Yury Repin - the Hermit of Penaty. BALANCING THE TIES OF FAMILY WITH ART AND RELIGION

Olga Davydova

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“The Gospel is the art of living.”
Yury Repin

Born in 1877, Yury Repin was the third child, and only son of Ilya Repin and Vera Shevtsova. By the first decade of the 20th century he had emerged as an artist in his own right, earning acclaim for his historical paintings and lyrical landscapes, and particularly as a portraitist. As his career progressed, religious themes, especially drawn from the Gospels, gradually became dominant in his work. In 1909, he moved to Kuokkala, where he ran an art school; after the revolution, he remained in exile outside Russia, close company for his father until the latter’s death in 1930. Yury Repin died in Finland in 1954: today, his work is little known, even in art history circles.

“Art is psychological food, hence: beauty and pathos," Yury Repin wrote at the end of the 1910s.[1] His words capture the essence of his creative philosophy, his understanding that fine art is the visual language of the soul.

By that time, Yury Repin was already established as a true master, repeatedly referred to as such by his father Ilya, who a little more than 40 years earlier had excitedly informed Vasily Polenov of the new addition to his family: “Dear Vasily Dmitrievich! I write to you quite overjoyed, as today a son was born to us."[2] Yury, the third of the family's four children, was born at his parent's home in Chuguev (now Chuhuiv, Ukraine) on 29 March 1877 (by the New Style), the only son of Ilya Yefimovich and Vera Alexeievna (nee Shevtsova). Despite Yury's pronounced independence, he spent the greater part of his life close to his father.

Study of Ilya Repin's diaries, correspondence and artistic heritage makes it clear that, over time, Repin-pere felt not only the joy of a father but also genuine respect as an artist for his son's creative personality. “Yura is ever more serious and more original, and is becoming a master. Portraits come to him easily. Likeness, life and expression, all seem to flow from him quite naturally. He sketches with strictness, paints with modesty, and there is originality in his most unpretentious simplicity," he noted in 1898 in a letter to Alexander Kurennoi.[3] Yury did indeed possess the skills of a master of the academic school and an understanding of the old masters, especially Rembrandt. His painting contained the “poetry of colours" and “illusion of tones", that his father Ilya considered to be the distinguishing qualities of the Art Nouveau.[4] “Harmony of combinations" and psychological intuition characterized his historical paintings, portraits and landscapes, as well as his religious and poetic-spiritual compositions.[5] The element of the fantastical in Yury's visual thinking also impressed his father, who considered “imagination, the highest reward for man on earth".[6]

Yury REPIN. Self-portrait with a Dog. 1922
Yury REPIN. Self-portrait with a Dog. 1922
Oil on canvas. 44 × 34 cm. Sotheby’s Auction House. 28.11.2018. Catalogue, lot no. 60

It cannot be said that Yury Repin has been totally forgotten. In the sphere of exhibitions, the pulse of Yury Repin's memory as a creative individual continues to be felt,[7] but in the analytical field of the history of Russian art, his work remains to be rediscovered. Such attitudes can only partly be explained by the focus of researchers' attention on the works of Ilya Repin. Yury Repin's art is distinguished by its complex figurative poetics, which synthesize the experience of realism and Symbolism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, the deep religiosity which influenced both his specific understanding of the purpose of art, and the content of his cyclical themes sourced from the Bible and spiritual experience, was a quality that closed any approach to his work in the Soviet era. An idealist by principle, a visionary to the point of seclusion, he perceived art as a means of putting the Gospel into practice, which partly explains the ambiguity of some memories of him left by Ilya Repin's students and friends (Kornei Chukovsky, in particular).

Not with standing the periodic tensions that appeared, for various reasons, in the relationship between father and son - dictated by factors such as his parents' painful separation in 1887, or difficult material issues - Yury's rebellious maximalism (“better a bad thing, but one's own")[8] was not a determining factor at the level of their creative and human understanding. Yury Repin shared the cherished ideals, “striving, passionate striving for charm", of his father, who had written: “Charm, seek charm in art - this is its immortality."[9] Such enchanted striving certainly played its part in Yury Repin's life, indirectly confirmed even by his external appearance, which was similar both to Peter I (a fact noted repeatedly by his contemporaries) and to Salvador Dali. (The rapturous detachment characteristic of the two artists is particularly apparent today in archive photographs.)[10]

