The Portraits of Mikhail Nesterov
life paths reflected their thoughts, feelings, acts."
PORTRAITS WERE A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF NESTEROV'S OEUVRE, BUT FOR A VERY LONG TIME -PRACTICALLY UNTIL THE EARLY 1930S - THE ARTIST WOULD REGULARLY REPEAT THE PHRASE, "I'M NO PORTRAITIST!", IN LETTERS TO HIS FRIENDS. ALWAYS DEMANDING OF HIMSELF AS AN ARTIST, NESTEROV BELIEVED THAT HIS PORTRAITS WERE NOT OF THE SAME CALIBRE AS THOSE OF HIS PREDECESSORS SUCH AS VASILY PEROV, IVAN KRAMSKOYOR ILYA REPIN; EVEN "THE GIRL WITH PEACHES" BY THE MUCH YOUNGER ARTIST VALENTIN SEROV, NESTEROV REGARDED AS REACHING AN UNATTAINABLE LEVEL OF ARTISTRY.
Nearly all the portrait images created by the artist between the late 1880s and the mid-i90os were sketches intended to be used later in larger compositions or murals. Some of them were made in the course of working on a particular composition, while others were used in images that the artist created several decades later. The portraits of the artist's parents created from photographs when he was young, the images of his wife, his first teacher Vasily Perov, his artist friends such as Sergei Ivanov, Sergei Korovin and Nikolai Yaroshenko, the portraits of Leonid Sredin, Maxim Gorky, the Chertkovs, husband and wife - Nesterov referred to all these pieces, created before 1905, as sketches: in that year he gravitated towards the grand style. Even Leo Tolstoy's portrait, created in 1907 in Yasnaya Polyana, was regarded by Nesterov as a study for his composition "In Rus' (The People's Soul)" .
As a portraitist, Nesterov focused on the people close to him -members of his family, friends, and associates. The starting point was pieces produced in 1905-1906: the artist reminisced that "having stayed for too long on the scaffolding in Abastumani", he began to truly miss nature - not only the natural environment, as he had before, but human beings as well. It was then, late in January 1905, in his apartment in Kiev that he created a portrait of his wife Yekaterina Nesterova, which he himself deemed good enough to merit public display. Nesterova related how the idea of the portrait came into existence: "Once, on a sunny morning in winter, I was sitting in an armchair near a window, by a table with a bunch of bright azaleas on it... Mikhail Vasi-lievich suddenly stopped and said: 'That's just the image to capture. Sit as you are'." After Yekaterina's portrait Nesterov created an image of Princess Yashvil and a portrait of his oldest daughter, Olga - the famous piece called "An Amazon" (also known as "Woman in a Riding Habit"), which was acquired by the Russian Museum after the 1907 exhibition and became one of the most popular and stylish female images of the Silver Age of Russian culture.
During the critical period of Russian history before and after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Nesterov created images of prominent Russian philosophers and thinkers, including "Archbishop Anthony (Anthony Khrapovitsky)", "The Philosophers" and, later, "The Thinker" (1922). These pieces reflect his focused quest for moral certainties, as well as his deep musings, awakening awareness of the events in the country, and liberation from many previous illusions. Having overcome the shock of the first post-revolutionary years, Nesterov once again set about creating images of people close to him - his daughters, his son and friends. In 1925 he produced portraits of Alexei Severtsov, Pavel Korin and Viktor Vasnetsov, and at the beginning of 1926 one of Sergei Durylin: Nesterov had long known, loved and respected these people. It is important to note that the artist himself was satisfied with these portraits - they boosted his artistic self-confidence.
