Portraits of Russian beauties were created by great artists and took a significant place both in the history of Russian painting and in the halls of famous museums around the world. You may recognize some of the great women in these portraits, while others will seem completely unknown. But this in no way detracts from true Russian beauty.
Portraits of Russian beauties by Vladimir Makovsky
Speaking about portraits of Russian beauties, it is impossible not to mention Konstantin Makovsky. He was an influential Russian Itinerant painter. Many of his historical paintings show an idealized view of Russian life in past centuries. Makovsky is considered a representative of academic art, was a genre artist, and also a skilled landscape painter. However, Makovsky is especially famous for his elegant salon portraits of women.
Makovsky often painted women close to him. Maria Alekseevna Matavtina was his third wife. The artist met her in 1889 in Paris, where he had his own workshop. Maria Alekseevna was thirty years younger than him. Since the 1890s, she became the artist’s muse and favorite model. Her portraits were often exhibited at various exhibitions.
Makovsky’s portraits of women are a collection of magnificent paintings with excellent detail, a wealth of ornaments and a colorful palette. The beauties of Makovsky are dressed in colorful outfits, beautiful Russian hats, and luxurious jewelry.
“The Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga”, Mikhail Nesterov, 1892.
The next analyzed masterpiece of Russian painting is “The Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga” by Mikhail Nesterov. Mikhail Nesterov was an artist whose work overcame the great shift in political power in 20th century Russia. For a Russian artist who worked from the period of the tsarist regime until the revolution of 1917 and until Stalin’s rule, this means a lot. He felt lost during his 9 years of study at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1876–1885), when he was criticized for his lack of talent by Ivan Kramskoi and Ilya Repin. The first artist told the young Nesterov that “he must continue to search for his true calling.” It was only after the tragic death of his first beloved wife Maria in 1886 that Nesterov’s voice as an artist began to emerge.
Also known as Olga of Kiev (Helga), the heroine of the painting was the regent of the Principality of Kyiv. She began her reign by avenging the death of her husband Igor (Igor the Old), who was killed by the Drevlyans while collecting taxes (Sweet Revenge). Olga was baptized in Constantinople and became a Christian in a kingdom that was largely pagan at the time. She also tried to convert her son to Christianity, but was unsuccessful. Olga of Kiev is the first female saint in the history of her country.
In the painting, Nesterov used a golden palette, which corresponded to the style of icon painting of that time. A mandatory detail is a thin halo above Olga’s head. She is dressed in a magnificent dress with Russian traditional patterns, over which is a brown robe. Behind Olga, the Russian landscape reveals itself in full glory. In Olga’s hand is a golden cross as a symbol of acceptance of Christianity.
“Portrait of Catherine II” (1763), Fyodor Stepanovich Rokotov
Fyodor Rokotov was an outstanding Russian portrait painter. He was born into a family of serfs, the Repnins, and studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Rokotov managed to become an artist in 1750 after he bought his freedom. Within 15 years, Rokotov reached the pinnacle of fame: in 1765 he was elected academician, and subsequently became one of the best portrait painters of his time.
One of the most famous portraits of Rokotov belongs to Catherine II. Empress Catherine the Great served the Russian people with dignity from 1762 to 1796. She came to power after conspiring to overthrow her husband. As one of the most influential rulers, she championed the arts throughout her time in power. In particular, the collection of works of art collected by Catherine II subsequently formed an extensive world-class Hermitage collection.
The Tsarina also proved herself to be a skilled ruler: she expanded Russia’s borders, negotiated a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, and established her people as a global power. The work process took place in Peterhof itself. The picture contains all the attributes of the Empress’s power. Catherine II herself is depicted in profile. All the materials that surround it are very expensive and luxurious (organza, silk, velvet, etc.). The palette of the painting is bright and elegant (after all, this is a ceremonial portrait). The Empress’s dress is made in blue, blue, and beige tones. The chair is bright red (the color of power). The background is reminiscent of antiquity (note the columns and wide curtain). The Empress’s expensive jewelry and ornaments on clothes add additional elegance.
“Portrait of the ballerina Anna Pavlova” by Alexander Yakovlev
Alexander Evgenievich Yakovlev is a Russian painter, graphic artist and designer. Born into the family of a naval officer. His initial training took place at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Since 1909, Yakovlev regularly participated in national and international exhibitions, and was a member of the World of Art group and the Union of Russian Artists. He was awarded an Academy scholarship to study in Italy and Spain in 1914-15. This experience left an indelible mark on his stylistic evolution, as evidenced by his turn to the motifs of the Italian Renaissance.
Yakovlev served as director of the painting department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Spending the last months of his life in Capri and Paris, Yakovlev died in the French capital in 1938.
A landmark work in Yakovlev’s work is “Portrait of Anna Pavlova.”
Those who love ballet probably already know her. But for everyone else, Anna Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina of the late 19th early 20th centuries, one of the best ballet dancers. She studied in St. Petersburg and performed at the famous Mariinsky Theater. She then embarked on an international career, leading her own dance company, and becoming the first ballerina to tour the world choreographing The Dying Swan. She inspired many other young artists with her performances.
In the painting, Anna Pavlova is depicted as a stately, lovely, magnificent girl! She is wearing a ballerina outfit. The corset is made of beige satin, and the tutu itself is snow-white. Her amazing gaze is directed downwards, the viewer has an excellent opportunity to enjoy the beauty’s profile. Coal black hair is decorated with light miniature roses to match the outfit.
Behind the girl we see a light architectural background. Perhaps this is the staircase of the Mariinsky Theater, where the ballerina performs. Let’s pay attention to how technically the angle of the girl’s hand matches the staircase railing, but the roses resonate perfectly with the balusters. Since Yakovlev is considered a representative of neoclassicism, on this canvas he fully displayed his technique.
“Portrait of Ekaterina Balebina” by Rusova
The next artist we are considering is Lew Rusov, born in Leningrad on January 31, 1926. He successfully graduated from the Tauride Art School, and then studied at the Institute. Repin under the leadership of Yuri Neprintsev and Genrikh Pavlovsky. Russov’s artistic passion was still lifes, landscapes, historical and genre paintings and, of course, portraits. The portrait of his wife Catherine Balebina deserves special attention.
Rusov wrote this work in 1956. Interestingly, it became one of the artist’s most famous paintings. Ekaterina Balebina was the daughter of Hero of the Soviet Union and the Great Patriotic War Vasiliy Balebin, who was also a famous military pilot. Just 3 years after painting the portrait, Rusov and Balebin entered into an official marriage.
In the portrait of his wife, Rusov masterfully glorifies the standard of female beauty. He admires his wife. Catherine on the canvas is charming, and at the same time we see her inner core, her strong-willed face. The artist is definitely in love with this image! A neutral background allows the viewer to focus on the face. The heroine has real Russian rosy cheeks, peach sensual lips and bright brown eyes framed by a clear eyebrow contour. A dark blue dress of an elegant cut has the same function as the background of the picture it emphasizes the beauty of the face and character of the heroine, without drawing attention to itself.
Perhaps never before have female images in Russian art been so open, alive and without a shadow of affectation. Never before have they carried within themselves a combination of spiritual and physical beauty with deep civic and independent views. Thus, we examined both famous works of Russian artists and their little-known creations. The heroines of the paintings are completely different they are an ordinary peasant woman, an empress, a pilot’s daughter, and a famous ballerina. When considering Russian beauty, it is not status that is important, it is the soul that is important! And the artists managed to masterfully realize their goal to convey the rich content of a person through the canvas.