Repin-fils' professional education began under the guidance of his father. In 1893-94 they undertook a long trip around Europe, which profoundly influenced Yury's artistic taste. After his return home, the young artist became systematically engaged in painting, first at his father's Zdravnevo estate near Vitebsk, and from 1895, at the Art Studio of Princess Maria Tenisheva in St. Petersburg, which was run until 1898 by the older Repin. In 1899, Yury entered the Higher School of Arts at the Imperial Academy of Arts as a non-matriculated student, remaining there until 1905, at the same time attending the Higher Arts-Pedagogical courses at the Academy of Arts from 1898 to 1903. He studied at the Academy of Arts in the battle-scene workshop with artists such as Pavel Kovalevsky, Franz Roubaud and Dmitry Kardovsky, but did not finish the course, having in 1904 requested a postponement in the submission of his entry work for the title of “class artist". This formality in no way affected his vocation. “Thanks be to the Creator, my son Yury is an artist by God's grace. He loves art, works with all his soul and is a success... (Now I write Ilya, because there is Yury Repin)," Ilya Repin wrote to the historian Dmitry Yavornitsky in 1910.[11]

Yury was actively involved in exhibitions both prior to the revolution as well as in the difficult years of his life as an emigre. He was also a teacher, accomplishing much, and with great seriousness, both in practical and theoretical studies, as is evident from the lecture given at the All-Russian Congress of Artists of 1911-12.12 In the spring of 1909, Yury Repin moved to Kuokkala, where he opened a small private art school.[13]

His creative originality as an artist was widely noted by his contemporaries, primarily in the historical genre. His painting “The Great Leader (Peter I Before the Battle of Poltava)" (1907-1910, “Field of the Great Poltava Battle" Historical-Cultural Reserve, Poltava, Ukraine) evoked a sympathetic response both at home in Russia and abroad. Dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava, it was awarded the second Gold Medal at the International Exhibition in Munich in 1910, and then sent to be exhibited around various European cities over a period of several months. It also evoked considerable public response in the Russian press: a reproduction of “The Great Leader" appeared on the cover of “Niva" magazine with the caption, “The painting won first prize of 2,000 rubles in a competition held by the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts in St. Petersburg", accompanied by a short text, as well as the young artist's portrait, inside the issue.[14]

Yury REPIN. The Great Leader (Peter I Before the Battle of Poltava). 1907–1910
Yury REPIN. The Great Leader (Peter I Before the Battle of Poltava). 1907-1910
Oil on canvas. © “Field of the Great Poltava Battle” Historical-Cultural Reserve, Poltava, Ukraine

Yury Repin's creative style, which was close to the innovative tendencies in art of the early 20th century, was also notable for the lyrical intonation in his landscape painting. That can also be seen in the artist's historical works, which are free of any artificial, or period, forced quality, as well as in the decorative scale of his battle canvases. The balance between artistic freedom and the narrative concentration of a multi-figure composition is especially evident in his painting “Tyurenchen. Eternal Life in the Glory of Death" (1910-1913, Primorye Picture Gallery, Vladivostok), commissioned by the widowed Empress Maria Fyodorovna, mother of Nicholas II.

His contemporaries, both senior and junior, such as Vasily Mathe, Dmitry Kardovsky, Ilya Ostroukhov, Alexander Savinov, Vasily Svarog and Filipp Malyavin, valued Yury not only as a talented master of large forms, but also as a subtle landscapist and portrait painter; his portrait “My Wife" (1907, acquired by the Tretyakov Gallery that same year) is confirmation of the latter tendency. Ilya Repin described the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the piece in a letter to Valentin Serov: “I was so happy for Yury that Ilya Semenovich [Ostroukhov] valued his work; yes, there is something there."[15] Yury Repin had known Valentin Serov since childhood: admiring his artistic gift, he fully understood the innovative plastic language that Serov achieved in his “Portrait of Ida Rubinstein" (1910, Russian Museum), and sent his telling congratulations to the older artist on that work, “Bowing to your talent and to you, and outraged by the ignorance of those around you."[16]

Yury REPIN. My Wife. 1907
Yury REPIN. My Wife. 1907
Oil on canvas. 75 × 73 cm. Tretyakov Gallery

Pavel Tretyakov's daughter Alexandra Botkina was among the first to notice Yury Repin's exceptional temperament and emotional strength. After visiting the Spring Exhibition at the Academy of Arts in 1907, she wrote to Ostroukhov of Yury's paintings, describing them as the “nail", the crucial element, of the exhibition. “I will not even try to describe it - you have to see it."[17]; “You know, when I recall the Spring Exhibition, Yury Repin comes to mind. His portrait of his wife and child is really good... He has carved himself into my memory."[18] In that same year, the portrait was acquired by the Council of the Tretyakov Gallery and placed in the hall dedicated to the works of “newest artists" (as it would be named by Igor Grabar in 1917).

