Boris Kustodiev – Russian artist
Boris Kustodiev was a talented genre-painter, master of psychological portraiture, book illustrator and stage-set artist. It is difficult to find another painter, so passionately in love with provincial Russia: original, bright, surprising.
Boris was born on March 7, 1878 in Astrakhan into a family of a school teacher. A number of researchers suggest that the surname Kustodiev comes from the Old Slavonic “custod” – the so-called guard, the church gatekeeper. Grandfather served as a deacon in one of the villages of the Samara province, the sons Stepan, Konstantin and Mikhail also followed in their father’s footsteps.
The future artist’s 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.
By the way, Boris Mikhailovich studied in the theological seminary. True, he did not demonstrate outstanding abilities, having made progress only in the iconography. Most of the time, the boy devoted his new hobbies – sculpture and carving.
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).
In autumn of 1900 he went to the Kostroma province, where 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 he 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 he depicted workers risen in the struggle against autocracy. The artist illustrated many works of classical Russian literature.
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. In 1911, he created his first independent work for Ostrovsky’s play An Ardent Heart staged by Fedor Komissarzhevsky. Later, in 1914, the artist created scenery for the play Death of Pazukhin based on the play by Saltykov-Shchedrin. The most famous works of Kustodiev-illustrator are drawings to rare editions of Leskov’s works The Patcher (1922) and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1923), as well as to the Nekrasov’s collection Six Poems (1922).
Unbearable pain in the hands, which did not allow the master to work, force him to go to Switzerland, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of bones. It was during a prolonged and exhausting treatment, Kustodiev began working on a gallery of unsurpassed female images. In 1915, he painted Merchant and Beauty – unique images of Russian beauty.
Kustodiev is rightly considered the unsurpassed master of the portrait – this genre has occupied a central place in his work since his studies at the Academy of Arts. Book illustrator Ivan Bilibin, historian and restorer Alexander Anisimov, poet and artist Maximilian Voloshin – in every portrait Kustodiev managed to show the difficult essence of man. But, perhaps, the most famous work of Kustodiev in this genre was the ceremonial portrait of Chalyapin. It is interesting that in the lower left corner Kustodiev portrayed the daughters of Chaliapin, Maria and Marfa. Chaliapin admired the “great spirit” of Kustodiev and often visited him in a Petrograd apartment. They remembered their native Volga and sang songs.
Kustodiev’s favorite theme for many years was provincial Russia with its folk festivals and colorful fairs and the main actors – the inhabitants of small cozy towns. His pictures are recognizable at once: bright, colorful, lively. Alexander Benois was convinced that the real Kustodiev is a Russian fair, a Russian land and a Russian village, with their harmonics, gingerbread, cute girls and dashing guys. In 1920 Kustodiev, on the order of I. Brodsky, created the series Rus: 26 watercolors, each of which, to the smallest detail, tells about the life of ordinary Russian people. A cab driver drinking tea in a tavern, a respectable merchant walking around the city in a rich fur coat, a hilarious baker – everyone becomes a unique part of the picture that gathers into one huge puzzle called Rus.
Despite the successful operation, in 1915 the pains returned – the disease attacked with such cruelty that the master could not move independently. He underwent another operation, but until his death he was chained to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, during that period Kustodiev created his most vivid works, filled with endless love of life and whirlwind of emotions.
Until the last days he continued to paint the beauty and generosity of the Russian land.
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.