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Pimen Orlov: As an apprentice, the painter became a student of Briullov and one of the best European portrait painters

The history of Russian art knows many names of painters who came from the common people. One of these is the brilliant Russian portrait painter Pimen Nikitich Orlov, a native of the peasants, who, thanks to his perseverance and self-education, was able to enter the Imperial Academy of Arts, become the best student of Karl Bryullov, live all his life abroad and gain worldwide fame for himself and his fatherland.

Pimen Orlov (1812-1865) hails from a deaf farm in the Voronezh province. The father of the gifted boy was a miller, and he had to earn his living by hard labor for his life. Therefore, he dreamed that his son, when he grew up, would become his assistant. But from early childhood Pimen had a strong desire for drawing, and he did not want to think about any other profession. Poor parents, unfortunately, were not able to give his son an art education. Therefore, very young, Pimen Orlov leaves his father’s house and goes to an apprentice to a wandering painter-painter, who walked from village to village, making up his own life for art.

It should be noted that, at that time, not only ordinary dyers were called painters, but also self-taught artists, who often painted village churches, painted decorative paintings in landlords’ mansions, and also painted their portraits.

Pimen came to such a master, wandering with whom, quickly gained skills in drawing. And the desire to improve forced the future artist to change more than one such self-taught teacher. And it will not be so much time as Orlov himself will be able to take orders for the execution of icons and pictorial portraits of local rich people.

And one day I was lucky to get acquainted with the future artist with the leader of the nobility, the landowner Gladky. And, as is known, there are no chance meetings, and this one was especially significant in the life of Pimen. The rich man, having seen his works, decided to help the young talent, sending him to St. Petersburg and paying for his education at the Academy of Arts. Truly it was a royal gift of fate – the dream of a poor country guy came true.

Pimen was also lucky with a teacher at the academy – Karl Brullov himself was his mentor. And two years later, a student Orlov was awarded the first silver medal for achievements in portraiture.

And I must say that the choice of the genre was not accidental. Portraiture of Bryullov in the middle of the 19th century was a great success and was highly appreciated. And many fellow painters, including his disciples, imitating the great master, wrote in his manner. Pimen Orlov was also no exception. Absorbing knowledge like a sponge, he quickly adopted the style and manner of the teacher in the portrait genre and had quite substantial orders from noblemen of St. Petersburg. This allowed the poor artist in his student years to have money for quite a tolerable existence.

By 1837, Pimen Nikitich finished the academy, receiving a silver medal of the first degree and the title of a free artist upon graduation. And four years later, he had the opportunity to go abroad to study world art. Having settled in Rome, the hardworking master very quickly gains popularity of the artist of genre paintings, as well as a talented portrait painter.

He paints pictures in the traditional Italian style of classicism, in which beauty is exaggerated in the portrayal of the characters, and the environment itself. A regular orders from local wealthy people were very important for the artist, because the portraits were still the main source of his income. And only a few years after arriving in Rome, the artist was appointed by the government of Nicholas I a pension of 300 rubles per year.

And from year to year the artist sent home his work, for which he received the title of academic portraiture in 1857. By working hard brushes, painstakingly prescribing their canvases to the smallest details, the painter showed eye disease. This was the reason that at the appointed time for leaving home, he decided not to return.

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