The poetics of the painting “My Wife" are associated with the important iconographic traditions of the Art Nouveau. The desire to convey in plastic form the inner life of the world visible through the harmony of maternal love, as well as to create a perfect image of maternite - female beauty and youth - were characteristic of many figures associated with the Art Nouveau, including the artists of the Nabi group, as well as Viktor Borisov-Musatov, Pavel Kuznetsov and others.

Yury Repin's attachment to his wife and sons (as to his father) played an integral part in the artist's quotidian and spiritual life equally, and his portraits of them occupy a very special place in his work. Marrying a simple girl, Praskovya Andreeva, in 1905, Yury found the earthly ideal to which he remained devoted all his life. “Yes, I loved her more than any one else on earth after God," he wrote to Isaak Brodsky after the death of his wife in 1929.[19] Yury turned to the image of Praskovya not only during her lifetime but after her death too, which to a large extent reflected the artist's process in shifting from a realistic perception of the world to a symbolic one.

Portraits of his family, friends and acquaintances played an important role in Yury Repin's oeuvre, the majority of them characterized by the penetration of the natural intonation of character and the emotional aura of the individual organically interacting with the space that surrounded them. That is the case, for example, with “Portrait of Father" (1912, Rostov Regional Museum of Fine Arts), in which the artist conveyed Ilya's ecstatic, even extravagantly “dishevelled" character with great authenticity and tenderness. A special romantic tremor and youthful seriousness distinguish the portrait of Ilya Repin's favourite student Isaak Brodsky (1909, KGallery Collection), whereas his “Portrait of Vera Repina against a Japanese Landscape" conveys a particular decorative refinement (1925, KGallery Collection). Produced in the stylistic manner of the Art Nouveau, this piece is marked by the theatrically sophisticated culture that was characteristic of this by then already outmoded style, and also consonant with Vera Repina's artistic nature - “a collective talent: an actress, a singer and an artist," as Ilya Repin wrote of her.[20]

Yury REPIN. Portrait of Father. 1912
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Father. 1912
Oil on canvas. 78.5 × 67 cm. © Rostov Regional Museum of Fine Arts

Another of his portraits of his mother (1917, Tretyakov Gallery) and several of his middle sister Nadezhda reveal a special element of psychology. Ilya Repin responded to one such picture, writing in 1904: “Yura! Your picture, which I saw yesterday for the first time, made a huge impression on me. I like the portrait of Sonya, but this one of Nadezhda is a huge step forward, both in the maturity of the concept and the boldness of its execution. It's equal to ‘Melencolia' by Albrecht Durer (only an engraving, but a miracle nonetheless!)... I advise you to call this picture ‘Neurasthenia'. It will be quite characteristic, and will make the picture stand out. This is very important, especially in the beginning... I am very, very happy and glad to have lived to see such a wonderful phenomenon in our art."[21]

Earlier portraits of the artist's sisters (1896, private collection; 1899, Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino) are endowed with a similar exactitude in conveying the subjective essence of the character of their sitters to that which Ilya Repin would so admire in 1904. In the 1896 portrait, produced at Zdravnevo, Nadezhda is portrayed with short hair, simply dressed and smoking a pipe: thus, the inscription on the reverse of the canvas, “Emancipated Woman", comes as no surprise. A portrait also survives of Yury Repin himself with a pipe (“Self-portrait with a Pipe", 1898, Ilya Repi n Penaty Museum, Repino), executed in a close, emotional style, synthesizing an impression of the perceptive silence of Rembrandt, and the cautious thoughtfulness and austere freedom of paintings by Van Gogh and Cezanne. The outward appearance of the brother and sister (in Yury's 1896 portrait) reflects the unpretentious lifestyle that was characteristic of Zdravnevo during Yury Repin's youth. “In fashion we have an ultra-democratic rusticity: we sleep in the huts, go barefoot or in straw shoes... in the wet, when hunting... sometimes disappearing into the forest all day without food."[22]

The 1896 image that Yury created of his sister seems strangely remote from the charmingly feminine look of “our Parisian," as she was known in the family; it was such an image, too, which Ilya Repin reflected in his “In the Sun. Portrait of Nadezhda Repina" (1900, Tretyakov Gallery). Yury Repin revealed through minimalist means both the determined nature of his heroine, who aspired to become a surgeon, and the tragedy of her fate. (Repin's student Anton Komashka remembered her in his memoir of those years: “From 1915, Nadezhda lived at Penaty with her father as an invalid, isolated, closed, silent.")[23]

In his works of the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, Yury Repin conveyed the warm atmosphere of life both at Zdravnevo and Penaty, although he was not a permanent participant of the creative “circles" that Ilya Repin began to hold from the summer of 1904 onwards. The village of Kuokkala, in which Ilya Repin acquired land to build his “Penates" estate, was a popular dacha spot not far from St. Petersburg.[24] (The area belonged to the Grand Duchy of Finland, which although part of the Russian Empire had a more liberal atmosphere that saw it come to be known as “little Europe". In pre-revolutionary newspapers like “Novoe vremya" (New Time), advertisements for dachas for rent in Kuokkala competed in number with similar notices for Crimea.)

