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Why great painters secretly used photography as nature, and what the exposure threatened
Why great painters secretly used photography as nature, and what the exposure threatened

When the world learned about the invention of photography in 1839, a commotion began among the artists. Many masters of that time abandoned realistic painting and began to look for other directions for their self-expression. But there were also those who unexpectedly discovered a big plus in photographs and began to secretly actively use them in their work. It is reliably known that many famous and famous artists resorted to such tricks, including Repin, Van Gogh, Alphonse Mucha and others. And there were those who paid for it with their lives.

Photography quickly began to "argue" with the fine arts. The new invention of technology instantly cast doubt on the once solid authority of painting. After all, if there is a mechanized way of creating an image, then why do we need painting - some said. And whether the "soulless machine" can convey all the nuances - the latter appealed. It was then, in the century before last, that two arts clashed in a tough dispute, which nowadays quite harmoniously coexist. Moreover, it took more than one decade to reconcile them.

One of the very first photographs in the world

And then, in the middle of the 19th century, with the birth of photography, the entire artistic environment was completely confused. Some painters put an end to their careers, while others began to come up with incredible techniques that were very far from realism. Just remember the newfangled artistic trends that literally swept the entire world of fine arts at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries: impressionism and abstractionism, modernism and surrealism, cubism and avant-garde …

But the most advanced masters secretly put photography in the service of their creativity, making it an auxiliary, but rather reliable way of fixing nature. And although for many years they were convicted of plagiarism and dishonesty, this in no way diminished the importance of their brilliant works. However, there was a tragic case in history when the artist did not survive the persecution of critics and envious people, reaching complete despair, and committed suicide. We will tell about this story in our next publication.

And only with the passage of time, by the beginning of the 20th century, photography was recognized as an independent art form, and the use of photographs by painters began to have a completely different character.

Ilya Repin (1844 - 1930)

Ilya Efimovich Repin. Photo from the artist's archive

Of course, the artists who worked in the 19th century did not admit to using photographs to create their paintings, even the mention of photography in relation to their work was taboo. It was considered unacceptable and shameful to use photography as an aid. Nevertheless, history knows for sure that many masters, despite their enormous authority, used pictures systematically. These include the work of the genius Russian painter Ilya Repin.

When more than 80 years ago it was decided to open a memorial museum of the artist in the famous Penaty house of Repin that survived the war, historians found two and a half thousand photographs in the archive among the painter's papers, manuscripts and letters, which were later included in the archive of the Academy of Arts.

Artist Ilya Repin paints a portrait of the singer Fyodor Chaliapin in his studio at Penaty in February-March 1914. From the artist's photo archive

Many photographs were taken personally by the artist, they were often published and became textbooks. And another part of them, much later, attracted the attention of researchers of the artist's work. The photographic documents, examined more closely, revealed a very interesting picture, and in the process of studying, the researchers opened the veil of some of the secrets of the painter's craft.

So, among the photo archive of Ilya Efimovich, among others, about four hundred photographs of various artists and their paintings were found. The archive also contained about a hundred photographs from his canvases and the same number of photographs of Repin with models during sessions, and many of them show an image created by the artist. But there were also photographs of models or prototypes that the artist depicted in his painting.

"Princess Sophia Alekseevna". (1879). Canvas, oil. Dimensions: 204, 5 x 147, 7. Tretyakov Gallery. Artist: Ilya Repin. / The cook in the pose of Princess Sophia Alekseevna. Photo by I.E. Repin. End of the 1870s

This is how a photograph of a cook who served in Repin's house was found. In the photo, as you can see, she is depicted in a pose like the princess Sophia Alekseevna. Most likely, it was this photo that served as a kind to create the image of the princess, who at one time was overthrown by Peter I and locked in a monastery, where she took monastic vows. The most soulful thing in the picture is the eyes of the princess. One can read in them incredible resentment, and sadness, and anger, and outright hatred.

Valentina Serova, Mother of the artist V. Serov, who served as the prototype for the image in Repin's painting Princess Sofya Alekseevna. (1879)

Also, in the work on the portrait, Repin used the image of the artist's mother Valentin Serov, as a result of which a woman looks at us from the picture, in which intellect and dignity are bizarrely combined with brute force.

Repin also has a portrait of V.V. Stasov, painted in 1883, mostly based on photographs, which is eloquently confirmed by the lines from Ilya Efimovich's letter: A month later, the portrait of the music critic was ready. It is unlikely that Stasov had time for long posing, and Repin had no choice but to write it from a photo.

Portrait of V.V. Stasov, Russian music critic. / Portrait of Mikhail Glinka, Russian composer. Author: Repin I.E

In the early 1880s, the collector of Russian painting P.M. Tretyakov ordered Repin a portrait of the then deceased M.I. Glinka. The portrait was completed in 1887. Getting to work, the artist went through several variants of the composition, where Glinka was both standing and sitting at the instrument. As a result, Repin settled on the posture of a reclining musician, focused on creativity, who, as it were, listens to the sounds arising in his imagination. This time both the model and the sitter for Repin was the father of his wife A.I. Shevtsov, who often served as a model of images for other paintings.

