Description of the artwork «Portrait of Maria Ivanovna Lopukhina»
Many art critics agree that the Portrait of Maria Lopukhina is the pinnacle of sentimentalism in Russian painting.
The painting by Vladimir Borovikovsky is an example of the amazing coherence between man and nature. It seems that nature is a part of the woman’s soul, and she herself is a part of the world. Blue cornflowers echo the colour of the dress belt, the fresh blush on the cheeks of the young woman is the antithesis of the fading roses, the carelessly hanging hand harmonizes with the bowed spikes. All these repetitions, oppositions and rhythmic connections form an organic whole. The portrait and the landscape background flow smoothly into each other.
The innovation of Vladimir Borovikovsky This painting by Vladimir Borovikovsky opened a new stage in Russian portraiture. For the first time, we see how elements of the landscape, and not interior items, emphasize and shade the depicted image, focusing not on the social significance or status of the subject, and not even on her appearance, but on the intimate sides of her character, the deep movements of the soul of the depicted woman.
Of course, one can catch the influence of English sentimentalism here. First of all, Vladimir Borovikovsky was influenced by the paintings of Angelica Kauffman. The German paintress studied painting in England and was very popular in Russia in those years. Borovikovsky took over her manner of using landscape motives in portraits. Catherine II acquired some of Kauffman’s paintings based on Laurence Stern’s Sentimental Journey. For example, the Mad Mary is still kept in the Hermitage.
The mysticism of the Portrait of Maria Lopukhina The image of withering roses in the picture is interpreted as a symbol of the transience of female beauty. In the case of Lopukhina, this symbolism manifested itself literally.
Maria came from a noble family. She was the eldest child (there were also four sisters and two brothers). The father of the family, Ivan Tolstoy, was fond of mysticism and was listed as the master of the Masonic lodge, which would significantly contribute to rumors about the portrait by Vladimir Borovikovsky in the future. Maria Lopukhina, by the way, was distantly related to Leo Tolstoy — the famous writer was her first cousin once removed.
Maria, an 18-year-old girl, as most often happened in those years, was married to Stepan Lopukhin by parental conspiracy. He was a chamberlain at the court of Paul I. Her husband was 10 years older, and this portrait became his first gift to his young wife.
A marriage contracted by parents was not always a guarantee of the family happiness. It wasn’t for Maria Lopukhina either, and even the portrait was not destined to become a happy talisman. Maria did not have a real close relationship with her husband, and at the age of 23 she died of consumption, which was incurable at that time. Although the poet Yakov Polonsky would later write about the picture and its subject: “Whereas Borovikovsky saved her beauty,” in those years they would hardly agree with him. After all, an ominous rumour spread across Moscow that the portrait was... guilty of the death of Lopukhina! A superstition said that if a young girl looked at the picture up close, she would certainly die in the near future. According to some reports, the portrait was credited with the death of ten young ladies of marriageable age. In a terrible whisper, the townspeople told each other the rumours: they said that Maria’s father had lured the spirit of his deceased daughter into the picture, and stole the lives of young women who dared to approach the portrait.
The niece of Maria Lopukhina, Praskovya Tolstaya was not afraid of those stories and took the picture to her place. She later married the Moscow governor Perfilyev. Pavel Tretyakov saw the painting in their house and wished to purchase it for his gallery, and he succeeded.