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Vladimir
Borovikovsky

Russia 
1757−1825
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Biography and information

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The life of a gifted painter Vladimir Borovikovsky was full of bright stories, and a sudden luck allowed his talent to flourish. Generous Ukrainian town of Myrhorod and the severe city of saint-Petersburg, natural gift and senior patrons, lack of academic education and training under the best masters, the heyday and favor of the public, shifting from icon painting to the portrait genre, and then to mysticism, fame and oblivion that soon followed – all this is about him, a humble icon painter, a court artist who painted the Empress, a mystic ... .

Vladimir Borovikovsky was born on July 24 (August 4), 1757 in Myrhorod, which in several decades would become famous by his talented compatriot Nikolai Gogol. Some researchers believe that the Borovikovsky family is a simple Cossack family, while others call them petty gentry. The art historians agree on one thing - both the father of the future artist Luka Borovik, and his older brothers Vasily and Ivan painted icons in the churches nearby. After military service, Vladimir also took up church painting. His early works are classified as the exemplary works of Ukrainian Baroque.

The lucky break for Borovikovsky was the travel of Empress Catherine II to the Crimea in 1787. The artist was closely acquainted with the provincial leader of the nobility Vasily Kapnist and on his behalf he painted two panels for her rooms in the traveling palace, where the Empress liked to stay in Myrhorod. One of them depicted Catherine II, explaining her Order to the Greek sages. The second one allegorically depicted Peter I and Catherine II as peasants sowing seeds. The emperess liked the paintings so much that she expressed a desire to see painter. Having talked with Vladimir Borovikovsky, she strongly recommended him to move to Petersburg and enter the Academy of Arts. And to disobey the Empress was not a good idea...

In 1788, Vladimir Borovikovsky forever left Ukraine for Petersburg. As he was not that young at that moment - he was 31 - the Academy of Arts became his pipe dream. So in 1792 he started taking private lessons from the famous Austrian professor of portraiture, master of ceremonial portrait Johann Baptist Lampi. Another of his teachers was the famous portrait painter, academician of the Imperial Academy of Arts Dmitry Levitsky.

Thanks to the patronage of his powerful friends, Vladimir Borovikovsky painted the Empress in 1794. The portrait turned out to be unusually lyrical. It portrayed Catherine II on a walk in Tsarskoye Selo. Later, in this park, Pushkin would arrange a meeting between Masha and the Empress, the characters of his famous “The Captain's Daughter” story, and the Empress would appear exactly as the artist portrayed her - “homely,” condescending, and majestically patronizing. In 179,5 Vladimir Borovikovsky became an academician.

In 1798, Lampi returned to Vienna, having left his workshop in St. Petersburg on Millionnaya Street to Borovikovsky. The artist lived there until the end of his days.

The flourishing of Borovikovsky's glory was short-lived, though bright. In 1802, he was appointed adviser to the Academy of Fine Arts. Vladimir Borovikovsky was not a court artist per se, but he successfully socialized in courtly circles and was in demand. Moreover, he was famous and fashionable. The range of Borovikovsky’s sitters was impressive: he painted the great princesses, the daughters of Pavel, Maria Fedorovna, the Emperor Paul I. Naturally, following the members of the imperial family, court officials hastened to pose for Borovikovsky, including Lopukhin, Gagarin, and Kurakin families. Here it was, the peak of fame, everyone wanted to be painted by Borovikovsky!

The painter brilliantly showed himself in a variety of forms of portraiture. In his artwork, we can find chamber, intimate portraits, and miniatures, as well as ceremonial portraits. Moreover, it is obvious that those were no longer the canvas of sentimentalism; the portraits of Vladimir Borovikovsky were painted during the period of the change of eras, so they bore the imprint of the mature classicism and empire.

The court particularly appreciated his ceremonial portraits. And Borovikovsky certainly succeeded in this area: he painted such statesmen as diplomat Alexander Kurakin, secret adviser Dmitry Troshchinsky, and the Persias’s prince Morteza Qoli Khan. For the very first portrait of Kurakin, the artist received 700 rubles. For comparison, the professorial salary in those years was 2,000 rubles a year.

The intimate chamber female portraits by Borovikovsky were no less appreciated. This was, of course, the famous portrait of Maria Lopukhina, as well as the captured images of Elena Naryshkina, Ekaterina Arsenyeva, Olga Filippova, through which the artist managed to convey surprisingly subtly the elusive, tremulous movements of the woman’s spiritual life. Female intimate portraits are united by a tender poetic feeling, his attitude to a woman as to a Muse.

In 1802, the artist was involved in the design of the Kazan Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg. This work continued until 1811. Unfortunately, court intrigues led to the fact that during the award Vladimir Borovikovsky was pushed aside not even to the second, but to the third plan. All that he received for his many years of work was a diamond ring.

That was the beginning of the end. Success left Borovikovsky. The artist retained brilliant mastery and lightness of hand, but the public was already carried away by the new names, as the heyday of the glory of Orest Kiprensky began. Borovikovsky left the court, lived in solitude, became disillusioned with portraiture, and no longer painted portraits. The artist did not have a family. In his letters to the Ukrainian relatives he wrote: "My whole family is a cook and my students." The students lived in his apartment on Millionnaya Street. One of the students was the artist Alexey Venetsianov.

The painter tried to find peace in mysticism as he was carried away by Ekaterina Tatarinova "Union of the Brotherhood" spiritual movement (according to some reports - being carried away primarily by her.) In 1819, the artist joined the "Union". It is known that he executed many paintings on religious subjects for Tatarinova free of charge. At first, Vladimir Borovikovsky felt inspiration, it seemed to him that he had found his place. However, pretty soon it ceased bringing joy to him. “Only arrogance, pride and contempt,” the painter stated bitterly. Trying to overcome his spiritual discord, the artist became addicted to alcohol.

Vladimir Borovikovsky did not manage to make a fortune. Even in those years when the money flowed, he gave it out just as easily. He regularly sent parcels to his relatives in Myrhorod, and every Saturday he distributed generous alms to a whole crowd of poor people who gathered at his apartment. After death, he left just four thousand rubles in his apartment -this was half the amount that in the best years was paid to him for a single Portrait of the Catholicos of Georgia Anthony.

Author: Alyona Esaulova


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