Description of the artwork «Pushkin on the act in the Lyceum on January 8, 1815»
Speaking about Repin’s Pushkin in the Lyceum painting, it makes sense to talk about two works of the artist at once. In 1910, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Tsarskoye Selo Imperial Lyceum, the Lyceum Society commissioned the artist to depict Pushkin reading his “Memories in Tsarskoe Selo” during an exam in front of Derzhavin. To help the artist recreate the atmosphere, the lyceum students staged their own version of the famous exam.
Repin got down to the work on a grand scale. The customers, seeing the work going, were pretty surprised — they meant a small picture, while Repin painted on a huge canvas measuring 2 by 4 meters. As a result, he painted the A. Pushkin on the Act in the Lyceum on Jan. 8, 1815 on a canvas 123.7 x 195.5 cm. It is kept in the All-Russian Pushkin Museum in St. Petersburg (see reproduction on this page). The large canvas with a long title Pushkin on the Act in the Lyceum on Jan. 8, 1815 Reads His Poem, ‘Memories in Tsarskoe Selo’ was shown at one of the Itinerant exhibitions. In 1933, the painting was purchased by the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Masaryk, for 120 thousand Czechoslovak crowns. To this day, it is in Prague.
Let’s recall the event itself. In 1815, the renowned poet Gavrila Derzhavin attended the exam in Russian literature at the Lyceum. There he met the young Pushkin. The picture recreates the atmosphere of the exam, it lasted for a long time and obviously, everyone was tired. And suddenly (oh, Repin loved to depict moments, the description of which began with the words “all of a suddden...”) a lively curly young man got to the centre and read his poems with fierce passion. A lyceum friend of the poet, Ivan Pushchin recalled: “Pushkin read with extraordinary spirit.” This spirit is visible to the naked eye!
Derzhavin, who was about to doze off, got up from his seat feeling with both delight and distrust, and watched the agitated youth, fully concentrated on his reading. Many faces are turned in his direction, they listen with a smile and interest and look at the boy approvingly.
The composition of the painting is based on classical principles. The main subject, Pushkin, is located on the right side of the canvas along the golden section line. He stands in an open space, contrasting against the background of the surrounding with especially light shades — the shining face, snow-white pantaloons, white buttons on the tailcoat. On the left is a table covered with red cloth, the colour of which matches Derzhavin’s clothes. Red and white colours also comprise the flooring pattern. The distance from the head of Derzhavin, the second key subject in the picture, to the right edge of the canvas is divided into two equal parts by the line of the golden section, which run along the figure of the young poet.
The action takes place in a large hall with columns and a portrait of the emperor in the background. Spectators stand and sit in a semicircle — representatives of aristocratic families, ladies in rich outfits, white shirt-fronts of gentlemen. The mood of the picture is joy, delight of youth, inspiration and courage. The examination room is illuminated by sunlight. The figure of the young poet seems to shine, it is full of such emotion and passion, so dynamic that you involuntarily believe that this young man would succeed in everything he thinks about.