In December 1893 Repin returned to Naples with his 16-year-old son, Yuri, this time as a newly-appointed Professor of the Imperial Academy. Although they initially intended to stay for no longer than a month, they remained there until late February 1894. Their apartment in the affluent Santa Lucia district boasted balconies with views of Mount Vesuvius and the Sorrento peninsula to the left, and of the medieval Castel dell'Ovo visible in the background of the present lot, to the front. Repin was once again captivated by Naples and in February 1894 wrote to Alexander Zhirkevich that 'this is truly a place of unimaginable wonder and beauty; but you are wrong to think that I will come away from here with new work. I didn't come for that. I mean to relax and look around, I have no ulterior motives at all'. (cited in Repin, vol.1, Moscow, 1948, p.238). Despite his declared intention to put his brush aside in Naples, it was in fact here that he painted the present lot, as well as several other works including Portrait of a Neapolitan Girl (fig.3), Self Portrait in Naples (fig.4) and The Wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna (State Russian Museum).
David Jackson has argued that Repin’s portraits of his immediate family, painted without a patron or the public in mind, are amongst his best. In 1948, Grabar and Zilbershtein declared this portrait to be ‘without doubt, an exquisite work. Above all, the composition is striking: holding a Baedeker guide in his hands, Yuri stands by the iron railings of a balcony looking out onto the sun-drenched bay of Naples opposite. The figure, standing in the open-air, is modelled masterfully. The coastline closest to the viewer and visible through the balcony is economically yet eloquently suggested. The landscape, air and sun are conveyed with a level of perfection that is so rarely found in other plein air studies of this period’ (ibid, p.239).
This portrait was one of the four works Repin exhibited at the Academy on 15 November 1894, only six months after his return from Europe. Judging by the reviews published in 1894, Repin’s portrait was not received as enthusiastically as the artist had expected. Some of the more conservative critics claimed that the work had been executed with too much freedom. Grabar and Zilbershtein have suggested that the portrait’s lukewarm reception prompted Repin to rework the painting, and that as a result of this the artist took the unusual decision to exhibit it for a second time at the 29th Itinerant Exhibition of 1901.
In 1907 the portrait was purchased by G.I. Zimin from an exhibition of Repin’s portraits and studies at the B.Avanzo Art Salon on Kuznetsky Most in Moscow. During the Soviet period the present work was discovered in a private collection in New York. In 1948 Grabar and Zilbershtein published it for the first time in their monograph; the black and white photograph illustrated on p.241 (fig.2) was supplied by Nikolai Kharitonov (1880-1944), a student of Repin’s who emigrated to New York in 1923.
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