Серов, Суриков, Врубель, Васнецов, Репин, Поленов, Савинский, Борисов-Мусатов, Грабарь – знаменитые чистяковцы, в разное время прошедшие жесткую школу Павла Петровича. Фразы учителя, ставшие афоризмами, ученические работы авторов будущих шедевров, их воспоминания - все это показывает образ учителя настолько неординарного, что хочется самому записаться в "чистяковский класс". Хотя бы заочно!

His upbringing system can hardly be called affectionate, but the highest praise for the teacher is the enthusiastic recollections of his pupils and their amazing artworks. The mentor Chistyakov was able to reveal the originality of each student’s talent according to his gift — that was his vocation.

“I would like to be called your spiritual son”, Vasnetsov wrote in a letter to his favourite teacher

Павел Петрович Чистяков. Римский нищий
Римский нищий
Pavel Petrovich Chistyakov (1832—1919) often told his students the story of how he came to Petersburg as a boy from the Tver province with the only desire to become an artist. After graduating from the Academy with several gold medals, he went on a so-called “retirement” (paid by the Academy) trip to Europe. Back in his homeland in 1870, he received the title of academician for his Roman Beggar painting, which was also very favourably accepted at the World Exhibition in London. In 1872, Chistyakov became an adjunct professor at the Academy, which meant only pedagogical activity and preserved him from taking part in the affairs of the educational institution.

V. E. Savinsky. Portrait of P. P. Chistyakov, 1881
Павел Петрович Чистяков. Джованнина, сидящая на подоконнике
Джованнина, сидящая на подоконнике
1864, 99×52 см
Павел Петрович Чистяков. Голова девушки в повязке. Этюд
Голова девушки в повязке. Этюд
1874, 56×41.5 см

Chistyakov displeased the Academy authorities with his unconventional view of teaching methods, which were considered unshakable at the Academy, and with his views on art, so he only became a member of the Academic Council in 1892. The cool relationship with the authorities did not bother the young teacher at all, he hurried to his classes, which were always full of students.

1.1. I. Kramskoy. Portrait of P. P. Chistyakov, 1860
1.2. V. Serov. Portrait of P. P. Chistyakov, 1881

Chistyakov’s teaching system

Pavel Petrovich tried to teach how important it was to know the art laws. He explained that the fundamental principle belongs to the drawing, and that there is no unworthy and easy task for the artist, “that everything is equally difficult, everything is equally interesting, important and exciting in art”. Grabar left us curious memories of how Chistyakov met the “newcomers”:

“When a newcomer entered the studio in an enthusiastic mood, he sat down in front of the model and began to draw her, sometimes even paint her. Chistyakov appeared, and when it was the newcomer’s turn, the teacher began to examine every millimeter of the study he had begun, and accompanied his devastating criticism with such jokes, words, grins and grimaces that the poor man broke into a cold sweat and got bright red with shame and embarrassment... In conclusion, Chistyakov recommended to give up thinking about painting for the time and confine himself to drawing, and, moreover, not from living nature, which he still couldn’t master, and not even from plaster casts, but from the very beginning. He threw a pencil on a stool in front of him and said: “Draw a pencil, it will not be easier than a model, but it’ll be much more useful...” The next evening Chistyakov appeared again; it took him ten minutes to prove to the “newcomer” that he was not even able to draw a simple pencil. “No,” he said, “the pencil is still difficult for you, you need to take something simpler.” And put the children’s cube in front of him”.

Василий Евменьевич Савинский. Портрет П.П,Чистякова
Портрет П.П,Чистякова
It must be said that Chistyakov was a master of felicitous expressions, and his remarks hit pretty close to home. His famous aphorisms — ironic, caustic, mocking — have always remained in the memory of his students:

“It's rather trunk-ish” or “Well, what a suitcase!” the professor pointed to a clumsy, rough drawing of an inept moulding with a complete lack of taste.
“Correct, but pesky,” or “So natural that it’s even disgusting,” and then he explained: “You shouldn’t try to paint everything exactly, but always so that the impression was the same as in nature.”

“Great talent — but you’ll not become an artist.”

“When you draw an eye, look at the ear”, the students did not immediately understand all the wisdom of their teacher’s remarks, but they memorized them, and over time they began to understand the essence of the maître’s statements.

V. E. Savinsky. Portrait of P. P. Chistyakov, 1881

“To find yourself, be sincere. Knock at the bottom of your soul more firmly — there is a wonderful spring there, creativity lurks in it”
P. P. Chistyakov

Валентин Александрович Серов. Дискобол. Рисунок в классе гипсовых фигур
Дискобол. Рисунок в классе гипсовых фигур
For Chistyakov, the most important were talent and knowledge: “To feel, to know and to be able is the whole art,” the professor said and led his students to the Hermitage, explaining the mastery secrets of the works of old artists and ancient Greeks. The students loved to listen to him.