The late 1920s arguably saw the start of a new stage in Neste-rov's creative career. Paradoxically, the older the artist became, the more passion and energy went into his portraits. Nesterov nearly always chose his models himself, turning down commissioned work and retaining a freedom in the understanding and interpretation of his sitters. In the 1930s Nesterov painted portraits of some subjects whom he had already portrayed - Alexei Severtsov, Ivan Pavlov, Sergei Yudin, and Yelizaveta Kruglikova: this was motivated by a desire to create the image of a refined personality, the artist's kindred spirit. In 1932, when organisers of the exhibition "Artists of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic: The Last 15 Years" eagerly asked Nesterov to participate, from all the portraits he had created to date he chose the image of the brothers Pavel and Alexander Korin - he deemed it so artistically mature and well-rounded that he believed it was the right piece with which to resume exhibiting after a 25-year period when he never once put his work on public display. According to Igor Grabar, "looking at this portrait you felt it was a piece that would fit into the collections of the Hermitage and the Louvre". When the Russian revolution happened, Nesterov was 55, with almost 40 years of work behind him, and mustered sufficient strength and artistic willpower to become a classic of Soviet art, as his portraits indicate. According to Sergei Durylin, this was due to the fact that, "Nesterov had inside himself that very strong creative pivot around which Nesterov the human being, in willing obedience, arranged his days and years, thoughts and fantasies".
Portrait of Olga Nesterova, the artist's daughter
("An Amazon", also known as "Woman in a Riding Habit"). 1906
Olga (1886-1973) was Nesterov's oldest daughter. Her mother, Maria Martynovskaya, died the day after she had given birth. In summer 1906 Nesterov decided to paint Olga when he saw her coming back from a horseback outing. Olga reminisced: "...he painted [me] in Ufa on a lawn in our old garden... The idea to paint me in an Amazon's costume occurred to him when I once got off a horse and paused in this pose. He exclaimed, 'Stop, don't move, this is how I'll paint you.' Father was in good spirits and full of energy, and worked with gusto. At the start of a sitting he would talk animatedly, recalling interesting episodes related to art or just funny things that had happened during our recent travel abroad, to Paris, and often asking me about whether I was tired and wanted to have a break. But gradually the conversation would peter our, and he continued working in a focused manner and in silence, making no more enquiries about the sitter's well-being. Only when I began to pale of fatigue, thus probably distracting him, would he suddenly pay attention to me: 'Why are you so pale? Now, now, just several minutes more, I'm finishing up now.' And he would again forget everything in a paroxysm of creativity."1
The portrait was not finished in Ufa. Nesterov continued working on it through the following autumn in Kiev, asking his wife Yeka-terina to pose for him in the Amazon's costume. He was satisfied with the result and submitted it without hesitation to the 1907 exhibition, where it was bought by the Russian Museum; even today this piece remains one of the most popular female images from the early 20th century in the museum's collection. In 1912 Olga married the lawyer Viktor Shreter. In January 1938 Shreter, who worked as a senior consultant at the international department of the Soviet Commissariat of Heavy Industry, was charged with espionage, arrested and executed (in April of the same year), while Olga, an applied artist, was exiled to the town of Dzhambul, where she became gravely ill. In 1941, thanks to Yekaterina Peshkova's advocacy and the involvement of the Red Cross, Olga Nesterova returned to Moscow, although she would remain physically incapacitated for the rest of her life, and unable to walk without crutches.
Archbishop Anthony. 1917
Nesterov first saw Archbishop Anthony early in the 1890s at the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra (Monastery), and was introduced to him several years later in Ufa. The personality of this man, who dreamed about separating the church and the state, and about further elevation of the church, occupied the artist's imagination from as early as the beginning of the 1900s. In a letter of July 20 1908 to a friend Nesterov wrote: "Anthony... is a man of immense daring and great ambition... I'll tell you in secret: I itch to make a portrait of Anthony, the archbishop, even more than I do to paint Vasnetsov." The biography of Anthony (Antonyi) Vo-lynsky, known outside the church as Alexei Pavlovich Khrapovitsky (1863-1936), is extraordinary. It is believed that this descendant of the famous Alexei Khrapovitsky, Secretary of State under Catherine II, was the inspiration for Fyodor Dostoevsky's character Alyosha Karamazov.
Because of his freethinking habits and excessive popularity he was expelled from the Moscow Theological Academy and sent to Kazan, and later to Ufa. However, several years later Anthony was back in favour with the authorities, becoming an influential member of the Holy Synod. Before the 1917 revolution Archbishop Anthony stubbornly argued that the Christian Orthodox Church in Russia needed patriarchs (senior bishops). On May 1 1917 he was "retired to rest" and assigned a place of residence at the Valaam Monastery. However, already in June 1917, at the Pan-Russian Orthodox Council, he received the most votes of the three candidates for the office of the Patriarch. It was then that Nesterov asked Anthony to sit for him, and received consent "from the word go". The artist worked on the portrait in a church at the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery. The archbishop is depicted delivering a sermon on a pulpit in front of the Holy Doors.
