Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Boris Kustodiev and Merchant's Wife with a Mirror

'Merchant's wife with a mirror' (1920) by Boris Kustodiev; State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

After a couple of days of finding a painting easily, I struggled again today. There was a selection of painters to choose from but none of their paintings got me really enthusiastic. Then I discovered the Russian artist Boris Kustodiev, who was born on 7 March 1878, and I was quite pleased with his colourful paintings. He was born into the family of a professor but after his father died, the family rented a small wing in a merchant's house. This explains his series of portraits of merchant's wives, depicting them in different activities, e.g. drinking tea, sleeping. He had an eye for ripe beauty and women were often subjects of his paintings. Later on he got into book illustrating, and illustrated many works of classical Russian literature. Due to a grave illness he became paralysed but remained joyful. His paintings are evidence of that and don't reveal his physical suffering. I love the vibrant colours in this painting, but don't quite understand the story behind it. Is that the merchant lurking in the background and who is the other girl?

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to offer my own possible interpretation: The merchant's wife is quite well-fed and surrounded by expensive things: satin, silk, jewels, fur. She's admiring herself in the presence of a servant girl (plainly dressed) looks away with red cheeks, possibly having been spoken to in a humiliating way or perhaps embarrassed by the vapid vanity of her mistress. The merchant watches from the door, delighted by what his wealth has purchased. Combined with the bit of artist's bio you offer, it's a statement about the vulgarity of wealth. Recall that the Russian revolution occurred just 3 years prior, class differences were at the front of consciousness there. What do you think?


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