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Valentin Serov


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(b St Petersburg, 7 [19] Jan. 1865; d Moscow, 22 Nov. [5 Dec.] 1911).

Russian painter and graphic artist, son of the composer Alexander Serov. He studied privately under Repin from an early age and then in 1880–5 at the Academy in St Petersburg, where he became a friend of Vrubel. His work includes landscapes, genre pictures, and historical scenes, as well as book illustrations, but he is best known as a portraitist. In this field he was the greatest Russian painter of his time and a match for any artist in the world. Like his contemporary Sargent, he was a cosmopolitan figure, used to moving in high society, and he brought to his work something of the same quality of aristocratic authority and poise associated with the American's portraits. Like Sargent, too, he painted with superb technical freedom and finesse, and he was just as good with informal portraits as with grand showpieces. His two most famous paintings (both in the Tretyakov Gal., Moscow) are intimate early works, the breathtakingly beautiful Girl with Peaches (1887) and the almost equally lovely Girl in the Sunshine (1888); later, as his fame grew, he painted many of the leading Russian celebrities of his time, particularly artists, musicians, and writers. He was a member of the World of Art group and some of his later work shows a tendency towards flat Art Nouveau stylization. The most remarkable example is a nude, almost monochromatic portrait of the dancer Ida Rubinstein (Russian Mus., St Petersburg), painted in Paris in 1910. Serov had a difficult personality (he could be gloomy and rude), but he was greatly admired for the integrity and sincerity of his work.

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