Ilya Yefimovich Repin (5 August 1844 - 29 September 1930)
was a Russian realist painter. He was the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th
century, when his position in the world of art was comparable to that of Leo
Tolstoy in literature. He played a major role in bringing Russian art into the
mainstream of European culture. His major works include Barge Haulers on the Volga
(1873), Religious Procession in Kursk Province (1883) and Reply of the Zaporozhian
Repin was born in Chuguyev, in the Kharkov Governorate (now Ukraine) of the
Russian Empire into a military family. He entered military school in 1854 and in
1856 studied under Ivan Bunakov, a local icon painter. He began to paint around
1860. He met fellow artist Ivan Kramskoi and the critic Vladimir Stasov during the
1860s, and his wife, Vera Shevtsova in 1872 (they remained married for ten years).
In 1874–1876 he showed at the Salon in Paris and at the exhibitions of the
Itinerants' Society in Saint Petersburg. He was awarded the title of academician in
In 1880 Repin traveled to Zaporozhye in Ukraine to gather material for the 1891
Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. His Religious Procession in Kursk Province was
exhibited in 1883, and Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan in 1885. In 1892 he
published the Letters on Art collection of essays. He taught at the Higher Art
School attached to the Academy of Arts from 1894. In 1898 he purchased an estate,
the Penates, in Kuokkala, Finland (now Repino).
In 1901 he was awarded the Legion of Honour. In 1911 he traveled with his
common-law wife Natalia Nordman to the World Exhibition in Italy, where his
painting 17 October 1905 and his portraits were displayed in their own separate
room. In 1916 Repin worked on his book of reminiscences, Far and Near, with the
assistance of Korney Chukovsky. He welcomed the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Celebrations were held in 1924 in Kuokkala to mark Repin's 80th birthday, followed
by an exhibition of his works in Moscow. In 1925 a jubilee exhibition of his works
was held in the Russian Museum in Leningrad.
Repin persistently searched for new techniques and content to give his work more
fullness and depth.
Repin had favorite subjects, and a limited circle of people whose portraits he
painted. But he had a deep sense of purpose in his aesthetics, and had the great
artistic gift to sense the spirit of the age and its reflection in the lives and
characters of individuals. Repin's search for truth and for an ideal led him
various directions artistically, influenced by aspects of hidden social and
spiritual experiences and national culture. Like most Russian realists of his
times, Repin often based his works on dramatic conflicts rooted in reality, drawn
from contemporary life or history. He also used mythological images with a strong
sense of purpose. Some of his religious paintings are among his greatest.
His method was the reverse of impressionism. He produced works slowly and
carefully. They were the result of close and detailed study. With some of his
paintings, he made one hundred or more preliminary sketches. He was never satisfied
with his works, and often painted multiple versions, years apart. He also changed
and adjusted his methods constantly in order to obtain more effective arrangement
and grouping and coloristic power. Repin's style of portraiture was unique, but
owed something to the influence of Eduard Manet and Diego Velázquez.
He was the first Russian artist to achieve European fame using specifically
Russian themes. His 1873 painting Barge Haulers on the Volga, radically different
from previous Russian paintings, made him the leader of a new movement of critical
realism in Russian art. He chose nature and character over academic formalism. The
triumph of this work was widespread, and it was praised by contemporaries like
Stasov and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The painting shows his feeling of personal
responsibility for the hard life of the common people and the destiny of Russia. In
the 1880s he produced many of his most famous works, and joined the Itinerants'