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 Victor Korovin  (1936 - 1991)

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Lived/Active: Russian Federation      Known for: Land-and townscape painting

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Victor Korovin (1936 - 1991)

Korovin’s life and his work provide a soulful glimpse through the eyes of a visual poet into Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and the beautiful northern Russian landscape during the Soviet Era.

Victor Korovin was born in Leningrad on New Year’s Eve in 1936, at the moment when Stalinist Socialism was had taken a dark grip on the Soviet Union.   The family survived the siege of Leningrad and young Victor emerged at the end of the war as a 9 year old boy who had seen more than his share of death and hardship.  The darkness of growing up during this harsh time left an indelible impression on his character which would be reflected in the deep, thoughtful nature of his paintings in years to come.   His parents, Ivan Mikhailovich and Apollinaria Naumovna, were craftspeople from the Leningrad region and he had an older sister, Valentina.  It was Valentina who recognized Victor’s artistic gift at an early age.  She took him to his first art school where his aspirations of becoming a fine artist were nurtured.

Over the years during the 1950’s, his artistic talent was revealed under the strong influence of Leningrad.  Later he would comment, “ I watched the white night drop into the waters of mysterious canals, I watched the blue Neva River flowing smoothly within the granite banks.”  For Korovin, Leningrad was his source of constant creative inspiration.  Wide urban streets and romantic canals, leafy parks and sumptuous gardens – these were the wondrous environs of Korovin’s Leningrad, his unfailing love.

As a young man, he would walk the streets of his town and ponder his future direction.  After entering art school in 1952, his teachers noted his natural talent and he was recommended to the renowned Rerikh Art school where he graduated in 1960.  Thereafter, the great Russian master, Yuri Neprintsev, discovered young Korovin and recruited him in to his workshop at the Repin Academy of Fine Arts, where he graduated in 1964.   

The first series of works dedicated to Leningrad were Korovin’s diploma presentation.  In them he painted the city from different points of view – from the scaffoldings of the new “Oktyabrskaya” hotel, to the bridges, the embankments, and the rooftops.  Korovin’s diploma paintings created a stir of excited interest from the selection committee, and his defense of the diploma was accepted with a standing ovation.  At his graduation ceremony, Yuri Neprintsev blessed his student for the future independence of his work and said “that a person with such individual vision and strong professionalism should be considered a leading member of the artistic community”.  He further lauded the “inimitable, unique features of his personal manner” which he felt were destined to take their place alongside the other great masters.

In 1965, Victor Korovin met and married Galena Leonidovna, a drama student from the Theatre College.  With his academic years behind him, a new bride and a growing reputation as a talented painter,  he started on his independent path in pursuit of artistic perfection.  His constant and unchanging love for the city may have saved him from extremes, rushing and dashing, typical for a young artist at the beginning of his career. Even in 1967, the year when he taught drawing at the Repin Academy, didn’t pass in vane: “I drew circles by hand thinking that it would be useful in the city – circles, ellipsises, straight lines…”. His attitude to a cityscape the artist expressed very clearly: “The city disciplines you – it’s a portrait”, and further: “the more complicated a motive in a city drawing is, the better it turns out – you have to apply more effort –  it’s a portrait, not a bush where you can add more or less…”.  These phrases reveal the essence of Korovin’s artistic method – he is a free creator of his works, but also a subordinate of nature.

His years at the Repin Academy of Fine Arts were very productive.  He had found his voice in painting.  He understood the joys of painting outdoors from life.  During this time, he immersed himself in the study of the great French impressionist painters that he viewed at the State Hermitage Museum.  The “new” discovery of the French Impressionists in the USSR of the 1960’s served as an inspirational impulse to Victor Korovin.  He particularly related to Pisarro, Sisley, and Van Gogh – all of whom he absorbed with great vigor.  These painters became his guide and his measure.   

