I was proposed by a few of you to try my hand at introducing the world of Russian art and to be honest, I was lost at where to begin. I was lost mainly for the following reason: there are simply too many good artists. Alas, I took a breath and delved deep… To not make this overwhelming I have decided to make this a series, I shall post once a week and non chronologically briefly highlight those that I find to be some of my all time favorites.
Allow me to begin with the first who has automatically popped into my mind: Dmitry Levitsky. To me it was always about the attitude and the mastery of so perfectly capturing the essence of his subjects and with that, the essence of his time.
Dmitry Grigoryevich Levitsky was a Ukranian Russian painter born in Kiev, Ukraine, (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1735. He acquired the basis of his knowledge from his father who himself was an avid gravure printer. Around 1758, Dmitry relocated to the epicenter of Russian art, or to be precise the epicenter of everything at the time: St. Petersburg. This relocation allowed Dmitry to become an apprentice to another portraitist, Aleksey Antropov. Dmitry worked with Aleksey primarily helping him frescoe churches, this partnership lasted about until 1762.
In the following years he was commissioned primarily by the government along side other painters for various works, for example, a painting for the triumphal arc that was erected in honor of the coronation of Catherine II. It was in 1769 that Dmitry gained the true recognition he so rightfully deserved. He showed his work at the St. Petersburg Academy and this secured him the title of academician. Very quickly he paved his way to becoming the head of the portrait division at the academy in 1771. His career blossomed for the next ten years. Dmitry was commissioned by the height of the Russian society; patrons, trustees, aristocrats, all became subjects of his paintings down to the all mighty and powerful Catherine the Great of Russia herself.
He was a good communicator of Enlightenment ideals that flourished during his time. Dmitry’s portraits serve to be prime examples of neoclassicism. For me; however, it will always be his portraits of the pupils of the Smolny Institute of Young Ladies of Nobility that are the most charming of his works. The institute was founded by Catherine the Great to educate the ladies of the Russian society in the same ways that were seen in the European imperial courts. The very best of the institute pupils posed for Dmitry making for very lively subject matter.
Dmitry perfectly captured the richness of character in all his subjects and of course with a masterful technique. Unfortunately, his career fizzled out by the end and he passed away April 16th, 1822.