Serov recalled that the teacher explained the art laws so figuratively that it immediately became clear how deep knowledge of anatomy must be in order to work with nature: “You and your students approach the statue of Hermes; such a statue, it is sculpted so wide, so simple. This arm is full of strength and youth... but take a candle, light from the side, and on this marvellous, seemingly wide scupltured arm, you will see almost all the wrist bones, on the back of the hand you will see tendons, and a barely outlined, but precise vein between them”.

V. Serov. Disc Thrower. Drawing in the plaster figures class, 1882

“If the question can be put this way, drawing is the male part, the male. Painting is a woman. Everything courageous, solid, stable, noble in art is expressed by drawing. Painting expresses everything tender, caressing eyes and nerves, everything that pleases strongly at first impression”, said Chistyakov.

Василий Евменьевич Савинский. Голова Аполлона. Этюд
Голова Аполлона. Этюд

Russian Troika — Repin, Polenov and Surikov

Chistyakov presented his views on art so interestingly that such venerable masters as Repin and Polenov came to study from him. Repin recalled his lessons under Chistyakov: “We arranged a drawing class at Polenov’s and were surprised, fascinated and filled with new revelations of Chistyakov, who approached art from a completely new angle, until we lost all our previous ideas about art.” Classes did not last more than a year, but both Repin and Polenov always considered themselves students of Chistyakov.
“He is our common and only teacher,” Repin used to say more than once. And Chistyakov was proud that one of his first students were Repin and Polenov. Many years later he wrote: “Polenov, Repin, after completing the course at the Academy, took drawing lessons from me. That is, they learned to draw a plaster ear and the head of Apollo. Therefore, I am not a bad teacher, if with gold medal students take lessons of drawing ear and head, but it was necessary to say something basically new to people who are already so much educated in everything.”


Илья Ефимович Репин. Портрет П. П. Чистякова
Портрет П. П. Чистякова
1870, 28×20 см

Polenov first met Chistyakov when he was still studying at the Academy. Polenov’s parents invited him to give lessons to their children, Vasily and Elena, noticing their penchant for drawing.

1.1. V. Polenov. Odalisque, 1875
1.2. P. Chistyakov "Giovannina", 1860s

Subsequently, when Polenov lived as a pensioner in Italy and France, he was in constant correspondence with the teacher. Chistyakov gave advice and shared news from the Academy: “There is a certain student here, Surikov, a rather rare specimen, he’s painting to obtain the first gold medal. He’ll be very good soon. I am happy for him. You, Repin and he are the Russian troika...”.

Meanwhile, the attitude towards his favourites was as strict as towards all students. All his life later, Surikov liked to repeat what he had heard from his teacher: “It will be simple, as you’ll do it a hundred times!” And under the strict gaze of Chistyakov, Surikov tried to overcome academic clichés in the historical painting. Chistyakov himself has always been attracted by historical subject, his thesis “Grand Duchess Sophia Vitovtovna at the Wedding of the Grand Duke Vasily the Dark” in 1861 brought him a gold medal and the right to travel abroad.
Павел Петрович Чистяков. Великая княгиня Софья Витовтовна на свадьбе великого князя Василия Темного в 1433 году срывает с князя Василия Косого пояс, принадлежащий некогда Дмитрию Донскому
Великая княгиня Софья Витовтовна на свадьбе великого князя Василия Темного в 1433 году срывает с князя Василия Косого пояс, принадлежащий некогда Дмитрию Донскому
1861, 147×201 см

And Surikov’s successfully composed The Merciful Samaritan was awarded a small gold medal and was admitted to the competition for a large gold medal.

Василий Иванович Суриков. Милосердный самарянин
Милосердный самарянин
1874, 140×210 см

However, for his programmatic work The Apostle Paul Explains the Tenets of Faith, Surikov received the title of the 1st degree artist without being awarded a gold medal. This injustice angered Chistyakov and he, without restraining his indignation, wrote to Polenov: “Our antediluvian blockheads have failed Surikov, the best student in the entire Academy for not having time to paint corns in the picture. I can’t talk about these people, my dear: my head now hurts and I can smell carrion all around. How hard it is to be between them. Students seem to love and understand me, in fact some do. I keep aside with all my might, I avoid even meeting the wise men.”
Василий Иванович Суриков. Апостол Павел объясняет догматы веры в присутствии царя Агриппы, сестры его Береники и проконсула Феста
Апостол Павел объясняет догматы веры в присутствии царя Агриппы, сестры его Береники и проконсула Феста
1875, 142×218 см


V. Stasov left a curious evidence of the relationship between Chistyakov and Vasnetsov. Their acquaintance happened in 1870, when Chistyakov returned from a retirement trip (at that time Vasnetsov had already been studying at the Academy for two years). Chistyakov immediately went to the Academy to look at the program sketches, the future academic works of the students: “Chistyakov began to look over them greedily: he knew very well that the artistic style and technical skills of the student were vividly reflected in the ‘program’. And Chistyakov was not so interested in anything as the state of the Russian art school and its immediate future.