Yury settled not far from his father. In 1909, he had deeds drawn up for a property on a plot at Penaty that he had been given, that was built to an unusual architectural design, for which it came to be called “The Wigwam". The impressionistic sunny merriment of life at this “Finnish Argenteuil" became one of Yury Repin's subjects. His 1906 painting “In the Sailing Boat", now known only from a 1914 poster reproduction above the verses of Maxim Gorky's “The Song of the Stormy Petrel", shows Ilya Repin standing full-length with a guitar; a young lady with ginger hair, Yury Repin's wife Praskovya, who is dressed in the same blue costume that she is depicted wearing in his “Portrait of a Woman (On the Veranda)" (1910s, Chelyabinsk Regional Museum of Arts); and the architect Alexander Dzeskaln, who had designed “The Wigwam".

In 1906 life on the “good ship Repin" was full of sunny harmony, but a decade later it would be rocked, like all of Russia, by the waves of revolution. In 1917, Finland became an independent nation; when the border closed in 1918, Ilya and Yury and the rest of their families found themselves in involuntary but irreversible exile. Despite reflecting painfully on the possibilities of his future existence, by 1925 Ilya Repin had understood his choice: “If the human relationships were as they had been previously, I would go now to where they are inviting [us] so emphatically. But on reflection - no, we mustn't go... I have been working here for almost 30 years, after all... Every spot has its own name: ‘Homer's Playground', ‘Chuguev Mountain', the ‘What Vastness' lake, the ‘Raphael' pond, Lake ‘Ruysdael'... And most importantly, the studio... I have created it all with my own hands, and I won't find the like of it again anywhere else."[25] Like his father, Yury Repin remained in this emigration forever, and stayed to a large part due to his love and feelings of responsibility for his wife, sister and father. In 1925, Yury received a Nansen passport that allowed him to travel and work abroad: its section on citizenship read, “Born Russian, now not considered a national of any country". However, even after he took Finnish citizenship, Yury Repin remained spiritually connected to Russia.

Repin's daughter Vera described their post-revolutionary family life at Penaty: “There is relief to be found here in the religious mood - the Russian church - services on Saturday and Sunday... Oh, how good it is to pray! Father and I often sing in the choir. Our garden is all golden now. Maples, lindens and viburnum; there were many flowers. Recently, we celebrated our saints' days, Vera and Nadezhda... My brother [Yury - O.D.] sent us a large tray, woven from branches of oak, and it was filled with produce from his vegetable garden: a huge orange pumpkin like a bright sun, beautiful tomatoes... Little chickens, honey and honeycomb from his own hives. It was all so beautiful, like a nature morte, that I wanted to paint it!"[26] Such creative love for nature also found reflection in the figurative structure of Yury Repin's works, and in the rich, musical texture of his colours (the sketch “Hives", 1923, Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino).

However, the outside world could not help but impinge on the idealistic aspirations of the inhabitants of Penaty. In February 1929, writing to Isaak Brodsky, Yury Repin described his everyday life as an “exile", one who was “willing to die for Russia": “Time passes in the following way: every day before lunch, I paint upstairs, although the temperature is just four degrees there, or there's frost. After that, I don't go anywhere or visit anyone. I have nowhere to go, no-one to see; there isn't anyone here that I feel to be a kindred spirit, or with whom I have anything in common... If I could get a job in Russia, I would have moved back to you, even as a woodsman in some impenetrable forest."[27] Yury Repin shared his creative ideas in a subsequent letter, written five months later: “I'm redoing Moses Breaking the Tablets. I've painted a picture of a shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. And another picture - Russia Amidst the Storm; standing in a smart Russian costume."[28]

