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Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was a Russian painter, and one of the premier portrait artists of his era. He was born in St. Petersburg, son of the Russian composer Alexander Serov, and his wife Valentina Bergman, a composer of German-Jewish and English background. In his childhood he studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin and in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1880–1885) under Pavel Chistyakov. Serov's early creativity was sparked by the realistic art of Repin and strict pedagogical system of Chistyakov. Further influences on Serov were the Old Master* paintings he viewed in the museums of Russia and Western Europe, friendships with Mikhail Vrubel and (later) Konstantin Korovin, and the creative atmosphere of the Abramtsevo Colony, to which he was closely connected.
The greatest works of Serov's early period were portraits: The Girl with Peaches (1887), and The Girl Covered by the Sun (1888), both in the Tretyakov Gallery. In these paintings Serov concentrated on spontaneity of perception of the model and nature. In the development of light and color, the complex harmony of reflections, the sense of atmospheric saturation, and the fresh picturesque perception of the world, there appeared the features of early Russian impressionism.
From 1890 on, the portrait became the basic genre in Serov's art. Serov's favorite models were actors, artists, and writers such as Konstantin Korovin, 1891, Isaac Levitan, 1893, Nikolai Leskov, 1894, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1898, - all in the Tretyakov gallery.
Initially abstaining from the polychromatic*, brightly colored painting style of the 1880s, Serov often preferred a dominant scale of black-grey or brown tones. Impressionistic* features appeared sometimes in composite construction of a portrait, or to capture a sense of spontaneous movement.
At the same time, he developed a contrasting direction: he frequently produced intimate, heartfelt, chamber portraits, mainly of children and women. In portraits of children, Serov aspired to capture pose and gesture, to reveal and emphasize a spontaneity of internal movement, sincere cleanliness and clearness of attitude of the child. Serov married Olga Trubnikova in 1887. His wife and his children were
the subject of many of his works. Notably, his painting Children was
of his sons Yura and Sasha. From 1890 to 1900, Serov produced many landscape compositions on country themes, in which the artistic direction took a romantic turn.
During his late period, which began in 1900, Serov was a member of "The World of art", an influential Russian art association and magazine, which grew, in part, out of dissatisfaction with the Itinerants or Wanderers* movement. At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, Serov was at a stylistic turning point: features of impressionism disappeared from his work, and his modernistic style developed, but the characteristic truthful and realistic comprehension of the nature of his subjects remained constant.
Serov's democratic beliefs were clearly shown during the Revolution from 1905 to 1907: he depicted a number of satirical figures exposing chastisers. A full member of the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts since 1903, in 1905 he resigned as a gesture of protest against the execution of striking workers and their families on January 9, Bloody Sunday. His late creativity found expression in historical painting such as Peter II Departure and Empress Elizabeth Petrovna on Hunting, 1900, Russian Museum).
The last years of Serov's life were marked by works on themes from classical mythology. While addressing images from the ancient tradition, Serov endowed classical subject matter with a personal interpretation.
Valentin Serov died in Moscow on December 5, 1911. He is buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery.
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