Repin found the well-known author to be a fascinating subject, writing ‘as far as I can see, after his face, all other faces seem boring and lacking in curiosity’ (Letter from Repin to V.G.Chertkov, 16th October 1891). Tolstoy posed for Repin on a number of occasions at Yasnaya Polyana, the resulting paintings now hanging in major museums such as the State Tretyakov Gallery and State Russian Museum, as well as at the author’s estate. As the renowned arts critic Vladimir Stasov said, Repin was able to portray ‘the inner creative workings of the great man’s mind’ (A.L. Kagarin, Repin: His Artistic Legacy, USSR: Academy of Science, 1949, vol.2, p.380).
The present lot is a version of a full-length portrait of Tolstoy painted in 1901 now at the State Russian Museum, (fig.2). The full-length portrait captures Tolstoy during a moment of one of his so-called ‘prayers’: his pose with his hands tucked into the belt wrapped around his linen rubakha, the traditional peasant shirt which became synonymous with the author, and the red book protruding from the pocket are motifs which Repin borrowed for the present work.
Completed in 1916, this portrait was painted at Repin’s estate at Penaty, six years after the death of Tolstoy. Due to the shortages caused by the First World War, canvas was increasingly difficult to acquire, and, as with many of his other compositions from this period, this work was painted on linoleum, the embossed pattern of which can be seen in places through the paint surface.
The portrait was acquired by Vassily Levi, an artist and agent who represented the Repin family from 1918. Levi sold the work to K.G.Lenbom in early May 1920 along with a number of other works, all of which were destined for the Repin exhibition in New York in 1921 which was organised by Levi alongside Christian Brinton (fig.3).
We would like to thank Liudmila Andrushchenko for providing additional cataloguing information.
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