Ilia Efimovich Repin

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Repin, Il’ia Efimovich


Born July 24 (Aug. 8), 1844, in Chuguev, in present-day Kharkov Oblast; died Sept. 29, 1930, in Kuokkala, Finland (present-day Repino, Leningrad Oblast). Russian artist.

In late 1863, Repin, the son of a military settler, studied under R. K. Zhukovskii and I. N. Kramskoi in St. Petersburg at the Drawing School of the Society for the Promotion of the Arts. From 1864 to 1871 he attended the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Repin studied on a stipend in Italy and France from 1873 to 1876, and in 1878 he joined the Society of Wandering Art Exhibitions (the peredvizhniki—a progressive art movement). Repin became a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1893.

During his student years, Repin became close friends with V. V. Stasov and with I. N. Kramskoi and other members of the Artists’ Artel. The Artists’ Artel greatly influenced Repin, who went on to become an ardent supporter of the aesthetics of the revolutionary democrats.

In the 1860’s, Repin worked on student academic projects. At the same time, independent from the academy, he worked on portrait paintings, genre paintings, and drawings. A number of his academic works devoted to mythological and religious themes are noted for lifelike images and expressive psychological characterizations (The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter, 1871, Russian Museum, Leningrad). The artist’s talent, keen powers of observation, and passionate temperament were evident even in his earliest portraits (Portrait of V. E. Repin, 1867, Tret’iakov Gallery; Portrait of R. D. Khloboshchin, 1868, Russian Museum; Portrait of V. A. Shevtsova, 1869, Russian Museum). Also evident in these early portraits was Repin’s skillful rendering of pose and gesture to achieve vivid characterization. In 1871–72, Repin produced a large group portrait, Slavic Composers (Moscow Conservatory), in which he introduced genre elements to enhance the natural grouping of the subjects.

In the early 1870’s, Repin emerged as a democratic artist, supporting the principles of narodnost’ (close ties to the people) and struggling against academic art that was removed from everyday life. Repin traveled to the Volga, where he observed the boatmen. After a lengthy period of preliminary sketching he painted The Volga Boatmen (1870–73, Russian Museum)—a profound and vivid portrayal of the boatmen’s life. The painting exposes the exploitation of the people and, at the same time, affirms their hidden strength and ripening protest. Repin conveyed the great inner beauty and the unique, individual features of his toil-weary subjects. This painting represented a new phenomenon in Russian painting. A genre work of monumental character and a generalization of modern life, it not only revealed the contradictions of reality but also recognized the positive force of society, that is, of the common people. The painting’s strong modeling and breadth of scope were also innovative.

During his years in Italy and France, Repin became acquainted with the art of Western Europe. His most important work of this period is Parisian Café (1874–75, Monson’s Collection, Stockholm), which captures the distinctive features of Parisian life and shows the keen eye of the artist. In France, Repin painted Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom (1876, Russian Museum), a work fraught with reminiscences of the artist’s homeland. More successful were Repin’s landscapes of this period, which represent an important step forward in the artist’s mastery of plein-air painting (Horse for Stone-hauling in Velay, 1874, A. N. Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov; The Road to Montmartre, 1876, Tret’iakov Gallery).

Upon his return from abroad, Repin went to Chuguev, where he hoped to find themes and images for new works by associating with the common folk. His portraits of peasants painted there are marked by striking characterization (The Peasant With the Evil Eye, 1877, Tret’iakov Gallery; The Timid Peasant, 1877, Gorky Art Museum). Portrait of an Archdeacon (1877, Tret’iakov Gallery) depicts a commanding individual full of rugged strength.

In the late 1870’s and the early 1880’s, Repin devoted himself to themes from peasant life, first in Chuguev and then in Moscow (Seeing Off the Recruit, 1879, Russian Museum; Vechornitsy[Evening Gatherings of Village Youth], 1881, Tret’iakov Gallery). Some of his sketches and paintings, such as In the District Office (1877, Russian Museum), reveal the social conflicts of post-Reform village life. These works served as preparation for a painting that would reflect Russian life of Repin’s time and that would deal with the theme of the common folk in the broadest possible way.

The painting Religious Procession in Kursk Province (1880–83, Tret’iakov Gallery) depicted post-Reform Russia, with its complex social fabric and variety of life. Repin provided sharp characterizations of the members of a large procession, which includes a woman of the landowning class, a retired soldier, a tax farmer, priests, beggars, pilgrims, and a large crowd of common people. The procession reflects a feeling of boundless elemental strength. Religious Procession in Kursk Province is an epic about the poverty and oppression of the common people and their longing for a better life. It also expresses the arrogance of the gentry and other “masters” of the village. The work is both a stinging exposé of the vileness of the existing order and a eulogy of the people—oppressed and deceived and yet great and mighty. The painting’s strictly organized composition and realistic technique reveal Repin’s mastery of his art. Conveying an atmosphere of fresh air and brilliant sunlight, Repin achieved extraordinary scenic realism.

