Serov: Seeing the Person in the Model

Despite his busy career as a portrait painter, Valentin Serov taught art for twelve years. He emphasized the importance of studying real life with relentless fidelity.

VALENTIN SEROV. Female Model with Loose Hair. 1899.
Watercolour, ink, whitewash on paper mounted on cardboard.
52.4 × 35.5 cm. Tretyakov
 
He brought models into the studio, but he wanted students to think of them as real people, with a life and a soul behind their appearance.


Semyon Nikiforov. Standing Female Model. 1902.
Study. Oil on canvas. 157 × 68.5
According to Svetlana Yesenina, "Serov replaced the professional models used at the school with ordinary people - caretakers, cabmen, street traders and the like - whom he would find on the streets and bring to the school."

Semyon Nikiforov. A Boy by a Column.
Valentin Serov’s Studio. 1903.
Oil on panel. 37.5 × 22 cm
"Nikolai Ulyanov reminisced how he and Serov once found in the Khitrovka marketplace a young lad who turned out to be a peasant from Ryazan, and invited him to sit for the student artists."

Semyon Nikiforov. A Nude Female Model. 1903.
Oil on canvas. 149.5 × 74.3 cm. Ryazan Art Museum
"At his classes models were no longer simply models: Serov taught his students to see in them their unique individuality and to convey it through the 'stories' told in the pictures (as Serov himself did in his portraits)."

Mikhail Shemyakin. A Female Model.
(At Valentin Serov’s Studio). 1903.
"In order to help his students locate these narrative 'pegs,' he cultivated in his workshop a special easy-going atmosphere, trying to make the models feel at home, open up and carry themselves as naturally as possible."

Serov painting the aristocrat Felix Yusupov, 1903
In his portraits, Serov was always looking for an interpretation in his portraits, and you can see from this photo of him at work how he departed from optical facts to make his interpretation.


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Quotes are from Svetlana Yesenina, in the Tretyakov Museum Bulletin
Wikipedia on Valentin Serov
GurneyJourney: Previous posts on Serov
Books:
Valentin Serov: Paintings, Graphic Works, Stage Designs
Valentin Serov (Best of)