From August 1919 onwards Anthony was involved with the White Army movement. In March 1920 he emigrated to Greece, where he lived at the St. Panteleimon (Pantaleon's) Monastery on Mount Athos. In September 1920 he was invited by General Wrangel to Sevastopol to take the reins of the Russian Orthodox Church on the territory controlled by Wrangel's forces. With the advance of the Red Army, as early as October 19 1920, he had to leave Russia for good, moving to Constantinople and then to Serbia. He headed the Supreme Ecclesiastic Administration Abroad, and when Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow abolished that body, took the helm of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. He died in 1936 in Belgrade.
(Sergei Bulgakov and Pavel Florensky). 1917
Nesterov's image of two men titled "The Philosophers" features the great Russian thinkers Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) and Pavel Florensky (1882-1937). The portrait was the result of enthusiastic work - a piece "done in one stroke", as the artist himself put it, without sketches or drafts. The composition represents the theological thinkers taking a stroll in the vicinity of the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. The idea for the picture was conceived early in 1917, when the artist showed a completed piece called "In Rus' (The People's Soul)" to a group of religious philosophers (including Sergei Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky, Sergei Durylin), Prince Yevgeny Trubetskoy and others in his studio.
Bulgakov wrote in his "Autobiographical Notes": "The artist envisioned not just a portrait of two friends... but a spiritual image of the era as well. Both faces expressed the same insights, only differently; one of them saw a horror, and another - peace, joy, triumphant breakthrough. That was an act of artistic foresight of two images of the Russian apocalypse - inside and beyond mortal existence, the first one the image of struggle and perturbation of mind (and in my mind it was related precisely to my friend's destiny), another one related to the vanquished accomplishment, which we presently behold..."2
After the moment captured by the artist the two men's lives followed very different courses. Bulgakov was ordained a priest in 1918, and in 1919 moved to Crimea, where he taught political economy and theology. In 1922 Father Sergiy was placed by the secret police (GPU) on its list of members of Russia's cultural and academic community who should be deported. He was expelled from the country on December 30 1922, and after a short stay in Constantinople arrived in Prague. Here in May 1923 he became a professor of church law and theology at the law faculty of the Russian Research Institute. In 1925 Bulgakov moved to France. A founder of the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, he served as its director and taught dogmatic theology there until his death. His son, Fyodor Bulgakov (19021991), stayed in Russia and married Nesterov's younger daughter Natalya.
After the Russian revolution Pavel Florensky held the post of academic secretary of the Commission for Preservation of Historical Landmarks of the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, taught at Moscow's VKHU-TEMAS (School of Applied Art and Crafts), lectured in physics and mathematics at a teachers' college, conducted research for the Supreme Council of National Economy's Electrification Board, and edited an encyclopaedia of technology, for which he wrote more than 100 articles. In 1928 he was exiled to Nizhny Novgorod. Thanks to Yekaterina Pesh-kova's advocacy he was released, only to be arrested again in 1933 and sent to a labour camp in eastern Siberia called "Free Camp" (BAMLAG), and in 1935 transferred to the camp on the Solovetsky Islands. In November 1937 he was again convicted by a three-member jury of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) in the Leningrad Region, and executed by firing squad on December 8 1937, on the Levas-hovo wasteland near Leningrad.
