Konstantin Andreyevich Somov (born November 30, 1869 – died May 6, 1939) was a famous Russian artist of the early XX century, whose name is inextricably linked with the society “World of Art”. The work of Konstantin Somov is a vivid example of Russian symbolism with a decorative style characteristic of Art Nouveau. The paintings of this painter and graphics are diverse in genre. He painted realistic portraits, idealized pastorals with rainbows, and often turned to images of theater and masquerade, inspired by the masterpieces of the Gallant Age.
Biography of Konstantin Somov
Konstantin Somov was born on November 30, 1869 into an outstanding and wealthy family of art lovers. His father was the curator of the Hermitage, and his mother studied music. The house had a large collection of old paintings and prints, and there was constant talk about painting. When Konstantin decided to become an artist, his father warmly supported him and even arranged a workshop for him with a large window.
Konstantin Somov, while still in the gymnasium, became friends with Alexander Benois and several other future figures of the “World of Art”. He received his art education at the Imperial Academy, becoming a student of Ilya Repin. Then he became friends with Sergei Diaghilev and Lev Bakst. Somov, Benoit and Bakst did not complete the academic course and went to study in France, as they considered the official academicism and realism of the Itinerants boring and outdated. In the late 1890s, with their direct participation, an association of the world of art was formed.
At the turn of the century, Konstantin Somov illustrated the magazine “World of Art”, wrote pictures, including the famous “Lady in Blue”, and was engaged in book graphics. He became the author of covers and illustrations for the works of Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol and many contemporary poets. The first solo exhibition was held in 1903, followed shortly after by expositions in Germany. The artist’s fame grew, and only the disease of tuberculosis darkened his life.
For the purpose of treatment, he often traveled abroad.
The painter perceived the revolutionary events as a whole positively and did not experience any troubles, not counting the difficulties common for that time. But his graceful and refined works, inspired by the Rococo era, lost their relevance and became unnecessary. However, the author did not think about moving. Konstantin Somov taught and worked as an art consultant at the State Porcelain Factory (now IPZ). In 1919, his personal exhibition was held at the Tretyakov Gallery.
In 1923, the painter was persuaded to go to the United States, accompanying an exhibition of Russian art. He agreed and decided not to return back. The artist considered America to be alien to his character and soon moved to France, where he lived the rest of his life. In emigration, Konstantin Somov became a successful illustrator and did not live in poverty, but gradually lost his former glory. By the time of his death on May 6, 1939, one of the world’s best artists was completely forgotten in his homeland and few people in France knew about him. He had no family and children.
Interest in the work of Konstantin Somov revived in the second half of the 20th century and remains high today. In 2006 and 2007, two of his paintings were sold at Christie’s auctions for a record amount at that time for Russian artists. Russian Pastoral went under the hammer for $ 2,400,000, and the price of Rainbow was over $ 7,300,000.
The most famous paintings by Konstantin Somov
Konstantin Somov’s paintings are close in spirit to Antoine Watteau, Honoré Fragonard and other masters of the 18th century. His works are characterized by lightness, lyricism and some theatricality. The focus is often on human sensibility and the poetry of nature. Here are some of the most famous works:
- The Lady in Blue (1900). This portrait is considered a manifesto not only of the author, but of the entire World of Art. The canvas depicts Elizaveta Martynova, with whom Somov studied at the Academy. A few years later, she died of consumption.
- “Portrait of Alexander Blok” (1907). Among the images of Blok, the portrait of Somov’s brush became one of the most famous, although the poet disliked him and considered him unflattering for himself.
- Portrait of E.P. Nosova (1911). Another masterpiece of the artist, which is kept in the Tretyakov Gallery. The daughter of industrialist Pavel Ryabushinsky often spent literary evenings, where poets and artists gathered.
- The Harlequin and the Lady (1921). The theme of masquerade and nightlife is one of the central themes in the artist’s work. A striking example is this colorful picture with fireworks and heroes dressed up in 18th century costumes.