Speaking of the lighting, we see this quite often in paintings of the 19th century, where the light source is a natural glow from above, or a natural north light source that beautifully illuminates the figures. And this is one of my favorite paintings that does that. Often with a multifigure painting like this, particularly historical paintings, the artist would have models sit for the poses, and then would paint the likeness of certain famous historical figures over the face. With the dawn of photography in the 19th century, this became a pretty convenient practice for such paintings if the actual person was unable to sit for the painting.
One of the things that makes Repin so interesting to me, as with a number of 19th century Russian realists is that he was a member of what came known to be as the Wanderers, or the Itinerants. These were a group of Russian artists who rebelled against the academic rigidity and formalism of the Academy. They felt it set barriers between their art and the people. So as Itinerants, they would basically take their work on tour for the people to see and appreciate. Otherwise, an academic painter's only audience would be the high members of society, and that is not who they necessarily wanted to reach. Though ironically I am posting a painting that portrays higher members of society, Repin loved to paint genre scenes of Russian life of common rural folks. As an Itinerant, many of his subjects involved statements of injustice and inequity, although he made a point to bring out the strengths of the poor and oppressed in his work.
For Repin, it was important to make his paintings exclusively Russian and of Russian culture of the time both in terms of history and everyday life. And as with this painting, his pieces demonstrated a skill that made a powerful statement.
|Ceremonial Meeting of the State Council on May 7, 1901|
oil on canvas