Portrait of Viktor Vasnetsov. 1925
Nesterov had long cherished a dream of creating an image of Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926). According to Nesterov himself, he infinitely admired Vasnetsov's talent when he worked with the older artist at the Cathedral of St. Vladimir (Volodymyr) in Kiev. He intended to begin the portrait as early as autumn 1908, but was held back by another project - the murals for the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent. Nesterov would fulfil his long-held ambition only a year before Vasnetsov's death. The very intention to create Vasnetsov's portrait deeply moved the sitter, who saw it as a manifestation of true friendship. Nesterov worked on the portrait in the master's home, in a room where Vas-netsov's collection of Old Russian art was kept and where he posed sitting in a tall wooden armchair produced in the Abramtsevo workshop. Painting Vasnetsov's face, Nesterov "was very demanding toward himself - with a quiet, loving, nearly reverential attention he explored the old artist's traits long familiar to him, as if fearful of failing to capture even the slightest feature of this old-age handsomeness. He was obviously fascinated and he wanted to pass on to viewers his fascination with the serene beauty of old age."3
(Portrait of Sergei Durylin). 1926
Sergei Durylin (1886-1954) was a writer of fiction, poet, philosopher, theologian, art scholar, ethnographer, and one of the first researchers of Nesterov's artwork, as well as his biographer. The offspring of an old family of merchants from the town of Kaluga, he left school when he was in the sixth grade (in 1903), feeling the powerful pull of "the most honourable and stupid" ideas of the "Narodnichestvo" (a Socialist movement focused on the peasants). From 1904 he worked for the "Posrednik" (Intermediary) publishing house founded by Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov, the magazines "Vesy" (Scales), "Russkaya Mysl'" (Russian Thought), "Transactions of the Archaeological Society for Study of the Russian North", the almanac "Trudy i Dni" (Works and Days), the newspapers "Novaya Zemlya" (The New Land) and "Russkie Vedomosti" (Russian Intelligence), and several other publications. He was a member of the "Serdarda" group of symbolist poets from 1908, and Andrei Bely's group for rhythmic studies (from 1910). At the same period he was also a member of the Moscow Religion and Philosophy Society dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Soloviev. In 1918-1920 Durylin together with Pavel Florensky worked at the Commission for Preservation of Historical Landmarks of the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra.
In 1922 Durylin was arrested and exiled to Chelyabinsk, where he was put in charge of the archaeology department of a local art museum. In 1924 he returned to Moscow, where he worked part-time at the Academy of Art Scholarship (GAKhN); in 1927 he was exiled to Tomsk, and in 1930 moved to the town of Kirzhach; in 1933 he returned to Moscow, to be arrested again. In 1936-1954 Durylin lived in Bolshevo near Moscow. He won recognition as a scholar of art and literature (becoming a researcher at the World Literature Institute (IMLI) in 1938, in 1945 a distinguished professor of philology, and in 1945 a distinguished professor and chair of the department of the history of Russian literature at the Institute of Theatre Art (GITIS)), and as author of numerous books and articles on the history of literature and theatre.
Nesterov first met Durylin in 1914 and immediately recognised a kindred spirit, and their acquaintance soon grew into a close friendship. After Durylin's return from his first exile Nesterov decided to paint a portrait of his friend, calling it "Brooding Thoughts". Durylin reminisced: "...the work on the portrait took three months, three days a week, 10-12 sittings on average; three of those were spent trying to identify the best pose and place. Much was changed after the initial sketch made in December 1925. .There was a quest for simplicity, spontaneity... And after much exploration, drafts, sketches on pieces of paper, he suddenly went for the simplest pose I had assumed at the start naturally, not for a portrait: I simply sat at the table - and he said: 'Just sit like this!' And at once took to drawing in coal on the canvas. The canvas had a picture: one of the versions of 'The Wayfarer'... He first completed the head; at once, in one sitting; some small changes were made in some places only at the end of the process, over the dried paints; next came the clothes; then he painted the cabinet and the desk; then the hands; then the books, the shelf -the desk and the cabinet were touched up... 19 Jan., Old Style, Thursday... Yesterday M.V. [Nesterov] for the last time touched up the portrait with a brush soaked in varnish. Last Saturday, 14th Old Style, he worked on it with paints for the last time and decided then to 'look it up again' on Wednesday. He looked it up and decided to leave it as it was. We hugged each other. 'My old friend', he said about me... And I, in reply, called him 'the friend tried-and-true'. He: 'Tried-and-true -yes, exactly'."4
Portrait of the Brothers
Pavel and Alexander Korin. 1930
