Levitskii, Dmitrii Grigor’evich
Born circa 1735 in Kiev (?); died Apr. 4 (16), 1822, in St. Petersburg. Russian portrait painter.
Levitskii studied under his father, the Ukrainian engraver G. K. Levitskii (Nos). In 1758 he became a pupil of A. P. Antropov. Between 1752 and 1755 he probably collaborated with his father on the murals in Andreevskii Cathedral in Kiev. Around 1758, Levitskii moved to St. Petersburg. The artist’s best works belong to the 1770’s and the early 1780’s. He earned the title of academician with his Portrait of A. F. Kokorinov (1769— 70, Russian Museum, Leningrad). It was with this work that Levitskii emerged as a master of the formal portrait, achieving effective composition, intensity and tonal unity of colors, and expressive poses and gestures. In this and other works (Portrait of N. A. Sezemov, 1770; Portrait of P. A. Demidov, 1773—both in the Tret’iakov Gallery) an overall grandeur in the tradition of late baroque art is often combined with natural and ordinary elements. The artist’s objective portrayal of the sitter, derived from 17th- and 18th-century Ukrainian portraitists and from Antropov, is complemented by his sharp perception of the tactility of objects.
In Levitskii’s series of formal portraits of pupils at the Smol’nyi Institute (c. 1773–76, Russian Museum), he created a virtual portrait gallery of elegant, coquettish young girls playing musical instruments, dancing, or acting in pastoral scenes. Behind this theatrical masquerade, he was able to discern pure feelings and lively personalities. The portrait series is marked by an elaborately decorative palette, with a wealth of harmonious pale golden, olive green, pink, black, and silver-gray hues. The treatment of space is somewhat two-dimensional, but it does not interfere with the three-dimensionality of the figures.
Levitskii’s intimate portraits are distinguished by the depth and diversity of characterization and by the simplicity of their rendering. These works are devoid of external attributes and are done in a free, impasto manner that creates an illusion of real flesh. These works include portraits of D. Diderot (1773–74, Museum of Art and History, Geneva), N. A. L’vov (1773–74, Literary Museum, Moscow), M. A. D’iakova (1778, Tret’iakov Gallery), a priest (possibly Levitskii’s father, 1779, Tret’iakov Gallery), Ia. E. Sivers (1779, Tret’iakov Gallery), and I. M. Dolgorukii (1782, Kiev Museum of Russian Art).
In the early 1780’s, Levitskii’s work began to reflect the influence of classicism. In the Portrait of Ursula Mnishek (1782, Tret’iakov Gallery) and the Portrait of Catherine II (1783, Russian Museum; other versions done in the 1780’s and in 1790) subtle gradations of tone were replaced by areas of local colors, forms were more clearly defined, and the brushwork became smoother. Levitskii’s portrait of Catherine II (its design was worked out by N. A. L’vov) embodies the abstract concept of the “wise monarchy,” which was popular among G. P. Derzhavin’s circle, with which Levitskii was close.
In the late 1780’s, Levitskii became increasingly dissatisfied with the rationalist ideas of the Enlightenment. His works lost their unity and harmony; the portrayals of his models became somewhat superficial (portrait of his daughter Agasha in a Russian folk costume, 1785, Tret’iakov Gallery; portrait of V. I. Mitrofanov and M. A. Mitrofanov, 1790’s, Russian Museum). However, Levitskii did create a number of highly artistic works in later years (daughters of A. I. Vorontsov, c. 1790, Russian Museum; unknown with a sphinx, 1790’s, Ghirschman Collection, Paris). In 1800 an eye disease forced Levitskii to virtually give up painting.
Levitskii’s work is one of the finest examples of Russian artistic culture of the second half of the 18th century. His teaching, which included supervising the portrait class at the Academy of Arts from 1771 to 1787, greatly influenced the development of an entire generation of Russian portrait painters (V. L. Borovikovskii, P. S. Drozhdin, E. D. Kamezhenkov, L. S. Miropol’skii—all but the first were Levitskii’s pupils).
REFERENCESDiaghilev, S. P. Russkaia zhivopis’ v XVIII veke. Vol. 1: D. G. Levitskii. St. Petersburg, 1902.
Gershenzon-Chegodaeva, N. M. D. G. Levitskii. Moscow, 1964.
T. V. ALEKSEEVA