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Portrait of Savva Mamontov

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1896, 130×96.5 cm • Oil, Canvas

Description of the artwork «Portrait of Savva Mamontov»

Zorn created the Portrait of Savva Mamontov in Paris, a year before his visit to Russia. By that time the painter had already been ranked among the Impressionists due to his confident sweeping brushstrokes (the artist used a broad brush) and rapid manner of painting. Even though his portraits were not a photographic reflection of reality, they very accurately grasped the character and essence of people and therefore enjoyed great demand.
As a portraitist, Zorn was a real superstar. Kings, presidents and billionaires lined up to get a portrait done by him. But not everyone was lucky: the eccentric artist could refuse anyone whom he simply did not like. This happened to Rockefeller, when he offered to pay for his portrait one dollar more than the 27th President of the United States William Taft.
Besides Zorn, Savva Mamontov was painted by other major artists: Repin, Serov, Vrubel. The latter was so proud of his portrait of the famous philanthropist that he openly considered it far more successful than the paintings of his colleagues. “Today I see that Zorn’s portraits are not a patch on mine,” Vrubel wrote to his wife, “and Serov doesn’t have firmness of technique: he takes the right tone, the right figure; but there’s no onslaught, no delight in them.”
It is difficult to agree with Vrubel’s last argument: Zorn’s portraits definitely have enough onslaught. His strokes are furious, which is clearly seen in the background of the picture. The artist arranged a real attraction, where he demonstrated the ability to paint a finished work in just one session. The audience was always delighted.
According to one of the most popular versions, Mamontov’s portrait was created at one of such public sessions during Zorn’s visit to Russia in 1987, although this is not the case. The artist finally mastered his rapid manner of painting at the end of an 8-year stay in Paris. In order to master his skills, Zorn created many versions of the same image, using different techniques: etching, watercolour and then oil. Subsequently, it allowed him to paint pictures in one session, without any preparation or preliminary sketches.
The Portrait of Savva Mamontov was commissioned by the Board of Yaroslavl railway for the building of the Yaroslavl station in Moscow (since Mamontov was a major shareholder and director of the company’s association). When Mamontov asked Zorn why he had not painted any buttons on his jacket, he answered, “I’m not a tailor, but an artist.”
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About the artwork
Subject and objects: Portrait
Style of art and technique: Impressionism, Oil

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