The influence of French Impressionism had a profound impact on Russian art since its introduction in the late 1870’s.  The Russian school of painters known as the “Itinerents” drew great insight from their western European counterparts.  These late 19th Century painters Korovin to feel the “soul” of a motif, to enhance with color and composition the emotional moment for the sake of which a landscape is painted.  The most important of these painters to Korovin was Arkhip Kuindzhi.  From Kuindzhi, Korovin saw how the master worked with color and light, as exemplified in Kuindzhi’s “Moon Night”.  Among his other favorites was the great Russian landscape painter, Ivan Shishkin.  “When you look at  Shishkin’s works, they touch your soul – there is a mood and a state.”  For Korovin, like for Kuindzhi and Shishkin, nature is spiritual and lives passionately through its inner life.

Korovin’s aspiration was to catch up with the light in the painting.  Sometimes, a single note such as the precisely found light spot on the spire of the Admiralty determines the whole keenness and graphic authenticity of a landscape.  The 19th Century Russian school of landscape painting helped Korovin  to understand the emotional influence of the landscape on the human soul.

In the beginning of the 20th Century such artists as Konstantin Korovin, Igor Grabar, Arkady Rylov, Isaak Levitan and others introduced the new wave of “Russian French”.  These artists displayed a similar artistic nature with French Impressionist masters in the use of color and light.  Like the French, the goal of their creative work was to reveal first of all the “emotional” state of a motif, to depict the landscape in movement, in a natural composition.  Korovin inherently understood this.

He learned further from these early 20th Century Russian masters to concentrate his “artistic attention” on the inimitable state of a landscape in a single moment, and to accept the changing flow.  This led to the conclusion that a landscape motif should be painted at once and not to be returned to several times.

To him, the act of painting landscapes was a philosophy of life – the means to the end.  Through the emotion expressed in each stroke of the brush, the artist could say something more than simply painting a pretty picture - he could express himself and through this exercise find a form of enlightenment.

Over the ensuing years, the artist traveled extensively.  He was drawn to the landscapes of the northern reaches of Russia in such places as Salerkhard, Dudinka, Igarka and Novaya Zemlya.  His sense of northern light and color poetically revealed the nature beyond the polar circle.

At one point in the late 1960’s,  Korovin lived as the resident painter at the House of Creative Work for artists in the famous “Staraya Ladoga”.  On that ancient land, cut through by the self-willed Volkhov River, many monuments of antiquity were still preserved.  Korovin felt the spirit of this land and movingly depicted the landscapes of the Ladoga region.  During this period his works are light and simple, his artistic manner is free and  iridescent.  

In 1968, he returned to Leningrad and dedicated himself to his loved city.  Hence, the City-scape became the leading subject of Victor Korovin’s painting. The perspectives of grand avenues, the arcs of canals leading to unknown, mysterious places, the solid blocks of architectural masses and greenery of boulevards were included in his artistic consciousness as an integral whole.  During this same year he became a member of the Union of Artist of the USSR.

For Korovin, Leningrad didn’t have an “open-commercial” face, in his city-scapes we don’t see a “front” representation of the Hermitage, Peter-and-Paul Fortress or Admiralty. The city, where he walked for decades, is depicted from the point of view of a pedestrian, through the silhouettes of the trees hiding a tower of Peter-and-Paul Fortress, or, as if walking along the Admiralty Embankment and creating its view with a panoramic perspective from the boulevard.

Studying Korovin’s cityscapes, one understands that he painted only what excited him emotionally.  The artists stated, “My ignition is sparked from within my heart and the reaction is the combustion of creative activity.” He also said, “I live together with nature and I don’t know what will come out of a painting when I work en plenair.”  His works are not a spontaneous vibration in the change of weather, rather, they are a search of the most accurate expression of the essence of Leningrad. “One has to soak in the rain that he paints” – Korovin lived by these words and this is why his works are so sincere, emotional, and imbued with a big feeling of life.

