Valentin Serov – master of psychological portrait

Valentin Serov. Painting Portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich 1897
Valentin Serov. Painting Portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich 1897.

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (born February 19, 1865 – died December 5, 1911) is a famous Russian artist, a brilliant master of portrait, in his works there is a striking resemblance to models. Valentin Serov’s paintings reflect the inner world of the hero, honestly revealing his features. The artist’s work is not limited to any direction: the artist can be safely called a multifaceted, universal author.

Valentin Serov. The painting Peter II and Tsesarevna Elizabeth on a dog hunt 1900
Valentin Serov. Peter II and Tsesarevna Elizabeth on a dog hunt 1900.

Biography of Valentin Serov

Valentin Serov was born on February 19, 1865 in St. Petersburg into a family of creative personalities. His parents – Alexander Nikolaevich Serov and Valentina Vladimirovna Serova – were composers. From childhood, the boy was surrounded by people of art. Ivan Turgenev and Alexei Tolstoy came to visit the Serovs, at times his father borrowed money from Fyodor Dostoevsky. The creative environment gave a lot of vivid impressions, but there was also a minus: the child did not have enough banal communication with peers.

Valentin Serov lost his father early: he died in 1871 of a heart attack. Then his mother left for Munich to continue studying musical art, and the boy stayed at home and lived in the commune. A year later, the child was transported to his mother. But even there he was left to himself, since Valentina devoted almost all her time to art. And when she was raising her son, she acted tough and demanding.

Valentin Serov. Painting Coronation of Nicholas II, 1897
Valentin Serov. Painting Coronation of Nicholas II, 1897.

In 1874, while still a 9-year-old boy, Serov began to study painting with Ilya Repin. At first, the future painter doubted his artistic abilities, looking at how cleverly Repin worked, but did not give up his studies. Later Valentin Serov studied at the Academy of Arts, as well as in the studio of Pavel Chistyakov. At that time, the artist’s doubts only intensified, as he compared himself with another student of Chistyakov – the talented Mikhail Vrubel.

Valentin Serov. Painting Portrait of Princess Z. N. Yusupova, 1902
Valentin Serov. Painting Portrait of Princess Z. N. Yusupova, 1902.

The path to fame was not easy, but the master continued to work hard and it bore fruit.

The portrait painter noticed such details in the character or appearance of people that not everyone will see. Thanks to this, there was literally a magical resemblance to models in his works. But the situation was complicated by the fact that Serov worked slowly, and not every model could withstand several sessions.

Catherine II's departure for falconry. 1902.
Catherine II’s departure for falconry. 1902.

The artist often received orders from Emperor Nicholas II. Once Alexandra Feodorovna began to give the painter advice, and then he invited her to finish the picture herself. The work was never completed, and this story attracted everyone’s attention, which contributed to the author’s popularity even more. But such a disposition did not always benefit Valentin Serov: he could hardly get along with people. The personal life of the master developed happily: in 1889 he married Olga Trubnikova. The couple had six children. Despite a good family and being in demand, the painter was often in sorrow. Only trips to Italy lifted Serov’s spirits: he was very fond of this sun-drenched country. But upon returning home, he again fell into despondency.

Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova.
Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova.

Over time, hypochondria was added to the bad mood. The artist had heart problems, and he was worried that it was hereditary. Unfortunately, the fears were justified. On December 5, 1911, Valentin Serov left this world. His life was cut short by a heart attack.

Portrait of the artist I.I. Levitan.
Portrait of the artist I.I. Levitan.
Winter in Abramtsevo. Church. 1886.
Winter in Abramtsevo. Church. 1886.
Autumn evening. Domotkanovo.
Autumn evening. Domotkanovo.
Overgrown pond. Domotkanovo.
Overgrown pond. Domotkanovo.
Valentin Serov Horses on the seaside. 1905.
Horses on the seaside. 1905.
Valentin Serov Portrait of S. M. Botkina. 1899.
Portrait of S. M. Botkina. 1899.
Valentin Serov Baba in a cart. 1896.
Baba in a cart. 1896.
Valentin Serov St. Mark's Square in Venice. 1887.
St. Mark’s Square in Venice. 1887.
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