Nesterov met Pavel (1892-1967) and Alexander Korin (1895-1986), young artists from Palekh who studied at the icon-painting workshop at the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow, when he was working on the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent. Nesterov first contemplated painting their portrait in 1930. By that time the talented artists, belonging to different generations but united by their love for art and common understanding of the artist's mission, had developed a very close friendship. On April 16 1930 Nesterov wrote to Turygin: "...out of sheer boredom I took it into my head to make a (double) portrait of the Korin brothers. Each is interesting in his own way. One in the fashion of the Italian Renaissance, another, in an ultra-Russian style. A cross between Yan Usmo-vich and Mikula Selianinych... Both the brothers are artists, both are skilled in their craft, I would love to spend whatever remains of my strength on their image. I'll come down to business the week after Easter. And words cannot express how difficult it is (especially Alexander). For you know, although I've been in the business for 40 years, I've always lacked self-confidence..."5
Alexander Korin recalled: "On April 29 Mikhail Vasilievich came to us and showed two small watercolour sketches on one sheet of paper. He asked us to assume the poses he sketched... When the canvas was ready, Mikhail Vasilievich carefully drew everything in charcoal, secured the contours and took up the paints. Sometimes we posed together and sometimes separately. He worked standing on his feet, every now and then stepping away from the canvas - and then quickly descending on it again. As he worked, M.V. [Nesterov] talked and engaged us in conversation - perhaps he needed it to keep the work going. We talked about everything. He liked to reminisce about Italy, and we listened and queried him about those things Italian that especially interested us."6 The picture was displayed at the exhibition "Artists of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic: The Last 15 Years", arranged in 1933 at the Historical Museum, and was received with great interest; when the show closed, the piece was bought by the Tretyakov Gallery.
Portrait of Ivan Pavlov. 1935
Nesterov met the academician Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) in 1930. "We exchanged greetings, and I suddenly felt that I'd known this wonderful man for a century," Nesterov recalled. "Words and gestures were sweeping around like a whirlwind. I could not have imagined a more striking personality. He enthralled me immediately, once and for all. Ivan Petrovich had no resemblance whatsoever to the 'official' photographs that I saw... [he was] as original and spontaneous as one could be. This 81-year-old elder was 'content in himself', and this was so charming that I forgot that I was no portraitist, my fear of failure was gone and the artistic feeling awakened, to smother all other feelings - all I desperately wanted was to paint this marvellous old man." The first image of Pavlov was created in 1930, but almost at once the artist decided that it was insufficiently expressive and he would try to repeat the portrait.
Five years later, Nesterov wrote to Durylin: "We are starting a portrait more complex than the first one; the two of us collectively have 158 years of age; shall we overcome all the difficulties - one of us the difficulty of sitting for an artist, the other, that of painting a portrait? ...I seat I.P. [Pavlov] across the table from Viktor Viktorovich (Pavlov's assistant) - the table is graced with flowers: a Matthiola incana, I.P.'s favourite flower, and 'a bridal headdress', a flower provincial but so elegant; its white petals are like stars... Ivan Petrovich does not stay silent for long, and as we proceed, the conversation picks up... My coal glides and hops over the canvas... Livening up, I.P. has a habit of pounding his fist against the table top, to add persuasiveness to his words, so I've captured this gesture so typical for I.P."
"I'm working zealously," the artist wrote to Pavel Korin, "spending five-eight hours a day at the easel. The portrait is nearly completed, the head turned out okay, I'm wrestling with the most distinctive arms, and the old man is a mischief-maker; he cannot sit still, and besides the weather is mercurial; now it's sunny, now it's grey and rainy; I've tired myself out, much of my flesh is gone, and yet I'm pressing on... The life here is lively and interesting, the old man is as before untameable, still playing Lippa [a game with sticks], and when he argues, this is something to watch! But of course I'm totally immersed in the portrait, all my thoughts are about it..."7
Portrait of Sergei Yudin. 1935
Sergei Yudin (1891-1954) was a person with whom Nesterov was in love, to use his own words. A prominent Moscow doctor and a graduate of the medical faculty of Moscow University, after he was called up for active service in 1914 Yudin worked as a doctor in an army hospital, participated in military operations and was awarded the Cross of St. George for his courage. In 1919 he passed the examinations and received an academic degree in medicine. From 1928 Yudin was in charge of the surgery department of the Sklifosovsky Emergency Aid Institute (hospital). But it was not the acclaimed medic's fame that attracted Nesterov to Yudin - instead, it was the doctor's versatility, open-mindedness and charismatic personality. Nesterov saw in Yudin not only a surgeon of great ability and the author of numerous published works, a tireless explorer of new fields and methods, but also a versatile individual who easily developed enthusiasms, and an art aficionado.