More openly, Repin began to use photography in his work at the beginning of the 20th century. And directly in the work on the large-scale canvas "Solemn meeting of the State Council on May 7, 1901 on the day of the centenary of its establishment", which is a colossal painting, on which Ilya Repin worked for three years with assistants - I.S. Kulikov and B.M. Kustodiev. By genre, it is a collective portrait with 81 figures. The size of the canvas is 4m x 8.77m.

"Solemn meeting of the State Council on May 7, 1901, on the day of the centenary of its establishment" (1903). State Russian Museum. Artist: Ilya Repin

Regarding this work, it is reliably known that when preparing I.E. Repin personally, he took pictures of each member of the Council with his camera (a total of 130 photographs). It was with the help of photographs that the artist painted the Grand Dukes Mikhail Nikolaevich and Vladimir Alexandrovich, as well as S.Yu. Witte, I.I.Shamshin, A.A. Polovtsov, S.M. Volkonsky, N.N. Gerard, A.I..Goremykina.

To give the picture a naturalism, he shot his models in the meeting room in completely natural poses, both in groups and individually. So, striving for perfection, the artist filmed more than 10 variants of photographs from only one V.K. Pleve.

But what is interesting is that when a customer asked Repin to paint a portrait from a photograph, he, as a rule, refused. Working without a living nature has always discouraged Repin. The exceptions were the portraits of geniuses who had died by that time: Bryullov, Pushkin, Gogol, Shevchenko, and also Glinka. And besides, when reproducing the images of these people, Repin used death masks made of plaster.Most of all, in his creative practice, he appreciated his direct impression of what he saw, and used photographs for the most truthful and complete display of real nature.

We also bring to your attention a fascinating publication on this topic: Famous contemporaries of Repin in the photo and in painting: what were the people in real life, whose portraits the artist painted.

Alphonse Mucha (1860 - 1939)

Alphonse Mucha is a Czech artist and designer

However, everyone was outdone in this matter by the Czech artist and designer Alfons Mucha, who, in addition to painting, was engaged in professional photography. Everyone was amazed at his skill, with which he conveyed fleeting glances, easy poses and graceful gestures of female images in his paintings. He emphasized all the nuances in the images of models with incredible precision. Many did not even realize that the artist resorted to using photographs, which helped him succeed in portrait painting. The artist had two cameras with which he experimented. Many models have visited his studio: from writers and poets to secular lionesses and ordinary girls willingly posing for the camera. By the way, Sarah Bernhardt herself stood in front of Alphonse Mucha's camera.

Playbill of Alphonse Mucha

Subsequently, he used these pictures to create posters for the performances in which Bernard played. Mucha's work made a splash in Paris. Collectors, hunting for the coveted specimen, bribed the posters, cut the posters from the pedestals. And the delighted Sarah, having offered Mucha a long-term contract to develop posters for her performances, turned into his patroness and muse. What connected actress Sarah Bernhardt and artist Alphonse Muhu, or the story of one poster - in more detail in our publication.

Playbill of Alphonse Mucha

Many, for sure, will be surprised that in the artist's photo archive after his death they found more than 1.5 thousand pictures of different models, which he collected in thematic catalogs.

In our publication "What were Alphonse Mucha's models in real life: Captivating images in paintings and their prototypes in photographs" - we suggest that you familiarize yourself with the paintings created by the author from photographs in more detail.

Edgar Degas (1834 - 1917) Blue Dancers

Blue Dancers. (1897). Pastel on paper. 65 x 65 cm. Artist: Edgar Degas

The French painter Edgar Degas also used photography in his work. For example, he painted his famous "Blue Dancers" using several photographs of one dancer, who was photographed in motion in different poses. Then the artist selected the most suitable photos for his and combined them in a wonderful dynamic composition.

It should be noted that other Impressionists also did not lag behind and used the achievement of technology for their own purposes.

Van Gogh (1853 - 1890) "Portrait of a Mother"

Mother's portrait. Author: Vincent Van Gogh

What can we say, if Van Gogh himself painted a portrait of his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, based on black and white photography. In a letter to his brother, Theo Van Gogh wrote:

P.S. Nikolay Ge (1831 - 1894) "The Last Supper"

Summing up the above, a logical question involuntarily arises. But what about artists who create works of genius, often large-scale with a huge number of images, write without aids?

The Last Supper. (1863). Artist: Nikolay Ge

Curiously, almost every painter had his own individual solution to this problem. Nikolai GE, for example, sculpted clay figurines in certain poses and built them into a conceived composition. It was this technique that he used when creating his painting "The Last Supper".

Repin wrote this about the creative process over the painting of his colleague:

By the way, Nikolai Ge was the most amazing person. And his fate deserves special attention. fascinating stories from the life of the famous painter and amazing person Nikolai Ge - in our publication.

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