Thursday, 31 March 2016

Arts Pics just introduced me to the Russian painter Konstantin Korovin - and I'm grateful to them

Crimean landscape,  1912
The Arts Pics Channel presented it's Twitter followers with this image earlier today, along with sixteen other splendidly colourful, joyful, exuberant examples of the work of the Russian impressionist painter, Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939). Never heard of him, vaguely recognised some of his work, but, oddly, instantly recognised this 1891 portrait of him by Valentin Serov:

Trying to calm down after the sheer, pant-wetting excitement of watching England destroy New Zealand on their way to the World T20 finals (Joe Root is the best batsman in the world, and may very well turn out to be the greatest to ever represent England) I decided to find out a bit more about Korovin, and ended up on Wikiart, which appears to have an image of every existing painting by this glorious colourist. I finally got round to reading Chekhov's plays recently (at least, the four best-known ones), and Nasturtium, 1888 momentarily reminded me of all those upper-middle class people hanging around in provincial gardens and orchards, killing seagulls, yearning to be in Moscow, and shooting themselves:
Only the impression was only momentary, because the people in Korovin's paintings always appear so damned happy in their surroundings: one gets the impression that, unlike most other Russian artists, composers, playwrights and novelists, Korovin really enjoyed life:
Gurzuf in Summer
Spring, 1917
Paris Café,  1890
Crimea. Gursuf, 1917
I particularly like this portrait of the splendidly insouciant-looking opera singer, Chaliapin: 
Of course, being a Russian, Korovin could do winter and darkness when the fancy took him (although he seems to have had to travel to North Norway to discover his innate Russianness):
Hammerfest. The Northern Lights, 1895
Moonlit Night. Winter 1913
But light was his natural medium:
White night in Northern Norway, 1895
Paris in the morning, 1920
Autumn, 1917
Bridge in Saint Cloud, 1936
At the Window, 1919
Pier Gurzuf, 1916
I half expected to learn, judging by the atmosphere of Korovin's work and its subject-matter, that he had fled Russia after the revolution for Paris. But, no - although evidently a regular traveller, he only eventually left Moscow in 1923 on the advice of the Commissar of Education, who felt that it might cure the artist's heart condition and benefit his handicapped son. Korovin was supposed to hold a big exhibition of his work there to set himself up financially - but all the paintings were stolen and he found himself ill and penniless at the age of 62, with a handicapped 24-year old son in tow - hence, presumably the number of rather undistinguished Paris street scenes he painted in later life. However, Korovin lived for another fifteen years, and forged a successful career producing stage designs for a number of major theatres across Europe. (His son Alexey went on to enjoy success as an artist.) Here's a self-portrait painted by Konstantin Korovin, aged 77,  a year before his death:


  1. Presumably most of the stolen paintings were recovered?
    Korovin's fortitude is admirable.To produce such a self portrait at age 77!There's hope for us yet.

    1. Janacek, one of my great musical heroes, only really started to hit his musical stride in his 60s: his glorious Glagolitic Mass and the splendid Sinfonietta - both bristling with energy and invention - were both completed and first performed in public in 1926, when he was 72!

      There really is hope for us all.

      I don't know whether Korovin's pictures were ever recovered - but more were stolen from a gallery in the Russian city of Vyazniki in 2013. Good taste, these thieves.

      I've just found this illuminating quote from Korovin: “My major and the only ever-pursued purpose in art was beauty, aesthetic influence on the viewer, the fascination of colours and shapes. No lecturing, no moral tendency to anybody ever.”