Ilya Efimovich Repin • Painting, 1876, 322×230 cm
Digital copy: 714.1 kB
2000 × 2837 px • JPEG
35.3 × 49.4 cm • 144 dpi
33.9 × 48.0 cm • 150 dpi
16.9 × 24.0 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Literary scene
Style of art: Realism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1876
Size: 322×230 cm
Artwork in selections: 178 selections
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Description of the artwork «Sadko»

Repin executed his Sadko painting in Paris. Having received the Great Gold Medal of the Academy of Arts for his Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, Repin received the right to a pensioner (that is, paid by the Academy) trip to Europe. The image of Sadko was painted from Victor Vasnetsov, who later became famous, among other things, for his fairy-tale subjects (he depicted his own Sadko).

The theme of the picture was the Novgorod epic about the guslar Sadko, who became rich with the help of the sea king. His merchant ships froze in the middle of the sea and, to appease the sea lord, Sadko sank to the bottom. The painting depicts the moment when, by order of the sea king, he chooses a wife for himself in the underwater kingdom. Gorgeous beauties pass in front of him, but according to advice received from Nicholas of Mozhaysk (later called Nicholas the Wonderworker), Sadko chose a simple Russian girl Chernavka, who is visible in the background.

To create the magical space of the underwater kingdom, Repin examined the Berlin marine aquarium, admired the marine life in Normandy, and visited the Crystal Palace in London. According to legend, he painted the seabed in the Parisian oceanarium. Bizarre algae, amazing fish, shellfish, starfish create a fabulous atmosphere. The chain of beauties passing in front of Sadko eradiates light, they seem to be underwater treasures worth descending to the bottom of the sea. Sadko is holding a gusli, his gaze is directed into the distance, where Chernavka is half-turned and also looks at him. In the same place, in the depths of space, a goldfish is visible — it was she who brought him good luck in the epic.

One of the interpretations of the picture — the girls swimming in front of him personify different countries and artistic movements, but the hero’s heart is in a simple Russian girl. Such a version was suggested by Repin himself, speaking of the Sadko’s choice: “The idea expresses my present position and, perhaps, the position of all Russian art as yet.” It is appropriate to recall here that in 1874 the first exhibition of the Impressionists was held in Paris, and Repin visited it. He was fascinated by technique, but he found no sense in the new art movement. However, it’s not cut and dried; not accepting the “pure art”, Repin tried to follow its postulates from time to time, condemning the journalism of critical realism.
For the first time the public saw Sadko at the Paris Salon of 1876. Its appearance wasn’t noticed in France, but in Russia, Repin was awarded the title of academician for this work. The canvas was immediately acquired by the Grand Duke Alexander (future Emperor Alexander III). Meanwhile, the artist himself had a low opinion of the picture, considering it tasteless and vulgar. However, Repin was often overstrict with himself and admitted that seeing his paintings at exhibitions and in museums, he felt “hopelessly unhappy”, because he found his own creations mediocre.

Written by Aliona Esaulova