Korovin never claimed to invent anything.  He believed that his greatest strokes were discoveries of those things that already existed in nature that appeared through discipline and hard work.  “In a milky mist all of the sudden a light begins to glow.  The evening sun reflects off of a roof on Nevsky Prospect, a street-lamp glows on Kirovsky, the moon rises like a white torch on the Gulf. These are the rewards of working long hours.  It’s true, you can succeed by chance, but then you’ll never be able to repeat it”.

The image of the city on the Neva has excited many generations of artists and writers. Some have depicted it as mysterious and gloomy, others cast it as prophetic and fatal, and there were those who have portrayed it as a refined, frozen museum-city.  Too often, Leningrad was presented as the city estranged from man, living its own life beyond time and society. Victor Korovin inserts a new component in the mosaic of Petersburg images. His city is alive and contemporary, constant in the changing states of nature, with the strength of great architecture and enhanced by the movement of people and cars. Korovin’s Leningrad is texture and light and color warmed up with ochre palette of autumn boulevards, walls of houses giving back the warmth of the sun, the glow of street-lamps. In his works there is no estrangement separating the man from the city - on the contrary, the city is extensively inhabited.  The artist achieves this effect by presenting each view on an eye level of a pedestrian, with diagonals of streets and canals evolving in front of him. In his series of Wet Nevsky paintings, Nevsky Prospect is presented as not festive, but extremely recognizable, dear, grey and moist, as we see it most often with such scenes as St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the rain or rows of cars from as seen from the side porch of the City Council building.   His view of Leningrad without its tourist glamour is familiar and natural for its citizens.

One of his favorite spots was Kirovsky Prospect.  It’s possible to compose its anthology through his paintings starting from the 1960’s – how the view of its houses changed, how trees grew up, etc.  Once again it is not an “open” gala representation of the prospect with festive architecture, but a lively dynamic image seen through the silhouettes of the trees, in the movement of cars, with big flat surfaces of nineteenth century buildings.

In the late 1960’s Korovin’s works had the character of studies.  He strived to depict colors accurately, and to demonstrate the plastic lines of the landscape.  During this period, the artist composed many paintings of autumn leaves, spring forests, and summer herbs. He scrupulously studied color in its variety and developed the complexity of tones. These paintings held a particular elegance with an intelligent and original character about them.

Constant painting of landscape motifs from life became a school of compositional mastership.  In his notes, he remarked on an exercise during a train trip where he puts a task for himself of starting a new watercolor every 5 minutes.  As a result, there happens a selection of the most characteristic examples of his fluent ability.  Through such exercises, he gradually developed the skills of quick and accurate work.  He painted en plein air not on a level of a study, but with an eye to completing a finished landscape composition.  This attribute distinctively established the individuality of Korovin among other Leningrad landscapists.

In the 1970’s, Korovin consciously chose to intensify and sharpen his art form. There appear qualities, which became emblematic of his work – a concentration on the state of a landscape motif.  His artistic manner had become more relaxed, energetic, and carried an emotional loading.  A conscious attitude to the use of his materials appears: “Let it be oil, but it has to be loaded”.

The views of the Leningrad suburbs of Strelna, Pushkin, and Pavlovsk were especially good in that period.  The best of these Korovin paintings are full of color, light, and music. According to Korovin, a kind of “tapestry” character appears in his works which is determined by the density of painting, the lacy decorative pattern of the trees, a certain colorful succulence, all of which are especially visible in autumn paintings.

At that time, Korovin’s conscious understanding of the Leningrad landscape was finally formed.  He knows already what he looks for in the city, knows the secrets of its lines, volumes, space, colors, he understands the individual plastics of the city design, and he had found the rhythmic / color correlation between architecture and space.  Color determines the character of a landscape: “One must be accurate in color, it should be Leningrad and not some other city. There are artists who paint Leningrad and Crimea in the same manner, with the same color; but I believe that the naturalness and freshness of the painting must be preserved and should feature the unique qualities of local nature which, for the discerning artist are there to be seen.”

