Konstantin Alekseevich Korovin, 1861-1939

Peter Hainsworth

I went to see the Korovin exhibition in the New Tretyakovsky Gallery in Moscow in early August, having been told that this was a must-see and it was about to close. Although I got there at 11am, early for Moscow weekday gallery visiting, there was a long queue and the vast exhibition space was already packed out, which I suppose says something about both the quality of this artist’s work and the continual empathy for representation painting in Russia. I couldn’t stand all the people in the exhibition space that morning, because I feel that looking at paintings is something intimate. So I came back the next day at the exhibition’s opening time, at 10am. At 10am the next day the hall was already crowded. The thought crossed me that people hadn’t come to see this artist because he is well known, or because he occupies a certain place in the history of Art, they come because they actually like his paintings.

According to the blurb on the Korovin’s life at the entrance to the exhibition, Konstantin Aekseevich was one of the most successful Russian painters at the end of the 19th and century and beginning of the 20th century. A contemporary of the cannons of pre-revolutionary Russian painting: V. Serov, I. Levitan, M. Nesterova, M. Vrubel, he is heralded to be Russia’s very own impressionist, although I found his work to be a bit of everything, including impressionism, early modernism neo-romanticism, and fauvism, but playing intellectual labelling games is sometimes boring. The paintings have that certain tactile quality about them which Russian painters never abandoned. They remind me of Whistler, of Bonnard, of… You want to look at the same painting again and again. He expressed himself in just about every visual medium there was in his day. There are paintings, drawings, theatrical decorations, ‘monumental art.’ He excelled in all of these formats. His work has that delicious acceptable wildness present in impressionist art and at the same time they ooze Russianness. After emigrating to Paris at an advanced age, he concentrated on whole series of Parisian paintings, including night scenes, which are painted in a loose, emotional way, and which I found particularly. Then he started publishing memoirs and biographies and in this he is unashamedly multi-talented.

MeL thanks the Tretyakov New Gallery for the reproductions used in this article.