Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Portrait of a Young Boyar Woman, offered here for auction, is the quintessence of the art of Klavdy Lebedev, a remarkable Russian painter of historical scenes. The half-length portrait of a girl in traditional Russian costume further contributes to the subject that was central to the artist’s work in the 1870s and 1880s, namely, the daily life in pre-Petrine Russia. A talented genre painter, Lebedev could not stay aside as the surge of interest in national history seized Russian science — particularly, archeology, — as well as theatre, literature and art. While still a student at the Imperial Academy of Arts, he chose once and for all his main artistic subject — scenes from the life of the boyars (the old Russian nobility).
One of Lebedev’s earliest works was Young Boyar at the Table (1880), followed by Boyar Girl Leaving Church (1881). Then, in 1883, he painted Boyar Wedding, which brought him wide acclaim. The work was exhibited at the 12th Itinerant Exhibiton, where it was very favourably received by both the general public and art critics, including the formidable Vladimir Stasov.
The public were particularly impressed by the accuracy and vivacity, with which Lebedev depicted various personalities from the 16th and 17th centuries; in Stasov’s words, they were “grasped and expressed ingeniously”.
By the time Lebedev painted Portrait of a Young Boyar Woman he had become an established and much esteemed historical painter, while the genre of “boyar girls’ heads” had gained great popularity. Postcards of with reproductions of Lebedev’s and Konstantin Makovsky’s pictures of this genre sold in astronomical quantities all over Russia, and Lebedev was constantly commissioned to do illustrations for various publications devoted to the life and times of the Russian Tsars of the 16th and 17th centuries.
However, while Makovsky’s works resemble charming illustrations to Alexei Tolstoy’s Prince Serebryany and Potok-Bogatyr, or they can be seen as an embodiment of some ideal female type with a then-popular “national expression”, Lebedev’s portraits of boyar girls and women not only exhibit historically accurate details (gowns embroidered with pearls and trimmed with fur, gold-woven hats, earrings, necklaces and bracelets), but are invariably subtle psychological portraits.
The present lot brilliantly illustrates this point: the fancy attire is just a facade that reveals a masterfully executed touching image of a young girl, spontaneous yet engrossed in her demanding social role.
Although highly decorative, the colours, instead of enhancing the theatrical aspect of the composition, emphasise instead the very face of the model, thus allowing to fully appreciate Lebedev’s outstanding gift as a portraitist.