Painting The Major’s Courtship by Pavel Fedotov

Painting The Major’s Courtship by Pavel Fedotov – encyclopedia of merchant life

The Major’s Courtship, a painting by the famous Russian artist Pavel Andreevich Fedotov, reflects a fairly widespread tendency in Russia in the 19th century: an elderly bachelor who wants to improve his financial situation marries a merchant’s daughter.

The artist showed not the matchmaking itself, but the minutes preceding it. The composition resembles a theatrical performance with a consistently developing action from the gallant figure of the major to the main characters of the work (daughter and mother). With this compositional scheme, the author emphasized the insincerity and deceitful brilliance of what was happening.

Pavel Fedotov. The painting The Major's Courtship, 1851
Pavel Fedotov. The painting The Major’s Courtship, 1851

The interconnection of the characters can be traced in their gestures and postures.

As a result, a certain dynamics is created in the direction from left to right. A self-confident dandy in a ceremonial officer’s uniform stands at the entrance to the room. The matchmaker who crossed the threshold, with sly mockery, informs the head of the family that the groom has appeared. The people present in the room react differently to the matchmaker’s words: an elderly bearded merchant father is in a hurry to go out to meet the major; a young coquette in a fluffy dress tries to slip out of the room, but her mother grabs her by the hem; the cook looks at them intently, putting snacks on the table; the household whispers behind her. And only the spotted cat in the foreground remains indifferent to the owner’s life.

Only one moment from a series of successive events is captured on the canvas, but looking at the picture, one can easily guess what will happen in the next moment. The genius masterfully conveys the airiness of the fabrics of the girl’s dress, her pearl necklace, folds of her mother’s silk dress. Weightless color combinations, subtle transitions from one key to another unite the heroines. The painter paid special attention to the environment.

Pavel Fedotov. The painting The Major's Courtship, 1848. The Major's Courtship
Pavel Fedotov. The painting The Major’s Courtship, 1848

The interior of the premises demonstrates the claims of the owners for a “decent society”.

But the viewer notices that everywhere the merchant’s taste dominates: an awkwardly sitting frock coat on the owner of the house, a peasant-style scarf on his wife’s head, feigned movements of his daughter. The objects of the environment betray the preferences of their owners – a tray with glasses on thin legs is placed on a chair, the wall, along with fashionable paintings, is decorated with a portrait of the Metropolitan of Moscow Filaret, an expensive multi-tiered chandelier is suspended from the painted ceiling.

The author focuses on the merchant way of life, on his simple but thorough life.

Despite the comedic situation, the picture conveys a warm family atmosphere. All the actors are just hostages of the prevailing circumstances. The painter laughs at them without anger and anger, but with kind-hearted irony. A hilarious scene condemns a marriage of convenience and calls for a reorganization of the social order.

Title of the painting: “The Major’s Courtship”.
Author: Pavel Andreevich Fedotov (1815-1852).
Year of writing: 1848
Size: 58.3 x 75.4 cm.
Style: Realism.
Genre: Household.
Technique: Oil painting.
Material: Canvas.
Location: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Pavel Andreevich Fedotov – the founder of genre painting of the 19th century.

The master was famous for his satirical works. He also managed to ridicule unshakable stereotypes, the vices of society with a refined psychologism and a romantic outlook.

The artist took the plots of his creations from real life, noticing and depicting all the smallest nuances of characters and surroundings with incredible accuracy. Art critics defined his style not just as a kind of everyday painting, but as critical romanticism or comic realism.

Initially, the masterpiece was called “The Marriage of a Major”. It was exhibited in St. Petersburg in 1849 at the annual exhibition of the Academy of Arts. Explaining the picture, Fedotov personally read a poem of his own composition – the famous “Race”. The playful farcical text performed by the author made the audience smile.

There is a legend that once Pavel Andreevich was visited by a retired major, who literally with tears in his eyes expressed gratitude to the painter for how he accurately conveyed the officer’s personal family history. The major’s family life was a success and, of course, he did not understand the irony of the picture.

The work has come down to our days in two versions.

In 1851, the master created an author’s copy of his work, in which he no longer limited himself to satirical tasks, but strove to create positive Russian images. The second version is kept in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, the largest collection of Russian art in the world.

The painting “The Courtship of a Major” by Pavel Andreevich Fedotov is interesting not only as an illustration of the mores of the past. It is a kind of encyclopedia of middle class life. The work accurately reflects human vices and is relevant to the present time. Indeed, the persistent desire by any means to get into high society is characteristic of some people even now.

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