Painting Sadko by Ilya Repin

Ilya Efimovich Repin. Painting Sadko, 1876

Painting Sadko by Ilya Repin – a metaphorical declaration of love for Russian painting

“Sadko” is a painting by Ilya Efimovich Repin, which became a tribute to the artist’s Russian epics. One of them is the tale of the beggar guslar Sadko, who earned his daily bread by entertaining the rich at feasts. Luck smiled at the musician – his playing delighted the heart of the Sea King, who generously rewarded the guslar.

Once Sadko, already a wealthy Novgorod merchant, by chance found himself in the chambers of the ruler of the sea. The tsar ordered the guslar to take a wife from nine hundred sea beauties. Sadko decided to marry the last of them – the sea maiden Chernava. The next morning after the wedding, the merchant-guslar woke up on the ground – on the banks of the Chernava River.

About the heroes of the picture

The picture captures the moment when Sadko has to choose one of hundreds of girls, who will become his wife. The fabulous atmosphere of the underwater world, cutesy sea ladies in luxurious foreign outfits march in front of the hero in formation. The girls are enveloped in a magical radiance, their flirtatious glances are directed at the merchant, who stands on the border of light and shadow.

Each of the girls wants to become his chosen one. Around the same carelessly scurrying sea inhabitants, who do not even care about the show. As there is no him and Sadko himself. His head is raised, he eagerly peers into the dark depths of the picture, where the modest Chernavushka is waiting for her turn “at the defile” on the terrace of the royal palace. The girl has a long black braid, sable eyebrows spread apart. As if by chance, she casts a wary but curious look at the merchant.

There is an abyss between her and the other applicants. Those are discharged and adorned with jewelry, their charms are shamelessly naked and flooded with light, smiles seem predatory. Cernava, on the other hand, hides in the shadows, she is modest and quiet, her body is hidden by a shirt and a sundress, there are no rich ornaments on her neck and in her hair, and a serious and slightly frightened expression is frozen on her pale face.

Author: Ilya Repin (1844-1930).
Year of writing: 1876
Dimensions approx. 322.5 x 230 cm.
Style: Realism.
Genre: Illustration, Mythological plot, fabulous epic genre.
Technique: Oil.
Material: Canvas.
Location: Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

About the artist

Ilya Repin is an outstanding master of painting, one of the key figures in Russian realism. He is a master of everyday scenes and historical subjects, a brilliant portrait painter. The painting “Sadko” was Repin’s answer to the work of the Impressionists. The master did not understand and did not appreciate this genre, although he honestly tried. Alas, the art of the Impressionists only began to irritate the master. Sadko became a kind of response to this irritation.

The painting depicts a man in an underwater, airless kingdom, placed in this world only by the will of circumstances. In front of him are crowds of brilliant beauties, dressed up and painted, flooded with light, but he sees only a modest Russian girl. The metaphors are quite clear.

The prototype of the Novgorod merchant was another great Russian painter – master of folklore painting Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926). “Sadko” was not successful with the European public, but in Russia the masterpiece was applauded. The future Alexander III, at that time the Grand Duke, bought the painting from the artist. Repin was awarded the title of academician for her.

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