bolshoi Theater, the Russian Ballet reformer Alexander Gorsky, he replaced traditional ballet corsets and fluffy skirts by loose tunics). Decoration paints did not dry suspiciously long; it turned out that decorators added salt to them. Konstantin Alexeyevich was forced to buy a revolver and wear it. It helped--the provocative campaign ceased.


But Korovin was not depressed and staged more than 150 performances: the artist was invited to the theaters by Vladimir Telyakovsky, their director from 1901, a man of progressive views and an advocate of innovative approach to pictorial art, who, in particular, aspired to enhance artistic level of performances attracting novel ideas. The artist was always in the public eye, he became a "poster man", his behavior was actively discussed. He even was an idol of bohemian and near-bohemian youth once. When Korovin got tired of all

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Portrait of F. Chaliapin. Artist, Konstantin Korovin. 1911. State Russian Museum (St. Petersburg).


that, he used to go to his beloved Paris to paint its legendary and amazingly changeable boulevards. Anyway, Konstantin Alexeyevich became famous for his scenic decorations; in 1905 he was elected member of the Academy of Arts.


Alexander Benois, another remarkable artist, characterized Korovin as the first national impressionist: "His drawings for majolica, furniture, wall finishing, scenic decorations, the craftsman stand at the Paris exhibition, representing a cozy Berendeevka, revealed his elegant, a bit amusing fantasy, very spontaneous and full of curiosities... His works are numerous. He is a real genius able to produce simple and magnificent sketches one after another, his imagination is inexhaustible..."


By the way, the Russian Village (30 modernstyle panels dedicated to Siberia, Far North and Central Asia) presented at the international forum held in the French capital in 1900--a specific summery of the 19th century--was highly appreciated by the public, much of success owed to works created by Konstantin Korovin. He attracted people not only by his talent of painting. He was an amazing story-teller, "charming liar" and knew how to establish close friendly relations with people.


Korovin, as many other representatives of his circle, welcomed the February revolution of 1917 and could not understand the October one. He ran away from cold and hungry Moscow to a remote village in the Tver Region. It was the time when he started his literary experiments. Forced idleness made the artist sit down to writing-table: he arranged his diaries, wrote memoirs about his colleagues, actors, writers, patrons of

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Still life with a lobster. Artist, Konstantin Korovin. 1930s. Yaroslavl Museum of Arts.


arts, etc., that evolved into several volumes of memoirs.


In 1923, Konstantin Alexeyevich with his family went to France to treat his handicapped son (in 1916 the boy got under tram and lost a leg). By that time Paris had become an expensive, unfriendly and overcrowded with Russian emigrants city. It seemed as if the times had reversed and Korovin found himself back in the times of his half-hungry youth. To keep the family, Korovin painted numerous troikas, birches and huts for well-to-do compatriots and Frenchmen interested in Russian "exotic objects". He painted decorations for occasional non-repertory performances, tried himself as a journalist and a fiction writer.


And he won again! "One of the best artists-decorators" and "Russian Mozart" became the leading man of letters among painters. He published 360 essays and a wonderful book Chaliapin. Meetings and Joint Life. He never wrote a single bad word on his characters appearing in the memoirs--a rare quality for this genre. Thus, in addition to sketches and drawings, Korovin earned money as an essayist and journalist. Some of his works were painted to satisfy the public, but there also were sketches, about which Repin wrote to the author: "Marvellous! Well done! Bravo! What beautiful colors!!! I bet no one else has such colors!! Repin genuflected... is applauding to Korovin."


In the letters of the 1930s to his acquaintances Konstantin Alexeyevich complained of empty pockets and his long stay abroad. His handicapped son committed suicide, his wife was ill with tuberculosis, a man who had promised to organize an exhibition disappeared with his paintings... But no minor tonality did penetrate into Korovin's "music of color". Convinced of the happy mission of arts, Korovin wrote in his declining years: "Beauty and joy of life. Expressing this joy is a mission of my drawings, my canvases, myself... I have neither any trend nor fashion--no Impressionism, Cubism, no other "isms". This is me, my song of life and joy--this is paganism. That is why 1 love ... arts, friendship, sun, river, flowers, laughter, grass, nature, road, color, form...". Korovin died in 1939 in emigration. Such was the long and arduous lifepath of one of the greats of Russian pictorial arts. Really and truly, his paintings were music in color.

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