SEROV, Valentin
(b. 1865, St. Petersburg, d. 1911, Moscow)


Russian painter, graphic artist and stage designer. As a child he lived in St Petersburg, but he made frequent trips abroad. In 1874 he travelled to Paris with his mother and frequented the studio of the Russian Realist painter, Ilya Repin. In 1875 the art patron Savva Mamontov invited Serov and his mother to settle at Abramtsevo outside Moscow, where he again had the opportunity to study under Repin and to meet other artists in the Mamontov circle. The Symbolist paintings of Mikhail Vrubel' and the late Impressionist landscapes and figure studies of Konstantin Korovin he saw at Abramtsevo had a lasting influence on the young Serov.

From 1880 to 1885 he studied at the Academy of Art, St Petersburg, under Pavel Chistyakov (1832-1919). During the 1880s Serov also travelled abroad and became aware of French Impressionism. He began to use bright colours in portraits of figures seen in dappled sunlight and shade, as in his portrait of Vera Mamontov, Girl with Peaches (1887) and a portrait of Mariya Simonovich, Girl in Sunlight (1888; both Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery). Russians were so unfamiliar with French Impressionism at this time that when Pavel Tretyakov immediately bought the Girl in Sunlight one of the older Realist artists complained that he was 'infecting [his] gallery with syphilis'.

From 1890 onwards, the portrait became the basic genre in Serov's art. He establish himself as one of the leading Russian artists, painting most of the leading personalities of his time, and in 1897 was appointed official portrait-painter to the czar.

At the turn of the century, Serov was at a stylistic turning point: features of Impressionism disappeared from his work, and his modernistic style developed, but the characteristic truthful and realistic comprehension of the nature of his subjects remained constant.

Serov's work is mainly in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, and the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.