The first composition featuring Yudin during an operation was created in 1933. The image captures a moment when the surgeon, preparing a patient for surgery, applies the method of spinal anaesthesia, which he actively promoted. But the artist apparently believed that this image of Yudin the surgeon did not reflect the man's versatile personality. Nesterov confessed to Durylin: "'Serezha' is on my mind - I'm itching to paint him again". On June 5 1935 Nesterov wrote: "...I'm beginning a new portrait of the old model - S.S. Yudin, with whom I've fallen in love again (and perhaps not without reciprocation, which is always agreeable)"8. It was easy for Nesterov to paint Yudin in the latter's office. "For him Yudin the conversation partner, lively, witty, responsive and taking an interest in everything, often paradoxical, always entertaining, was beguiling, alluring, fresh; he perfectly understood that for Yudin living conversation was as much a creative force as his surgical lancet"9.
Twice a recipient of the Stalin Prize, a member of the Academy of Medical Sciences and of surgeons' associations of nearly every European country and the USA, in 1948 Yudin was arrested on charges of espionage, and in 1952 exiled to the town of Berdsk near Novosibirsk. In 1953 he was cleared of the charges, resumed his work at the Sklifosovsky Institute, and died of a heart attack on June 12 1954.
Portrait of Yelizaveta Kruglikova. 1938
Yelizaveta Kruglikova (1865-1941) was often called a "Russian Parisi-enne". She lived in Paris for nearly 20 years, from 1895 to 1914. In the 1900s she took up etching, and later monotype. In 1909-1914 she taught etching at La Palette, an art school in Paris. In 1914 she moved to Petrograd, where in 1922-1929 she taught at the etching department of the graphic arts faculty of VKhUTEIN (the Arts and Crafts College in Leningrad), and later became a director of the etching workshop at the printing faculty of the same school. In May 1938 Kruglikova was in Moscow, a guest of her friend Natalya Severtsova, and the two women paid a visit to the Nesterovs on Sivtsev Vrazhek Street. Kruglikova wore a raven-black costume and, on that May day, captured Nesterov's imagination with the elegance of her silhouette. He exclaimed, "That's my model!" - and immediately asked Kruglikova to sit for him. She agreed and spent three weeks in Moscow instead of the three days she had originally planned. Nesterov wrote to an old female friend: "You are curious about the lady who caused me so much trouble. She's a maiden, interesting and talented, collectively we are 150 years of age... But that's nothing. The maiden is so youngish and coquettishly clever that 19 sittings, all difficulties notwithstanding, went all too quickly. Oh yes, you still have no idea who this enchantress is... This is the famed etcher Yelizaveta Sergeievna Kruglikova..."10
Portrait of Vera Mukhina. 1940
Vera Mukhina (1889-1953) started out as a painter, first at Konstantin Yuon's workshop, before moving on to work with Ilya Mashkov at the end of 1911, and in winter 1912 leaving for Paris, to enroll at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere art school, where she learnt sculpture at Emile Antoine Bourdelle's workshop. While attending Bourdel-le's classes, she also sat in on lectures on anatomy at the Academy of Fine Arts. In summer 1914 she returned to Moscow; on the outbreak of World War I in August, she abandoned sculpture, taking a course in medical nursing, and in 1915-1917 worked in a hospital.
