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How a boy from a poor Armenian family Hovhannes Gayvazyan gifted a painting to the Pope and became a great artist
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What is the secret of Russian beauties in portraits of Konstantin Makovsky

Konstantin Makovsky was one of the most fashionable and, as they would say, “sought-after” artists of the 19th – early 20th centuries. Emperor Alexander II called him “my painter”, and contemporaries added the epithet “brilliant” to the name of the master. He gained world fame, and his fabulous fees were a constant topic of discussion in society. One of the artist’s favorite topics was Russian women. In this review – their beauty and luxury of folk costumes in a series of portraits of the great painter.

The artistic talent of Konstantin Makovsky manifested itself in early childhood. From the age of four, he began to sketch everything that he liked. Father, a famous artist, Yegor Ivanovich Makovsky encouraged him in this. He taught the young artist the motto “Love and Remember.” As an adult, Makovsky wrote in his memoirs: “What came out of me, I consider myself obligated not to the academy, not to the professors, but exclusively to my father.” I must say that this unique person managed to grow up as many as four painters in his family – three of Makovsky’s brothers and a sister became famous artists. Only the youngest, Maria, took a different path and became a famous actress. However, it was impossible not to show artistic talent in the house, in which in the evenings Karl Bryullov and Vasily Tropinin easily visited the family dinner. It is believed that the work of the latter had a great influence on the formation of the style of Konstantin Makovsky, and many art critics consider his tendency to romanticism and artsy artistic effects very close to Bryullov’s works.

It is known that Konstantin Makovsky was very loving. There were constant rumors about his many novels, which really had reason – by the time of his marriage, the artist already had an illegitimate daughter, and in all he was married three times. The artist was able to fully convey the admiration for female beauty and the luxury of folk outfits in his series of portraits of Boyar and Russian beauties. All these works are united by another feature. They feel the artist’s incredible respect for the modesty and fragility of youth. More than 60 canvases were created by Makovsky on this subject, and on each of them the girl has her own special world, her dreams. On each, Russian fairy tales seem to come to life.

Konstantin Makovsky was one of the first Russian artists to work in the genre of historical painting. All the folk costumes depicted by him are drawn from nature. To create paintings on historical topics, the painter did a great ethnographic work, turning to collectors and looking for the right patterns. His son told about this:

“Father used to collect domestic antiquity mainly: sundresses, gas chambers, shushuns, kokoshniks and kitsch, disassembled by pearl weaving … jewelry with diamonds and glass pieces on multi-colored foil, earrings, buttons, weathered … cups, brocades, salt shakers, dishes, trays, crystal, porcelain, majolica, bronze, candlesticks, candelabra, sconces and caskets, caskets and lace, embroidery, velvet, satin, brocade with arshins and pieces … Heavy dressers were stuffed with scraps of ancient materials … ”

Konstantin Makovsky, Boyarsky wedding feast in the XVII century. 1883, Hillwood Museum, Washington, USA

This picture has gained great fame thanks also to the history of its sale. The first buyer to buy the canvas was Tretyakov, but the artist requested 20,000 rubles for it. This incredible amount was quite an ordinary fee for Konstantin Makovsky, but the famous collector had to retreat – he could not pay such a price.

Then the painting was sold abroad, and three times more expensive – the American jeweler Schuman paid 60,000 for it and was still able to use the purchase to make a profit. The canvas was exhibited in the window of his trading house and attracted a huge number of visitors. Then the clever businessman organized the production of postcards in the Russian style with paintings by Makovsky.

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