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What is the secret of Russian beauties in the portraits of Konstantin Makovsky

Konstantin Makovsky was one of the most fashionable and, as they would say now, “sought-after” artists of the XIX – early XX century. Emperor Alexander II called him “my painter,” and contemporaries added the epithet “brilliant” to the master’s name. He received world fame, and his fabulous fees were a constant topic for discussion in society. One of the artist’s favorite themes were Russian women. In this review – their beauty and luxury of folk costumes in a series of portraits of the great painter.

The artistic talent of Konstantin Makovsky manifested itself in early childhood. From the age of four he began to sketch everything he liked. His father, a famous artist, Yegor Ivanovich Makovsky encouraged him to do so. He taught the young artist the motto “Admire and memorize.” When he was already an adult, Makovsky wrote in his memoirs: “With what came out of me, I consider myself obliged not to the academy, not to the professors, but exclusively to my father.” I must say that this unique person managed to raise as many as four painters in his family – three Makovsky brothers and a sister became famous artists. Only the youngest, Maria, went the other way and became a famous actress. However, it was impossible not to show artistic talent in the house, in which Karl Brullov and Vasily Tropinin would easily drop in for family dinner in the evenings. It is believed that the work of the latter had a great influence on the formation of the style of Konstantin Makovsky, and many art critics consider his penchant for romanticism and fanciful artistic effects to be very close to the work of Bryullov.

It is known that Konstantin Makovsky was very loving. There were constant rumors about his numerous novels, which really had a basis – by the time of his marriage, the artist already had an illegitimate daughter, and he had been married three times. The painter was able to fully convey the admiration of female beauty and the luxury of folk costumes in his series of portraits of Boyaryn and Russian beauties. All these works are united by another feature. They feel the artist’s incredible respect for the modesty and fragility of youth. More than 60 paintings created Makovsky on this topic, and on each of them the girl has her own special world, her own dreams. Each seems to come alive Russian fairy tales.
Konstantin Makovsky was one of the first Russian artists who began working in the genre of historical painting. All the folk costumes depicted by him are drawn from life. To create paintings on historical themes, the painter has done a tremendous ethnographic work, addressing collectors and searching for the right samples. His son talked about it this way:

“My father collected native antiquity primarily: sundresses, warmer jackets, shushuns, kokoshniks and kichki, worn out with pearl weaving … jewelery with diamonds and gems on colored foil, earrings, buttons, groves… cups, brothels, salt shakers, dishes, trays, crystal, porcelain, majolica, bronze, candlesticks, candelabra, sconces and caskets, caskets and laces, embroidery, velvet, satin, brocade rugs and pieces … Heavy chests of drawers were stuffed with fragments of old fabrics … ”

This picture has received great fame also thanks to the history of its sale. The first buyer who wanted to buy the canvas, became Tretyakov, but the artist requested for him 20,000 rubles. This incredible amount for Konstantin Makovsky was quite an ordinary fee, but the famous collector had to retreat – he could not pay that price.

Then the painting was sold abroad, and three times more expensive – the American jeweler Schumann paid for it 60,000 and was able to still use the purchase for profit. The canvas was displayed in the window of his trading house and attracted a huge number of visitors. Then a clever businessman organized the release of cards in the Russian style with paintings by Makovsky. This picture has become one of the greatest.

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