He was an incredibly prolific artist, exhibiting over 100 paintings and sketches in the Academy exhibition of 1898. He tended towards large-scale canvases, particularly in his post-revolutionary years and to fulfil private commissions to decorate the houses of the wealthy in Kiev. His works were particularly sought after by the famous St Petersburg collector, Vasily Soldatenkov and in Kiev, Ivan Tereshchenko. In 1905, he was granted the title of Academician 'for his fame in the field of the Arts'
His long sojourn in Rome was pivotal in his artistic education and informed his choice of mythical and classical subjects and motifs for much of his career. Very fashionable in his day, he was known to produce variants of his successful compositions. A larger version of Roman Orgy in The State Russian Museum (300 by 500cm), acquired in 1898 from the Academy of Arts; the Donetsk Museum of Art has a smaller canvas on the same subject (69 by 109cm). It is characteristic to find several minor differences in these author's versions. In the present work for example, compared to the larger version in the Russian Museum, the cymbals on the right are held a slightly different angle; the right hand oar is shortened; the female figure with her back to the viewer in the foreground is looking to her left; there are additional figures in the middle ground, the brilliant depiction of the old man counting gold coins is more prominent.
The wonderful excess, fantasy and imagination displayed in Roman Orgy is typical of Kotarbinsky's most popular works and recalls the colourful hyperbole of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's masterpieces (fig. 1), and the large scale composition on historical themes painted by his contemporary Henri Semiradsky (fig. 2). Kotarbinsky's soaring imagination is described by a contemporary critic: 'A Russian doesn't dream on order. The Russian mind is precise, whereas the Polish mind is wide-ranging. A Russian imagination needs to be anchored in something real; a Polish imagination can soar in the clouds. A Russian artist might be an idealist, but he will never be a fantasist in the same way as many Polish artists are. When Svedomsky paints, he is at work. But Kotarbinsky is a dreamer – he dreams all the time, ceaselessly, while he is at work and at rest' (V.Dedlov, Kievskii Vladimirskii Sobor i ego khudozhestvennye tvortsy, Moscow, 1901).
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