Friday, August 29, 2008

Ilya Repin "Pictures at an Exhibition"

While contemplating the serene and pastoral works of William-Adolphe Bougereau reminds me of the musical work of Ralph Vaughan Williams, especially his Fantasia on Greensleeves, looking at the paintings of the Russian romantic realist Ilya Repin reminds me of the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's grand and tempestuous Pictures at an Exhibition.

Repin, a native of Ukraine who lived from 1844 to 1930, had a long and storied career. Painting in a colorful and dramatic style, he illustrated themes from religion, Russian history and Slavic myth, painted scenes of courtly life and of the common people, still-lifes and portraiture of great skill, and became a propagandist for revolution, the object of a Soviet cult in the 1930's.

He painted a portrait of Modest Mussorgsky, and it is interesting to listen to Mussorgsky's "Pictures" while looking at Repin's paintings.

Top right is the Grand Duke's Bride, a riot of color, in which we can sympathize with the duke, who has to choose between three fat scheming courtiers. Perhaps he should be decked in black, rather than yellow.

Repin's work spans the syles from classicism - Jesus Raising Jairus's Daughter from the Dead, through romanticism Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom (above) - to impressionism - Gopak Dancers. Considered a champion of the people for such works as his Volga Boatmen, below, he was not above glorifying the Czarist regime, State Council, bottom. Luckily, we need not endorse his politics to admire his skill.

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