In 1974, Victor Korovin was awarded the venerable title of ‘Honored Artist of the Soviet Union’.  He  was selected to participate in the Leningrad, all-Russia, and all-Union art exhibitions where his works met with great acclaim.   Starting in 1976 and until his death, his works were successfully exhibited and broadly collected in Japan, France, Germany, Finland, USA, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Holland, and England.

The 1980’s could be determined as a completely independent period of Korovin’s creative development.  “Before I eagerly looked at landscapes by other artists, now I am much calmer” – stated the artist.  It can be noted that in the works of 1980’s there is a mature power of artistic mastership, subtlety and complexity of color designs.  It is especially obvious in the Crimea landscapes.  Making these coastal landscapes in 1-2 hours, the artist became free from the painful search of color harmony, everything appears in his work quickly and naturally.  These were wonderful involuntary compositions, but at the same time they accurately depicted the Crimea motifs with the trembling of turquoise and pink spring colors of a southern landscape.  A landscape is not static or identical, it has its own plastic and emotional principles.  Prior to his untimely death in 1991, Korovin had become a mature experienced artist with an original artistic manner.  He is completely individual and recognizable for his forceful dense painting, unruly colors and exact rendering of mood.

After 35 years of work en plein air, the landscapes that Korovin painted in one sitting in 2 to 3 hours were impressive.  Korovin could see and produce the entire landscape’s colors on the palette.  This ability amazed those who worked next to him.  Other artists’ studies were approximate in composition, raw in painting, but Korovin’s two hour plein air paintings produced in Strelna, Batovo, Rozhdestvenno were finished pieces.  His accuracy and speed of introducing color and compositional design is a skill that was polished by years of constant purposeful work.  Basically, when Korovin painted a landscape, he didn’t think what should be mixed with what and what should be “put” next to what. “You think of color at the very beginning, when you study, then everything goes by itself. Even if you miss a certain paint, you try to wriggle out. Color comes immediately, without thinking – that’s the essence”.

In the early years of his work and travels, Korovin applied his creativity to different situations.  In 1963, he first traveled to Pereyaslavl-Zalessky, to the so called “Russian remote country-side”.  There he painted wonderful landscapes of ancient Russian architecture.  Color activity, general plastic decorative qualities and a surprisingly warm national air characterized these works. “Here is the path of enhanced decorativeness, color, an almost toy like simplicity, where everything is organic, complete, solid – go there and it develops you”. Even though Korovin consciously changed his style, he returned to his natural roots and 30 years later in the Crimea motifs there appears the same softness, incredible tenderness of cold pink colors that were seen in the early Pereyaslavl landscapes.  There is a gift of color and decorative vision, but the whole creative work does not submit to it.

Perhaps surprisingly to those who knew him (given his prolific and fluent style) was the special attention he paid to the names of his works.  As in his paintings, he tries his best to express the state of nature which inspired him: Pink Day, Wet Nevsky, Snow Has Fallen… It was important for the artist to pass his emotions and joy of life to spectators and he felt that his titles conveyed his feeling and vision.
The main theme of Korovin’s artistic career is the idea of reflecting the live emotional state of the natural landscape.  He once said, “:Life and painting breathe with one breath”, and indeed Korovin endeavored to be that breath - to get into the color, plastic, linear rhythm of the sky and the land.  As an emotional man, he didn’t need grandiose events to strike his artistic soul.   His artistic soul was dependent on the movement of wind, thickening twilight, first drops of rain and fallen snow.

Victor Korovin died tragically in a drowning accident on July 6, 1991 at the age of 54.  In the course of his time, the artist contributed significantly to the world of art through his unique perception and individuality.  His legacy is embodied in his original, emotional painting manner and in his choice of subjects.  As time goes by, the beauty and importance of his works manifests itself more and more clearly.  His is a poetic vision of the world presented with great mastery.  
But what is most remarkable is his search for the most sublime and bright moments in the state of nature - his ability to admire a simple motif and to reveal its inimitable magnificence. This is the work of the living artistic soul with the spirit that never fades.  Looking through the works painted in almost 35 years of creative activity, one won’t find on them any signs of social changes – which in light of the world around him is quite notable in itself.   Korovin’s paintings live their own life independent from time.  

