Boris Kustodiev – Russian artist
Boris Kustodiev was a talented genre-painter, master of psychological portraiture, book illustrator and stage-set artist.
Boris was born on February 23 (March 7), 1878 in Astrakhan into a family of a school teacher. His father died when the future artist was less than two years old and all financial and material burdens lay on his mother’s shoulders. In 1887 he visited an exhibition of peredvizhniki which made a tremendous impression on him. Despite financial difficulties his mother sent him to have lessons with a local artist and teacher A. Vlasov.
In 1896 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He studied in Ilya Repin’s studio. Kustodiev was Repin’s assistant when he was commissioned to paint a large-scale canvas to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the State Council – the picture The Ceremonial Meeting of the State Council on May 7, 1901 (1901-03, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg).
Despite the fact that the young artist gained fame as a portraitist for his diploma work Kustodiev chose genre theme (“At the market”) and in autumn of 1900 he went to the Kostroma province. There he met his future wife, Yu. Poroshinskaya.
On October 31, 1903 the artist graduated from the Academy with a gold medal and the right to an annual pensioner’s trip abroad and in Russia. In December 1903, together with his wife and son Boris moved to Paris. During his trip the artist visited Germany, Italy, Spain, where he studied and copied the old masters. Six months later, Kustodiev returned to Russia and worked in Kostroma on the series of paintings Fair and Village Festival.
In 1904 he became a founding member of the New Society of Artists.
The revolutionary events of 1905, which shook the foundations of society, evoked a vivid response in the artist’s soul. From 1905 to 1907 Boris worked as a cartoonist for the satirical magazines Bugbear and Infernal Post. In paintings such as Meeting at Putilovsky Factory, Strike, Demonstration and The May-Day Demonstration at Putilovsky Factory, he depicted workers risen in the struggle against autocracy. He illustrated many works of classical Russian literature, including Gogol’s Dead Souls, The Carriage and The Overcoat, Lermontov’s The Lay of Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich, His Young Oprichnik and the Stouthearted Merchant Kalashnikov and Lev Tolstoy’s Flow the Devil Stole the Peasant’s Hunk of Bread and The Candle.
In 1907 Kustodiev became a member of the Union of Russian Artists.
Like many artists of the turn of the century, Kustodiev worked in the theater. He designed the sets for Ostrovsky’s An Ardent Heart. Such was his success that further orders came pouring in; in 1913 he designed the sets and costumes for The Death of Pazukhin at the Moscow Art Theatre. His talent in this sphere was especially apparent in his work for Ostrovsky’s plays: It’s a Family Affair, A Stroke of Luck, Wolves and Sheep and The Storm.
In 1909, the first signs of spinal cord tumors appeared. Kustodiev underwent several operations. On the advice of his doctors he went to Switzerland, where he spent a year undergoing treatment in a private clinic.
However, during the difficult period of his life appeared more vivid, temperamental, cheerful works.
Kustodiev was one of the first artists to welcome the Revolution. In his painting 27 February 1917 he depicted the view from his studio window on that portentous day when the fate of tsarism was decided.
Kustodiev died on May 26, 1927 in Leningrad and was buried at St. Nicholas cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. In 1948, the ashes and the monument were moved to the Tikhvin cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. His sudden death was a great loss to Soviet art, but his bright, optimistic works live on, a source of great pleasure for millions.