After the Russian revolution she actively participated in the "propaganda through monumental art" programme, in 1926 joining the Society of Russian Sculptors. In 1926-1927 she taught at an arts and crafts college in Moscow, and in 1926-1930 at VKhUTEIN. In 1930 she was arrested, then released after Maxim Gorky's intervention on her behalf. In 1937 she created her most famous piece, the 24-meter-high sculpture "Worker and Collective Farm Woman" for the World's Fair in Paris. Nesterov became acquainted with Mukhina in autumn 1939: "She's interesting and clever. As for her appearance, she has 'a distinctive face', very well-rounded and Russian... I'm itching to paint her, she's consented." Mukhina reminisced: "The fact that he wanted to make my portrait was very important to me. But, to tell the truth, I hate it when I'm being watched at work. I've never allowed anyone to photograph myself in the studio. But Mikhail Vasilievich had set his mind on featuring me at work."11
When Nesterov saw the sculptor at work, he was fascinated: "When she began to tackle the clay, she changed instantly. 'Eh!' I thought. 'That's the way you are!' And she just keeps going at the clay: now a blow, then a pinch, then a good thrashing. The face is aglow. God forbid you get in the way: she'll knock you down. That's the way I want you."12 After finishing the portrait Nesterov wrote to Yelena Prakhova: "Now I'm 'frolicking at liberty', that is I finished the sculptor Mukhina's portrait, it's already in my house and someone already saw it - seems all right, no rants... And again I hear now and then that I'm undeniably 'youthful'. Yes, the portrait is finished, what the future has in store for it is yet unclear, and that it's as good as some previous portraits (also 'youthful') - I see it as others do and... keep this thought to myself. 'The model' likes the portrait, we have established a good contact. Mukhina, in addition to her talents, is a clever and tactful person... [she] manifests purely masculine strength when appropriate, which is reflected in her face, and she can be feminine when appropriate - everything she does is appropriate and timely."13
Portrait of Alexei Shchusev. 1941
Alexei Shchusev (1873-1949) was a graduate of St. Petersburg's Academy of Fine Arts who won acclaim in the early 20th century as an architect of churches in the "Russian style" (including the memorial church on the Kulikovo Field, a monastery in Ovruch, the Trinity Church in the Pochaevskaya Lavra (Monastery), the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent in Moscow, and a hostel for pilgrims and a Christian Orthodox church dedicated to St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker in Bari - all accomplished in 1908-1913). Nesterov and Shchusev had been close friends since the time they had worked at the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent, but the idea of a portrait did not come up before 1940.
Shchusev recalled: "...I came across two dressing gowns bought in Samarkand in 1896... a mottled Bukhara gown with big gay dapples, and another gown, yellow with tiny black streaks, made of spun Hisor silk. They were kept together with a black skull cap with fine white splotches. ...MY [Nesterov] went into raptures about them, asked me to try them on, then looked admiringly for a while and said he was going to portray me in these gowns - the way I am in the morning, when, after a cup of morning coffee, I have a conversation in my study and he listens in and works... June 22 1941... Nesterov in the morning walked into my home... with the firm resolve to set about my portrait. Mikhail Vasilievich looked energetic and determined... he said, 'I'm afraid that I've little strength left, so the canvas is small in size but the image will be full-length'. We spent much time looking for the right sitting position and trying to identify a spot without a reflection from the rosy building next door... Barely had we started work when suddenly my wife walked in from the dining room and said: the Germans have broken through our border lines and shelled our cities, and their hordes are plunging forward toward us without warning or declaration of war. We were astounded but M.V. did not break off... Every morning without fail he came to my place and worked for three or even four hours... When the air raids started, followed by sleepless nights, M.V. missed three or four sittings but worked throughout July, and the portrait was completely finished only by July 30."14
- Durylin, Sergei. "Nesterov in Life and Art". Moscow, 2004. P. 318. Further, Durylin.
- Bulgakov, Sergei, archpriest. "Autobiographical Notes". Paris, 1946. P. 89.
- Durylin. P. 367.
- Durylin, Sergei. "A Place of One's Own". Moscow, 2006. Pp. 192-193.
- Nesterov, Mikhail. "Letters. Selections". Leningrad, 1988. P. 354. Further, Letters.
- Durylin. Pp. 387, 289.
- Letters. Pp. 396-397.
- Ibid. P. 395.
- Durylin. P. 413.
- Letters. P. 415.
- Durylin. P. 460.
- Ibid. P. 461.
- Letters. P. 431.
- Durylin. Pp. 467-468.