Compositions on the subject of winter recur consistently in Yury Repin's work, and even his naturalist variations on the theme are distinguished by a certain poetic, metaphorical quality. The artist achieves great power of allegory in such works as “In My Fatherland" (1916, Russian Museum; the painting depicts Yury and one of his sons) and “The Hunt" (1927, private collection). The theme of winter continues in his intimate mythical-poetic compositions like “Vision of the Crosses" (1926) and “Landscape with a Church" (1934, both at the Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino). In the context of similar works, the portrait of Leonid Andreev is particularly striking (1920s-1930s, Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino). Filled with a tender, parting sadness, this was a posthumous depiction: Andreev had died in 1919. In essence, the piece symbolizes the fragile beauty of this remarkable personality - their earthly parting from him had dealt the Repin family, who were friends with the writer, a heavy blow - as well as those “dreams of the martyred madness of the soul", which Andreev expressed in his last article, “S.O.S." (1919), or “Save Our Souls". Andreev's broken call to save Russia from the Bolsheviks, as depicted by Yury Repin in the right-hand corner of the composition, figuratively recalls the huge suffering that an individual experiences on losing his Fatherland, when they can no longer comprehend whether it is their final strength that is leaving them, or whether they are simply experiencing a new turn in the prickly spiral of their earthly path, such as Andreev (and Repin himself) had experienced. The subtext intended by Yury Repin - “Mercy! Mercy!" - is strengthened by the comparison between the pained features of Andreev's face and the face of Christ (“The Head of Christ", Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino).

Ilya Repin's lyrical symbolist compositions comprise a special category in his oeuvre, the symbolist imagery in the majority of these pieces generally developed beyond the limits of the stylistic traditions of Art Nouveau, although in individual cases it achieves wonderfully expressive solutions within that genre. One such example is the composition “Quadriga" (1928, Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino), which is marked with the author's note, “from dreams". In this poetic image of the soul soaring above the world, Yury Repin successfully conveyed a certain temporal dimension that is both lyrically contemplative and expressive. In the language of art, “Quadriga", the visual parable-self-portrait (particularly, the lonely figure in a black robe, similar to a cassock) turns into an image-symbol expressed, a kind of a dream following the soul's path through biblical eternity.

Such works, creating spiritual life, dreams, memories, inner strivings and individual insights, expand the boundaries of symbolist trends in Russian art. The fine line between life and death is reflected in Yury Repin's oeuvre in more specific subjects, principally the posthumous portraits of his close relatives. After the death of his wife on 10 January 1929, a feeling of continuous connection with the spiritual other world began to take a more powerful hold on the artist; from that time onwards, his visits to the Lintulsky Convent of the Holy Trinity, where Yury had prepared his own resting place beside Praskovya's grave, became an important part of his daily life. Wanting to preserve the intimacy of spiritual experience, he sought solitary prayer there at night, or watched the sun rise in the woods, from a specially dug pit; the sun symbolized to him the true nature of life, and the emanations of goodness, of Christ. The compositions of the 1920s and 1930s, created partly from visions and dreams that he recorded in his journals, almost always contain an element of metaphorical transformation of real impressions. Among these vision-images, “The Crown" (c. 1930, Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino) is of special importance - a kind of picturesque elegy dedicated to his wife's passing; Yury Repin explained this on the reverse of the composition, which he inscribed with a verse from the Epistle to the Philippians (4, 7), “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ." Repin's own words follow: “This crown became visible to me on the 13th N.S. [by the New Style] = 26th O.S. [by the Old Style] January 1928, when I was praying, eyes closed. A year later, Pasha, my wife, passed into the spiritual world..."

To understand Yury Repin's lyrical-mystical images correctly, it is important to take into account the religious dimension of his worldview, clear confirmation of which can be found in the autobiographical composition “The Feast of the Holy Spirit" (Whitsun Monday) (the work is dated May 21 1934; Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino). In his diary entitled “The Book of Life", the artist wrote: “I was walking alone along the road and thought; ‘I have lost my mother. I lost my father, I have lost my wife, I have lost my children, and even two dogs. Now I have lost myself'... and in that moment, which lasted for 25 steps, against the background of the forest a fiery tongue flashed in front of me from top to bottom... It disappeared before touching the ground. It made no sound. It flashed near the trunk of a silver birch, much surpassing its whiteness, such was the power of the colour. I instantly bowed to the ground and gave thanks to God... that He gave me to see that which came down upon the Apostles (the Holy Spirit)."[29] Deeply moving, pain emanates from the intimate study “Office for the Dead at the Grave of Ilya Repin" (dated 27.IX 1932; Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino), depicting his lonely resting place beneath a cross in a quiet corner of the Penaty park. At the time that the artist created this visual replica of the soul, imbued with the tone of a memorial litiya, or service of blessing, only Yury's older sister Vera Ilyinichna remained alive; Vera Shevtsova (Yury's mother) had died in 1918, Praskovya in 1929, his father Ilya in 1930, and his sister Nadezhda in 1931.

