ARGUNOV, Ivan Petrovich
(b. 1729, St. Petersburg, d. 1802, Moscow)
Russian painter and teacher, one of the founders of the Russian school of portrait painting. He came from a family of serfs, belonging to the Counts Sheremetev, that produced several painters and architects. He had grown in the family of his uncle, Semyon Mikhaylovich Argunov who was a steward of princess Cherkassky and later a major-domo for count Sheremetev.
In about 1746-47 he was a pupil of Georg Christoph Grooth (1716-49), who painted portraits of the Sheremetev family. With Grooth, Argunov worked on the decoration of the court church at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin). A full-length icon of St John of Damascus (1749; Pushkin, Palace Museum), in Rococo style, is distinguished by its secular, decorative character. The Dying Cleopatra (1750; Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery) is typical of Rococo decorative painting of the mid-18th century, with its striking combination of light, soft tones.
Argunov subsequently in the 1760s painted in a quite different style, mainly producing portraits, of which about 60 are known. Among the first of these are pendant portraits of Ivan Lobanov-Rostovsky and his wife (1750 and 1754; St Petersburg, Russian Museum), in which the sitters are idealized, as in ceremonial court portraits. The colour schemes of the two portraits are complementary, a device Argunov was to favour, and the feel of materials is admirably rendered. A certain flatness and stiffness in the figures recalls the old tradition of parsun (semi-iconic) painting.
In 1770 Argunov became the majordomo for the Sheremtev's house on Millionnaya street, then the majordomo of the Moscow house of Sheremetevs, then one of the stewards for their estates. He painted much less but it was in that time (1784) he created his masterpiece The Portrait of an Unknown Peasant. Modern studies suggest that the woman on the portrait was the serf actress and singer of counts Sheremetevs, Anna Kovalyova-Zhemchugova. Between the second half of 1780s until his death in 1802 Argunov did not paint but spent all his time managing different estates and businesses of Sheremetevs.
Argunov was a teacher of art. He taught painting classes beginning in 1753. Among his students were Anton Losenko, Fyodor Rokotov, Golovachevsky and Sablukov - all four future teachers of the Academy. Argunov's sons were also his pupils. Two of them, Nikolay Argunov and Yakov Argunov became painters, while the third, Pavel Argunov, became an architect.