Portrait of a chorus girl

Konstantin Korovin • Painting, 1887, 53.5×41.2 cm
Digital copy: 1.4 MB
1587 × 2048 px • JPEG
41.2 × 53.5 cm • 97 dpi
26.9 × 34.7 cm • 150 dpi
13.4 × 17.3 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Portrait
Style of art: Impressionism
Technique: Oil
Date of creation: 1887
Size: 53.5×41.2 cm
Artwork in selections: 25 selections
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Description of the artwork «Portrait of a chorus girl»

The Portrait of a Chorus Girl by Konstantin Korovin is considered one of the first Impressionist paintings by a Russian artist. Young Korovin, who studied under Savrasov and Polenov Savrasov and Polenov at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and was nicknamed Kostenka the Colourist there, intuitively experimented in the Portrait of a Chorus Girl with impressionistic painting techniques: for example, he was more concerned with purely artistic tasks (tone ratio, nature of strokes superposition, the play of light reflexes on the face and clothing) than revealing the character of the subject.

The question of influences
Dora Kogan, the author of books about the artists Korovin, Vrubel, and Golovin  expresses her confidence that in the Portrait, “Korovin is already taking the first steps along the path of impressionism regardless of any influence.”
She is obviously right. In the first half of the 1880s, Korovin did not yet have an opportunity to go abroad and see the works of the French artists. On the other hand, Vasily Polenov, one of the most educated artists of his time, travelled abroad, including Paris. The meeting between Korovin and Polenov took place at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture: Korovin studied there, Polenov came to teach instead of Alexei Savrasov in the landscape studio. Golovin, 
Levitan and other artists studied together with Korovin. But only Korovin was the one whom the new teacher asked: “Are you an Impressionist? Do you know them?” Korovin did not.

But the novice painter realized that he was not very interested in realistic ways of depicting, that the methods of the Itinerants were alien to his nature, that the plein air attracted him more than journalism, that the sketchiness of paintings often derives not from a lack of skill or time to finish the work, but rather the new reality of art. “Realism in painting has endless depths,” Korovin agreed to admit, “but let them not think that a protocol is a work of art.”

On the reverse side of the Portrait of a Chorus Girl the artist would later write a kind of explanation to the picture, indicating the circumstances of its creation and subsequent perception: “In 1883, in Kharkiv, a portrait of a chorus girl. Painted on a balcony in a public commercial garden. (…) Serov had not yet painted portraits at this time. And they found incomprehensible the painting of this sketch??!! So that Polenov asked me to remove this sketch from the exhibition, since neither the artists nor the members like it — Mr. Mosolov and some others. The model was a charmless woman, even somewhat ugly. Konstantin Korovin”.

The artist implied that Serov’s masterpieces, the 
Girl with peaches"and Girl in sunlight had not yet been created, which meant that all the proto-impressionist finds in the Portrait of a Chorus Girl are his own. Well, today’s experts from the Tretyakov Gallery have established that Korovin’s memory was still at fault regarding the dates: the Chorus Girl was painted in the same year as the Girl with Peaches, 1887, though it does not negate the innovative nature of the Korovin’s painting.
How new, incomprehensible, even unacceptable for some the Korovin’s Portrait of a Chorus Girl turned out to be, is evidenced by the fact that the Moscow Society of Art Lovers indignantly rejected the picture; it was removed from the exhibition. Korovin, for his part, did not fit into traditional painting on many points: when he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts after the School in order to expand his capabilities, he stayed there for only three months and gave up, completely disillusioned with the teaching methods.

How he Portrait of a Chorus Girl misled Ilya Repin
In his memoirs, Korovin told a funny story about how Savva Mamontov fooled Repin and made him believe that the Portrait of a Chorus Girl is the work of a certain Spanish artist. Korovin was introduced to Mamontov’s house by his teacher, Vasily Polenov.
In the evening,” Korovin recalled, “Vasnetsov, Polenov, Repin and others drank tea. There I first saw Mamontov — a special person. He was joyful and simple.
‘Shall we go to the studio,’ Savva Ivanovich suggested. ‘I will show you a portrait by a Spanish artist. For Ilya Yefimovich saw and said that the Spaniards are great in painting: they paint everything brightly, in vivid colours’.
In his studio, I saw my sketch on an easel, the head of a woman in a blue hat against the background of the garden leaves, lit by the sun. Polenov took this sketch from me earlier.
‘Yes,’ said Repin, looking at my sketch. ‘A spaniard! I see. He paints boldly, juicy. Perfectly. But this is just painting for painting. A Spaniard, however, a hard-tempered one...’
Savva Ivanovich laughed, looking at me, then said:
‘But look here, if this is not a Spaniard, but a Russian, what do you say?’
‘A Russian? No, no way…’
‘Here is the Spaniard!’ said Savva Ivanovich, pointing at me. ‘What else do you want? A brunette, as good as any Spaniard!..’
And Savva Ivanovich burst out laughing, embracing me. Vasnetsov approached and said:
‘Savva played us up. Indeed, did you really paint that?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It was me’.”

The Portrait of a Chorus Girl by Korovin: what's next?
His acquaintance with Mamontov turned out to be a happy ticket for Korovin: firstly, he would rather soon become famous as a decorator at the Mamontov Private Opera, and secondly, already in 1888, Savva Ivanovich took his young friend abroad for the first time. “My young companion Kostenka,” Mamontov wrote in his Travel Notes, “began to come into indescribable delight from everything foreign as soon as we stepped across the Austrian border, he felt free from the oppressive and testing gaze of the Russian gendarme.”

Konstantin Korovin would visit Italy and France several times, see Old Italian Masters and new French ones. In 1900, the artist would conquer Paris in his own way: he would be awarded an international prize at the Paris World Exhibition. At that time, the grateful Korovin would write to his teacher, who was the first to discern an Impressionist in him, when “Kostenka the Colourist” did not even know the very word: “My dear, no one would ever encourage me, and therefore no one would have lifted my spirit if I did not meet you. This is my everlasting consciousness. I want you to know, Vasily Dmitrievich, that your image, sincerity and honesty are always in me... In Paris, I was asked whose student I was and where did I study? I wrote: Professor Polenoff. Moscou”.

... In 1923, Korovin would be forced to leave Russia for France for good. Alexandre Benois would call Korovin the first Russian Impressionist.

Written by Anna Vcherashniaya