Yury Repin reflected the parting of these loved ones, having dedicated to each a particular work. His sons, meanwhile, were far away: the elder one, Guy (Georgy), had moved to Prague in 1923 to study and lived there (he would emigrate to Germany after World War Two). Diy (Dmitry), the younger son, was a professional sailor; on February 28 1935, “not content with modern life, either here or in America", and after numerous applications for visas to enter the USSR, he crossed the Soviet border illegally, with the intention of enrolling in the Academy of Arts.[30] In August 1935, during the celebrations to mark the 91st anniversary of Ilya Repin's birth, Diy was charged with terrorism and executed (he was rehabilitated in 1991). Yury, despite all his efforts, never learned what had happened to his son, believing that he had been lost without trace. However, an intuitive comprehension of the fate that might very probably have befallen his son remained in Yury's consciousness and found creative expression there. In 1937, he created a psychologically expressive composition “A Prisoner Transport" (private collection, Sweden) - a visual requiem for those buried alive. In order to understand the figurative structure of Yury Repin's works, the viewer must be able to empathize, to co-suffer, and this, to a great extent, explains the artist's subsequent destiny in the history of art.

He understood very well what was really happening in the USSR. “Will they accept me as a citizen?" he asked in one of his letters to Isaak Brodsky.[31] “But if I come to you, I will inevitably end up in exile or in prison. Is that not true? For how could I not protest that the temple of God - of Jehovah and the Messiah - has been transformed into a theatre?"[32] But despite living outside the USSR, fate would have it that Yury Repin, like his father Ilya Repin, found himself in the position of being “overheard and overwatched": from 1925 onwards, the Finnish secret police had been monitoring the family. That circumstance can in many ways be explained by their strong pull to Russia, as a result of which Yury Repin did manage to visit Leningrad, for a final time, in 1926.

With the outbreak of the Winter War between Finland and the USSR in 1939, Yury and Vera Repin were evacuated from Penaty to the small town of Levanto, about 30 kilometers outside Helsinki. In his last years, the artist led an isolated life, walking in a black cassock winter and summer alike, in sandals or barefoot, while he continued to paint and give private art lessons. In 1954, haggard, reduced to poverty and ill, he fell from the fourth floor of a Salvation Army building, whilst trying to open a window.

Despite the tragic end to his life, the works that Yury Repin produced from the 1930s onwards are full of harmony and a love for the beauty of the surrounding world. In them, as in his earlier art, religious compositions occupy a special place: they can be divided into two groups, pieces connected with the canons of church art (such as icons and carvings), and expressive-associative pieces inspired by a state of prayerful, poetical contemplation. Among the latter, one piece that particularly stands out is the dramatic painting “Golgotha (Calvary)" (1938, Scientific Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts) and the triptych filled with an ecstasy of colour, “Ascension" (1930, Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino). Other compositions on the Gospel theme, such as “Religious Motif" (1930s-1940s, private collection), reveal a marked organic combination of harmony and expression.

Any discussion of Yury Repin's outstanding creative talent cannot fail to mention one of his final works - a two-tiered iconostasis of carved oak, which was created in memory of his father for the Church of Elijah the Prophet (1953, architect Ivan Kudryavtsev) at the Orthodox cemetery in Helsinki. That location is now the final resting place of Yury Repin himself, who lies beneath the same cross as his older sister. The simple inscription on the marble memorial reads, in Old Russian and Finnish: “Artist. Actress Vera Repina. 6.10.1872-27.8.1948. Artist. Advocate of humanism Yury Repin. 23.3.1877-9.8.1954".

The artist's creations, both his literary works and his paintings, remain testament to the earthly path that Yury Repin trod. They are filled with the power of spiritual reason and lyrical potential that the Gospels, which were the very cornerstone of his being through to the end of his days, bestowed upon him.

The author expresses her sincere gratitude for the help accorded her by the staff of the Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino, in particular to the late Ye.V. Kirillina, T.P. Borodina and Yu.D. Balatsenko.

 

