Portrait of Yulia Makovskaya, signed and dated 1881.
Oil on canvas, 59 by 48 cm.
Provenance: Possibly, collection of Rudolph Nureyev, London.
Collection of Nicholas Lynn, a prominent art collector and R. Nureyev’s art advisor, London.
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner.
Thence by descent.
Important collection of an English gentleman, UK.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Literature: E. Letkova, “O Repine”, Iskusstvo, 1936, No. 5, p. 108, mentioned in the text.
The outstanding Portrait of Yulia Makovskaya by Ilya Repin offered here for auction comes from the collection of Nicholas Lynn who was a renowned collector of Russian and Soviet porcelain, the owner of The Winter Place gallery in London and art advisor to Rudolph Nureyev. It is believed that Nureyev was the original owner of the portrait, which was later sold by Lynn to the father of the present owner.
Yulia Makovskaya (née Letkova) was the second wife of the famous painter Konstantin Makovsky. It is from the diaries of Yulia’s sister, Ekaterina Letkova, that we know of the creation of this portrait and the identity of the model. The archives of the I.E. Repin’s Memorial Estate Penaty preserved Ekaterina Letkova’s reminiscences of her first meeting with Ilya Repin,
who then was painting the present portrait: “A velvet jacket, long hair and unshorn beard – the perfect type of the artist of the 80s. Such was the Repin I saw in 1881 [...] I saw Repin for the first time at his easel in the studio of Konstantin Makovsky, where he was painting the portrait of my sister Yulia Pavlovna Makovskaya. The tones of the paining were unusual for his female
portraits: all in black, with a large black hat and thick shadow falling on the eyes. Ilya Efimovich found something very intriguing in the combination of youthful beauty, bright eyes and love of life with sombre, severe dress. He occasionally sprang back from the canvas, delightedly repeating some word to himself, and then resumed his concentrated work on the painting.”
The identity of the sitter is further confirmed by comparing this work to other portraits of Yulia Makovskaya, executed by Konstantin Makovsky in the late 1870s–1880s. The most well-known of these is his Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Yu. Makovskaya dated 1881. In this portrait, the young beauty of St Petersburg is depicted radiant and carefree, sitting on a chair, clad in a bright-red dress and decorated by a festive blue bow and white ruches.
Repin had acquired a fluent mastery of pictorial expression by the 1880s and the decade was a period of fruitful creativity and maturity for the artist. These years brought out the multifaceted talent of Repin the portrait painter, his ability to capture the essence and individuality of his subjects. He painted many female portraits in his long artistic career, but only in a few of them does he allow himself to be a poet. The portrait of Yulia Letkova- Makovskaya is such a picture, where Repin shows his ability to create art that entrances the viewer.
Depicting the model who was described by her contemporaries as one of St Petersburg’s most fascinating women, Repin creates a mood portrait, emphasising the aesthetics of his artistic language and the beauty of the image. The painterly language of the portrait is imbued with the vibration of the air, lending the brushstroke the fluidity and clarity in rendering its subject.
But it would be wrong to classify the picture amongst the female portraits, which became a specific genre in salon art and also in the work of Konstantin Makovsky. Repin uses the stylistic elements of salon art – perhaps, paying a tribute to the mastery of renowned colleague, – but, thoughtful artist that he was, he does not cross the line into vacuous prettiness. His mastery in conveying mood produces a subtle, inspired image. This, in combination with the excellence of artistic execution, makes the Portrait of Yulia Makovskaya a work of the highest artistic merit.
We are grateful to The I.E. Repin’s Memorial Estate Penaty and personally to the Head of the Department, Tatiana Petrovna Borodina, for providing additional catalogue information.