“Passing” to nature, Korovin might have been purged from everything temporary and ephemeral, but fortunately for all of us, his paintings live on.  

The paintings of Victor Korovin have been appreciated and collected around the world and remain on permanent display at the major museums in Russia including the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, the Tretyakov State gallery in Moscow and in numerous museums throughout the provinces.

Biographical References:
1936  born on December 31 in Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg).
1955  1960 – studied in the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) art school (presently, the Rerikh School), student of Professor V.F. Petrova and I.I. Kudriavtsev.
1956  started constant consultations with the teacher in the Academy of Arts A.A. Debler.
1960 - 1963  admitted to the workshop of Yu. Zhirintsen in the Repin Academy of Arts.
1963  worked at Dacha for creative work in Pereyaslavl-Zalessky
Sent on mission by the Leningrad Regional Committee of Komsomol to construction in Kirishi. One man exhibition in Kirishi.
1964  Graduated with honors from the Repin Academy of Art under Yuri Neprinstev
1964, 1966  Worked on commission of Central Committee of Komsomol in the North. Foundation of the future Art Gallery and Club for Lovers of Art in Salekhard.
1965  Personal exhibition in State Leningrad Conservatory
1966, 1967  worked at the Dacha for creative work in Staraya Ladoga. Meetings with V.F. Zagonek, Nikolai Timkov.
1968  accepted a member to the Union of Artists of Russia (USSR).
1970  Personal exhibition in the editorial office of “Smena” newspaper
1973  worked at Dacha for creative work in Staraya Ladoga. Commissions of Central Committee of Komsomol in Kazan. Work at Acadimichaskaya Dacha of the Academy of Fine Arts.    
1974  Awarded the title of ‘Honored Artist of the Soviet Union’.
1965 – 1978  decorated New Year parties in Anichkov Palace in Leningrad (St. Petersburg).
1975 – 1989  worked on a submarine. Created landscapes for the naval ships.
1978  Participated in exhibition of Soviet artists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC –his painting, ‘Spring in Pavlovsk’ is acquired by the Metropolitan Museum
1979  Trip to Arkhangelsk - Igarka – Dudinka. Exhibition in the House of Sailors.
1960 – 1991  Constant participant of St. Petersburg, Regional and Republic exhibitions, and of a number exhibitions abroad in Japan, USA, England, France, Federal Republic of Germany< Finland, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Czech Republic, Poland and other countries.
1983  Personal exhibit in Tokyo – meets the important Japanese collector Toru Ando who acquires several paintings
1984  Personal exhibition at Metallurgical plant.
1985  Personal exhibition in the Rossi pavilion, Summer Garden, St. Petersburg.
1986  Personal exhibition in Smolny Cathedral.
1986  Personal exhibition in Sailors’ Club.
1988  Trip to Academic Dacha in the Crimea.
1988  Participates in Russian landscape painting exhibit in Kensington Palace, London
1989  One man Exhibition «65th Anniversary of the Union of Artists of St. Petersburg”, exhibition hall “Manezh”.
1989  Personal exhibition in Smolny Cathedral.
1991  on July 6 tragically  died in drowning accident.
1991  September – Moving exhibition on the M/S “Vissarion Belinsky”.
1991  October – Major posthumous exhibition at the Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists, St. Petersburg.
1995  December – Exhibition  «Father and Daughter Korovins” in the House of Cinema (Union of Cinematographists), St. Petersburg.
2004  Exhibition 70th Anniversary of the Union of Artists of St. Petersburg”, exhibition hall “Manezh”.
2004  Solo retrospective exhibition in Pavlovsk

Information provided by Kenneth Pushkin

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