  1. Repin, Y. ‘Thoughts’ // “Poems, Songs, Sayings and Aphorisms Collected by Yury Repin. 1902-1936". Scientific Archive of the Russian Academy of Arts. Fund 25, Folder 1, item 2050, sheet 53. Hereinafter - Thoughts.
  2. Letter from Ilya Repin to Vasily Polenov, 29 March 1877 // “Ilya Repin. Letters to Artists and the Arts Community". Moscow, 1952. P. 30. Hereinafter - Letters to Artists.
  3. Letter from Ilya Repin to Alexander Kurennoi, 13 September 1898 // “Ilya Repin. Selected Letters": in 2 Vols. Moscow, 1969. Vol. 2. P. 142. Hereinafter - Repin.
  4. Letter from Ilya Repin to Marianne Werefkin, 20 August 1895 // Repin. Vol. 2. P. 108.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Letter from Ilya Repin to Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya, 5 October 1909 // Repin. Vol. 2. P. 256.
  7. “I Was Not Looking for Glory..." Painting by Yury Repin (1877-1954). On the 140th Anniversary of His Birth. Exhibition catalogue: 9 April-9 June 2017. St. Petersburg, 2017. Hereinafter - “I Was Not Looking for Glory..."
  8. Thoughts. Sheet 49.
  9. Letter from Ilya Repin to the “A.I. Kuindzhi Society". 20 August 1895 // Repin. Vol. 2. P. 355.
  10. See: Group photograph of a meeting of Petrograd artists chaired by Ilya Repin and Vladimir Makovsky. 4 May 1917. Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum, fund 41, folder 1, item 103.
  11. Letter from Ilya Repin to Dmitry Yavornitsky, 18 October 1910. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 93, folder 1, item 34, sheet 1.
  12. For more detail see: “Tretyakov Gallery. Collection Catalogue Vol. 5. Painting of the Late 19th-Early 20th Century". Moscow, 2005. P. 287.
  13. Letter from Ilya Repin to Vera Repina, 14 June 1909 // Repin. Vol. 2. P. 254.
  14. “Niva" magazine. 1910. No. 20. P. 380.
  15. Letter from Ilya Repin to Valentin Serov, 4 April 1907 // Letters to Artists. P. 176.
  16. “Valentin Serov in the Memoirs, Diaries and Correspondence of His Contemporaries". 2 Vols. Leningrad, 1971. Vol. 1. P. 97.
  17. Letter from Alexandra Botkina to Ilya Ostroukhov, 4 March 1907. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 10, folder 1, unit 1688, sheet 2 reverse.
  18. Ibid. Unit 1689, sheet 2.
  19. Letter from Yury Repin to Isaak Brodsky, undated. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 2020, folder 1, item 253, sheet 76.
  20. Letter from Ilya Repin to Nikolai Kuznetsov, February 1926 // Repin. Vol. 2. P.365.
  21. Letter from Ilya Repin to Yury Repin, 26 October 1904 // Repin. Vol.2, Pp. 187-188.
  22. Letter from Ilya Repin to Alexander Zhirkevich, 30 July 1895 // Repin. Vol. 2. P. 104.
  23. Komashka, A.M. “Three Years with Repin". Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 100, folder 1, item 816, sheet 58.
  24. Ilya Repin bought his estate at Kuokkala in 1899, moving there some years later. He designed his own house, naming it “Penaty", a reference to the Penates, the Roman household deities invoked in domestic rituals that are closely associated with the guardian deities, the Lares. Soon after the October Revolution, Finland declared independence from the Soviet Russia and Kuokkala became part of the newly independent nation. It was returned to Soviet rule after the Winter War, becoming part of the Leningrad Region in 1948, when it was renamed Repino.
  25. Letter from Ilya Repin to Anatoly Lunacharsky, 1925 // Repin. Vol. 2. P. 363.
  26. Letter from Vera Repina to Pyotr Neradovsky, 2 October 1922. Department of Manuscripts. Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 31, folder 31, item 1365, sheets 7-10.
  27. Letter from Yury Repin to Isaak Brodsky, 9 February 1929. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 2020, folder 1, item 253, sheets 51-52.
  28. Letter from Yury Repin to Isaak Brodsky, 14 July 1928. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 2020, folder 1, item 253, sheets 69-70.
  29. Kirillina, Ye. ‘Yury Ilyich Repin (1877-1954)’ // “I Was Not Looking for Glory...". P. 20.
  30. Letter from Yury Repin to Ilya Ginzburg, 28 April 1935. Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 94, folder 1, item 52, sheet 1.
  31. Letter from Yury Repin to Isaak Brodsky, 18 January 1927. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 2020, folder 1, item 253, sheet 47.
  32. Letter from Yury Repin to Isaak Brodsky, undated. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 2020, folder 1, item 253, sheets 76-77. Borodina, T.P. “Finnish Police Surveillance on Ilya Repin and His Family" (From materials at the National Archive of Finland) // St. Petersburg and the Countries of Northern Europe: ‘Materials from the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference’. St. Petersburg, 2011. Pp.33-46.

