30 May 2020
A Young Lady and a Student, signed and dated 1919.
Oil on canvas, 40.5 by 31 cm.
Provenance: Collection of Arkady Zamkov.
Collection of Pavel Ettinger, an art historian, Moscow.
Collection of Nikolai Kozhevnikov, Leningrad, from 1936.
Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert E. Yakovleva.
Exhibited: Konstantin Andreevich Somov. K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia, The State Russian Museum, Leningrad, December 1969–April 1970.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Konstantin Andreevich Somov. Katalog vystavki k 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia, Leningrad, Iskusstvo, 1971, p. 88, listed as Devushka i student.
A Young Lady and a Student is one of Konstantin Somov’s famous “gallant scenes” of the early post-revolutionary years. At that time, near-contemporary figures and events quite often appear in his compositions, replacing the sensual masked balls of the 18th century, the gallant marquises, and the Pierrots and Harlequins. Now we have ordinary, elegant young ladies and their beaux, peasant couples, picnics in the countryside and in the grounds of country estates, bathing parties and firework displays.
The harder life around him became in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the more brightly coloured and carefree Somov’s pictures grew, transforming into a chronicle of the artist’s world of reverie and reminiscence, a wistful stream of idyllic images that were unlikely to have existed previously and were definitely out of place in the new, harsh 20th century. His bright landscapes, flooded with light and invariably providing the background for such gallant scenes, nearly always show favourite spots in the grounds of country estates that the artist had known since childhood – a wooden bench on the shore of a lake, the inevitable birch saplings, shrubs and green lawns.
The very same models quite often feature in these pictures. For instance, the coquettish woman in A Young Lady and a Student, who is sitting on a bench, holding her hat and seemingly failing to notice the admirer who is watching her, while coyly blushing, is undoubtedly the same model who is the central protagonist in Summer (1919, The State Russian Museum). The fresh-faced adolescent girl relaxing in the grounds with a female friend is portrayed in absolutely the same pose and seen from the same angle. The artist merely alters the sitter’s hair colour and dress, and “transplants” her from green summer grass to a bench beneath a birch tree covered with golden autumn foliage. But while repeating his compositional innovations, Somov never actually copies them. Each time, he changes the setting, the detail, the lighting and the colour scheme, and creates new variations on his favourite themes and pictures.
These luminous, outdated daydreams proved to be so popular among patrons that the artist had to return again and again to his most successful pictures, inventing new settings and ringing the changes on subjects that had taken the public’s fancy. So, as the 1910s became the 1920s, there appeared whole series of paintings in which young ladies and their merry companions could be seen “sleeping on the grass” and gazing at a rainbow or firework display. Intrinsically, however, the content of these pictures remains unchanged. Regardless of their historical surroundings and the part they are trying to play – peasant girl, young city lady, histrionic prude or lascivious and haughty aristocrat – Somov’s main female figures are still an expression of the artist’s own outlook on life. The artist once said: “The women in my pictures are brooding; the expression of love on their faces, their sadness or lust are a reflection of myself and my soul... And their unnatural poses ... amount to self-mockery and at the same time to mockery of the eternal feminine that is repugnant to my being.”
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