‘Great! Great!’ this temperamental man was saying enthusiastically, stopping at one or the other sketch. ‘Indeed, positively great, how much life and observation! They didn’t do that in my time...!’

“Chistyakov stood for a particularly long time at one work — the Prince’s Icon-Painting Workshop. It was,” Stasov recalled, “a big pencil drawing, something completely special and independent, and most importantly, national, completely different from ordinary academic programs. He asked: whose job is this? They say: Vasnetsov’s. He had never heard such a name before. It was someone completely new to him...”

Chistyakov asked the professors to introduce him to Vasnetsov and at the first meeting, Vanetsov fascinated him completely, he admired his work so much: “How could he convey the prince’s silent admiration for the icon... catch the thrill and breath of that era, resurrect the life of the old Kyiv... express the life-giving light of the immortal art that flared back in those days?” Vasnetsov did not know what to answer. He just stood there, grateful for this warmth of the heart, this attention, never before shown by anyone so deeply. He himself did not know that there are so many merits in his composition.

Виктор Михайлович Васнецов. Княжеская иконописная мастерская
Княжеская иконописная мастерская
Виктор Михайлович Васнецов. Голова крестьянина
Голова крестьянина
However, Chistyakov noticed that his drawing was imperfect, the conveyance the things texture was rather poor, and gave advice: “Exercise the form.” Overcoming his shyness, Vasnetsov came to Chistyakov as to an older brother, his benevolent attitude aroused trust, and the hours of study brought so much pleasure... The mentor studied his works, saying: “If an artist paints, for example, a head side-on, then he should do it so that the invisible parts can be felt”.

“Pavel Petrovich was the enemy of templates,” Vasnetsov recalled. “He never adhered to the same program for all. On the contrary, he knew how to show the way to further individual development. He was a mediator between nature and the student, without imposing anything, and everyone who understood his gaze felt a solid ground under their feet.”

V. Vasnetsov. The Head of the Peasant, 1878

Serov and Vrubel, rare talents

Having passed the Repin school and already considering himself a maître, Serov came to St. Petersburg to enter the Academy. Without waiting for exams, with a recommendation from Repin, he came to Chistyakov’s home. A little afraid of a formidable reception — after all, his teacher managed to frighten the young man with frightful stories about the severity of the teacher — he calmed down when he saw the good-natured joking owner. And it was then that an insidious and even offensive offer was made to him - to draw a pencil. The task seemed insignificant to the self-confident young man, but he did not cope with it: “Oh, my friend, you still do not know how to draw a pencil, here take a cube.” Chistyakov never betrayed his first stage of work with students, which he called “to cast arrogance away”.

“The greater the talent, the more carefully you need to teach him,” Chistyakov said. “You need to give him free rein, but make sure that the student observes the law.”

Валентин Александрович Серов. Натурщик, лежащий с запрокинутой головой
Натурщик, лежащий с запрокинутой головой

Chistyakov said about Serov that he had never met such a comprehensively gifted artist: “Drawing, and colour, and chiaroscuro, and character, and a sense of the integrity of his task, and composition — everything was in Serov, and was in an excellent extent.”

Валентин Александрович Серов. Натурщик в плаще
Натурщик в плаще
Валентин Александрович Серов. Портрет художника И. И. Левитана
Портрет художника И. И. Левитана
1893, 82×86 см
In 1880—1885, Serov studied at the Academy of Arts and in the private workshop of Chistyakov, unquestioningly following the instructions of his mentor. “Remembering you as a teacher, I consider you the only (Russian) teacher of eternal, unshakable laws of form, which is the only thing that can be taught,” he wrote to Chistyakov in 1908. Chistyakov once led his new students to the exhibition, stopped at the portrait of Serov, and looking at it, he said: “He is looking!” in this one word of the teacher, admiration, praise, and pride for his student are mixed.

V. Serov. Portrait of the artist I. I. Levitan, 1893

“Technique is the language of the artist; develop it tirelessly till virtuosity. Without it, you will never be able to tell people your dreams, your experiences, the beauty you saw.”

