Girl with Peaches by Valentin Serov

Girl with Peaches by Valentin Serov (1887)

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was born in St Petersburg in 1865 and was to become one of the foremost portrait artists of his time.  He was the only-child of Alexander, who was an operatic composer and mother Valentina, who was also a musical composer.  He was  brought up in a musical and artistic household.  At the age of six his father died and his mother and he went to live in Munich and later Paris, which was then considered the centre of the Art world.  It was here that once again Serov came into contact with the great Russian artist Ilya Repin who took over the art tutelage of Serov.   He also studied art at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.  Serov was very interested in the Realism genre of art and was greatly influenced by what he saw in the major galleries and museums of his home country and those of Western Europe.

On returning to Moscow from Paris, he and his mother were invited by Savva Mamontov to settle at Abramtsevo, an estate located north of Moscow, on the Vorya River.  This estate had  become a center for the Slavophile movement ,  an intellectual movement originating from 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history.  The property was originally owned by the Russian author Sergei Akaskov.  On his death the property was purchased by the wealthy railroad tycoon and patron of the arts, Savva Mamontov.  Through his efforts, Abramtsevo became a centre for Russian folk art and during the 1870’s and 1880’s the estate was to be home for many artists who tried to reignite the interest, through their paintings, in medieval Russian art.  Workshops were set up on the estate and production of furniture, ceramics and silks, ablaze with traditional Russian imagery and themes, were produced.   It was during his time here that Serov came into contact with the cream of Russia’s artistic and cultural talent.

During his time at the Abramtsevo Colony, Valentin Serov met and painted the portrait of Vera Mamontov, the twelve year old daughter of Savva Mamontov and it is that portrait entitled, Girl with Peaches, which is My Daily Art Display painting for today.  It is said that this painting launched Russian Impressionism.  Serov exhibited this painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, St Petersburg and received great acclaim and it is now looked upon as one of his greatest works. The painting which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is a more relaxed study and is breathtakingly beautiful.  Serov pieces together fragments of the interior scene and still-life.  The light pours in through the window and dissolves the contours of the objects.  Serov uses warm tones for the girl which in some way contrasts with the colder tones of the space.  The black eyes of the girl look out at us,  thoughtful but slightly impatient.

During the 1880’s Serov travelled abroad and came into contact with French Impressionism and the Impressionist painters such as Degas.  Due to his family background and the popularity of his paintings, Serov never struggled financially.  He was the foremost portraiture artist of his time and his subjects included the Czar.  In 1887 he married Olga Trubnikova and their children featured in many of his portraits, such as the picture-portrait Children (1899), which show his sons Yury and Sasha.   In 1905, on his fortieth birthday, he was elected as an academic of the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. 

Sadly his life was cut short at the tender age of 46 when he died of a heart attack.   The reason he never achieved the fame similar to a number of his Western European artistic contemporaries is probably because of where he lived and spent most of his life.