In 1882, Repin settled in St. Petersburg. The late 1870’s and early 1880’s were the artist’s most fruitful creative period. Exhibitions of his best works, which were imbued with the ideas of the liberation of the people and the struggle against the autocratic order, were major events in the artistic and social life of Russia. In the 1880’s Repin dedicated many of his works to the revolutionary movement. Sympathizing with the revolutionaries and viewing them as heroes in the struggle for the people’s happiness, Repin created a virtual gallery of positive images, which faithfully reflected both the strengths and weaknesses of the raznochinets (educated nongentry) revolutionary-democratic movement. A major work of this period is the cycle of paintings in the Tret’iakov Gallery including the three works Refusal to Confess (1879–85), The Arrest of a Propagandist (1880–92), and The Unexpected (1884–88).

In The Unexpected, the central work of the cycle, Repin portrays the homecoming of a political exile. The central image of the painting renders the tragic fate of the revolutionary. Repin depicts a broad range of emotions in his painting of the hero being greeted by his mother, wife, and child. The compositional structure of the painting, having the clarity that is necessary for a monumental canvas, is governed by the psychological relationships between the subjects. The painting is saturated with light and air, which Repin conveyed with pure, bright colors of a harmonious palette. In depicting the heroic and elevated in the lives of ordinary people, Repin imparted to genre painting an importance that had previously belonged only to historical painting.

Repin painted his best portraits in the 1870’s and 1880’s. These works reflect the artist’s democratic beliefs, love for humanity, and deep interest in psychology. Repin’s numerous portraits and his genre paintings recorded the essential features of Russian life. The portraits reflect a keen social awareness and say much about their era. Particularly noteworthy are Repin’s portraits of V. V. Stasov (1873 and 1883), A. F. Pisemskii (1880), M. P. Mussorgsky (1881), N. I. Pirogov (1881), P. A. Strepetova (1882), A. I. Del’vig (1882), and L. N. Tolstoy (1887). (All the above-mentioned portraits are in the Tret’iakov Gallery except the later portrait of Stasov, which is in the Russian Museum.)

Repin’s skill as a draftsman was fully developed by the 1880’s. Particularly noteworthy are the artist’s portrait drawings from this period. The pencil drawings The Girl Ada (1882, Tret’iakov Gallery) and Nevsky Prospect (1887, the Russian Museum) are marked by a free technique and the rendering of life’s diversity and beauty. Between 1880 and 1910, Repin often worked as an illustrator.

Repin was a master of the historical painting. Problems arising in the present provoked his interest in the past. He was attracted to dramatic themes and to strong personalities whose fates were linked with important historical events (Tsarina Sofia, 1879, Tret’iakov Gallery). The painting Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan (1885, Tret’iakov Gallery), an expressive portrayal of the force of passions, is a denunciation of despotism. Repin’s last significant historical work was The Cossacks of Zaporozh’ye Write a Letter to the Turkish Sultan (1878–91, Russian Museum), whose hero is a freedom-loving people courageously defending their interests.

In the 1890’s, Repin experienced a creative crisis and temporarily broke with the peredvizhniki. His articles and letters led his contemporaries to believe that he had recanted the ideas of the democratic aesthetic. However, by the late 1890’s, Repin returned to his previous stance.

Except for isolated successes, Repin produced no works in his late period that were equal to those of the 1870’s and 1880’s. His best works of the 1890’s and early 1900’s are vivid portraits, usually of strong creative individuality (Portrait of Eleonora Duse, charcoal, 1891, Tret’iakov Gallery). Also noteworthy are the portrait studies for the monumental group portrait Solemn Session of the State Council (with the artists I. S. Kulikov and B. M. Kustodiev, 1901–03, Russian Museum). The studies are marked by sharp social characterizations and pictorial simplicity.

Repin’s work, profoundly national and intimately linked with the advanced ideas of his era, represents one of the pinnacles of Russian democratic art.

From 1894 to 1907, Repin taught at the Academy of Arts. He was the academy’s rector in 1898 and 1899. His pupils included I.I. Brodskii, I. E. Grabar’, D. N. Kardovskii, and B. M. Kustodiev. From 1899 until his death, Repin lived on his estate, Penaty. In 1917 the area in which Repin’s estate was located became part of Finland. (Kuokkala belonged to Finland until 1940.) While living in Finland, Repin did not break his ties with his homeland and dreamed of returning to the USSR.

Repin was buried on his estate, and a memorial museum was opened there in 1940. There is also a memorial museum in Chuguev. A monument to Repin (bronze and granite, sculptor M. G. Manizer, architect I. E. Rozhin) was unveiled in Moscow in 1958.


Dalekoe blizkoe, 6th ed. [Moscow] 1961.
Repin, I. E., and I. N. Kramskoi. Perepiska. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Repin, I. E., and V. V. Stasov. Perepiska, vols. 1-3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948–50.
Repin, I. E., and L. N. Tolstoy. Perepiska, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.


Repin (articles and materials), vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948–49. (Khudozhestvennoe nasledstvo….)
Fedorov-Davydov, A. A. I. E. Repin. Moscow, 1961.
Liaskovskaia, O. A. I. E. Repin, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1962.
Grabar’, I. E. I. E. Repin, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1963–64.
Novoe o Repine. [Leningrad, 1968.]
Based on materials in the article by A. A. FEDOROV-DAVYDOV and D. V. SARAB’IANOV, 2nd ed., Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.