Vrubel entered the Academy in the same year as Serov. He began to study with Chistyakov in the autumn of 1882 and worked 12 hours a day, feeling the constant need to communicate with the teacher in order to “sip a refreshing drink of advice and criticism”. “When I started classes with Chistyakov, I liked his main provisions very much, because they were nothing more than a formula for my living attitude to nature.” Chistyakov taught Vrubel the basics of watercolour painting, appreciating the rare talent of the student, his graceful and strict manner. Even before graduating from the Academy, Vrubel went to Kyiv to paint the St. Volodymyr Cathedral. It was Vrubel among the entire Academy, whom he recommended to Prakhov.
Михаил Александрович Врубель. Пирующие римляне
Пирующие римляне
1883, 44×53 см
Михаил Александрович Врубель. Натурщица в обстановке Ренессанса
Натурщица в обстановке Ренессанса
1883, 35×24 см
Михаил Александрович Врубель. Мужской портрет
Мужской портрет
1883, 10.6×8 см
In 1901, in his autobiography, Vrubel wrote that thanks to Chistyakov, he recalled the years of his study as the brightest ones in his artistic life. And, according to the memoirs of the artist’s sister, in 1905, intending to go to the hospital with Dr. Usoltsev, he “said goodbye to what is especially close and dear to him” and invited “his favourite academic professor P. Chistyakov” on the eve of his departure.

M. Vrubel. Self-Portrait, 1880s.


The relationship between Nesterov, a student of a Moscow school who came to study in St. Petersburg, and Chistyakov, developed surprisingly. He absolutely did not accept his methodology, which was strikingly different from the Moscow teachers, in whose lessons it was customary to “open the soul”. And here: “There was sharpness, surprise, originality here and there, but the style of the both was different, and I couldn’t work out this Chistyakov’s style, eluded me, and its sharpness irritated me... Chistyakov, who was glorified in every way, was alien to me.”
Валентин Александрович Серов. Девочка с персиками (Портрет В. С. Мамонтовой)
Девочка с персиками (Портрет В. С. Мамонтовой)
1887, 85×91 см
For three years, Nesterov studied at the Academy and returned to Moscow, “having learned nothing”. And then a few years later, in Abramtsevo, he saw “an amazing portrait of Verushka Mamontova by the Chistyakovite Serov... the portrait struck me, delighted me, it had something to think about, and I thought hard... I decided that I was ignorant, that I had to relearn and go for this to no one else but P. P. Chistyakov.” But at this time A. Prakhov offered a job in the St. Volodymyr Cathedral in Kyiv to Nesterov, and seeing “what Vasnetsov did there” (another Chistyakov’s man), Nesterov accepted the professor’s invitation. Soon after all, there was a rapprochement between Nesterov and Chistyakov.

V. Serov. Girl with peaches. Portrait of V. S. Mamontova, 1887

Nesterov often came to Chistyakov’s studio, and also consulted on his works for the Church of the Resurrection of Christ and Alexander Nevsky, when Pavel Petrovich led the mosaic workshop at the Academy. “At that time I already loved Pavel Petrovich and could appreciate his system, his importance as a teacher and a great artist. I loved his original mind and original figurative speech and his Russian, Russian soul. Now, as an old man, I recall my meetings with Pavel Petrovich with joy and regret that the St. Volodymyr Cathedral distracted me from my intention to go through a better school than the one I received in my youth, which would probably give different results and save me from many mistakes and bitter thoughts.”
M. Nesterov. St. Alexander Nevsky in prayer, mosaic in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ (Saviour on Spilled Blood), St. Petersburg

In the memoirs of the Kyiv artist I. F. Selezniov, a student of Chistyakov, perhaps the main admonition of the great Teacher sounds: “Art requires a tender heart, a sensitive one. Embitter your heart, and it will cease to perceive the secrets of art, and your creativity will freeze. An artist must be broadly and diversely educated: read, study, then your horizons will be immense; science and nature will make your paintings deep, expressive. Only a developed mind, a refined feeling and a keen educated eye are the foundations of an artist’s life.”
Иван Федорович Селезнев. Последний аккорд
Последний аккорд
1885, 79×58 см

Although Chistyakov said with hope: “I’ll teach three good students in twenty years, and it’s all right. The measures are different here,” he brought up several generations of amazing artists and was very proud of his students.

In preparing the publication, information from the following books was used: P. P. Chistyakov “Letters, notebooks, memoirs. 1832—1919”, L. N. Volynsky “The Face of Time”, M. I. Kopshitser. “Serov”.

Main illustration: https://artchive.ru/ilyarepin/works/25910~Portret_khudozhnika_P_P_Chistjakova