Illustrations

Yury REPIN. Sunrise. 1900-е
Yury REPIN. Sunrise. 1900s
Oil on cardboard. 44 × 29 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Cover of “Niva” (Grainfield) magazine (1910, No. 20) with reproduction of Yury Repin’s “The Great Leader (Peter I Before the Battle of Poltava)”, 1907-1910
Cover of “Niva” (Grainfield) magazine (1910, No. 20) with reproduction of Yury Repin’s “The Great Leader (Peter I Before the Battle of Poltava)”, 1907-1910
Yury REPIN. Tyurenchen. Eternal Life in the Glory of Death. 1910–1913
Yury REPIN. Tyurenchen. Eternal Life in the Glory of Death. 1910-1913
Oil on canvas. 106 × 253 cm
© Primorye Picture Gallery, Vladivostok
Yury REPIN. Water-lilies in the Рond at Penaty. 1931
Yury REPIN. Water-lilies in the Рond at Penaty. 1931
Oil on plywood. 61 × 42 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Nadezhda Repina. 1896
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Nadezhda Repina. 1896
Oil on canvas. 64.5 × 82 cm. Private collection
Yury REPIN. Self-portrait with a Pipe. 1898
Yury REPIN. Self-portrait with a Pipe. 1898
Oil on canvas. 45.3 × 33.3 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Vera Repina against a Japanese Landscape. 1925
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Vera Repina against a Japanese Landscape. 1925
Oil on canvas. 102 × 75.5 cm
© KGallery Collection, St. Petersburg
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Isaak Brodsky. 1909
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Isaak Brodsky. 1909
Oil on canvas. 72.5 х 49 cm
© KGallery Collection, St. Petersburg
1914 poster reproduction of Yury Repin’s painting “In the Sailing Boat” (1906, present whereabouts unknown)
1914 poster reproduction of Yury Repin’s painting “In the Sailing Boat” (1906, present whereabouts unknown)
Yury REPIN. Portrait of a Woman (On the Veranda). 1910s
Yury REPIN. Portrait of a Woman (On the Veranda). 1910s
Oil on canvas. 62 × 97 cm
© Chelyabinsk Regional Museum of Arts
Yury REPIN. Hives. 1923
Yury REPIN. Hives. 1923
Oil on plywood. 54 × 51.5 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Winter
Yury REPIN. Winter
Oil on plywood. 27.5 × 44 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Landscape with a Church
Yury REPIN. Landscape with a Church
Oil on plywood. 50 × 40 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. In My Fatherland. 1916
Yury REPIN. In My Fatherland. 1916
Oil on canvas. 116 × 103 cm
© Russian Museum
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Leonid Andreev. “S.O.S.”. 1920s-1930s
Yury REPIN. Portrait of Leonid Andreev. “S.O.S.”. 1920s-1930s
Oil on plywood. 73 × 40 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Vision of the Crosses. 1926
Yury REPIN. Vision of the Crosses. 1926
Oil on plywood. 54 × 40 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Quadriga. 1928
Yury REPIN. Quadriga. 1928
Oil on plywood. 47 × 58.5 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Sketch. First half of the 20th century (1920s-1930s)
Yury REPIN. Sketch. First half of the 20th century (1920s-1930s)
Oil on canvas. 68 × 49 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. The Crown. с. 1930 (?)
Yury REPIN. The Crown. с. 1930 (?)
Oil on plywood. 42 × 34 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Office for the Dead at the Grave of Ilya Repin. 27.IX.1932
Yury REPIN. Office for the Dead at the Grave of Ilya Repin. 27.IX.1932
Oil on canvas. 40 × 57 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Nadezhda Repina in Her Сoffin. March 16 1931
Yury REPIN. Nadezhda Repina in Her Сoffin. March 16 1931
Oil on plywood. 39 × 70 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. А Prisoner Transport. 1937
Yury REPIN. А Prisoner Transport. 1937
Oil on plywood. 37.5 × 32 cm. Private collection, Sweden
Yury REPIN. The Feast of the Holy Spirit. 1934
Yury REPIN. The Feast of the Holy Spirit. 1934
Oil on plywood. 45.5 × 41 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Sunrise in the Forest. 1920s-1930s
Yury REPIN. Sunrise in the Forest. 1920s-1930s
Sketch. Oil on canvas. 68 × 39 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Christ and a Dog. First half of the 20th century [1920s-1930s]
Yury REPIN. Christ and a Dog. First half of the 20th century [1920s-1930s]
Oil on plywood. 48 × 38.5 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Vision of a Prisoner. First half of the 20th century [1920s-1930s]
Yury REPIN. Vision of a Prisoner. First half of the 20th century [1920s-1930s]
Oil on plywood. 43 × 26.5 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Ascension (I). 1930s
Yury REPIN. Ascension (I). 1930s
Oil on plywood. 51 × 76 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Ascension (II). 1930s
Yury REPIN. Ascension (II). 1930s
Oil on plywood. 51 × 76 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury REPIN. Ascension (III). 1930s
Yury REPIN. Ascension (III). 1930s
Oil on plywood. 52 × 74 cm
© Ilya Repin Penaty Museum, Repino
Yury Repin. 1940s
Yury Repin. 1940s
Photograph
Yury REPIN. Religious Motif. 1930-1940s
Yury REPIN. Religious Motif. 1930-1940s
Oil on canvas. 47 × 68 cm. Private collection, Finland

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