Orest Kiprenskii

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kiprenskii, Orest Adamovich


Born Mar. 13 (24), 1782, on the farmstead of Nezhinskaia, near Kopor’e, in present-day Leningrad Oblast; died Oct. 17, 1836, in Rome. Russian romantic painter and graphic artist.

Kiprenskii was the illegitimate son of a peasant woman. In 1788 he was given his freedom and admitted to the Educational School of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He studied there under G. I. Ugriumov and G. F. Doyen until 1803. Kiprenskii continued his studies at the academy on a stipend until 1809 and became an academician there in 1812.

In 1805, Kiprenskii was awarded a gold medal for his painting Dmitrii Donskoi on the Field of Kulikovo (Russian Museum, Leningrad). His real calling, however, was as a portraitist. The portrait served as a means of affirming the new view of man as a spiritually independent being, a view that reflected the romantic strivings of the era. Kiprenskii’s early works, which vary stylistically, include a portrait of his stepfather, A. K. Shval’be (1804, Russian Museum), and Self-portrait With Brushes Behind an Ear (c. 1808–09, Tret’iakov Gallery). In these two works the images of an authoritative old man and an inspired youth are created by pictorial means reminiscent of Rembrandt and other old masters.

From 1809 to 1811, Kiprenskii lived in Moscow and Tver’ (now Kalinin). In his portraits of A. A. Chelishchev (c. 1809–11 or 1810–11, Tret’iakov Gallery) and E. V. Davydov (1809, Russian Museum), Kiprenskii achieves romantic expressiveness of the face and conveys with exceptional emotional richness the psychological condition of his sitters by accentuating the faces with light against a dark background and using contrasting patches of rich colors. In his portraits of the Rostopchin couple (1809, Tret’iakov Gallery), he emphasized the variety of human feelings and characteristics. Kiprenskii achieved this by contrasting the vigor of the husband with the contemplative mood of his wife. Kiprenskii’s drawings from this period are marked by an absence of bias and class prejudice (for example, The Blind Musician, black chalk, 1809, Russian Museum).

In 1812, Kiprenskii moved to St. Petersburg, where he drew a number of portraits of people who had experienced the war and of people who were intellectually close to him. He did quick rough sketches (for example, the portrait of E. I. Chaplits, black chalk, 1813) and precise, carefully executed drawings that are highlighted by subdued tones of pastel (for example, the portrait of N. V. Kochubei, black chalk and pastel, 1813, A. S. Pushkin All-Union Museum, in Pushkin). These portraits record barely perceptible shades of mood and changes of feelings; they also convey the heroic selflessness of the sitters.

During his stay in Italy from 1816 to 1822, Kiprenskii developed a taste for precision and clarity of form and for generalized depictions (for example, the portrait of A. M. Golitsyn, c. 1823, Tret’iakov Gallery). It was also in Italy that he attempted historical paintings.

The spiritual crisis that Kiprenskii experienced after the suppression of the Decembrist uprising of 1825 led to a change in the style of his painting. He adopted a style similar to that of late classical painting. In 1827 he painted an idealized portrait of A. S. Pushkin (Tret’iakov Gallery), which embodies the artist’s lofty concept of the creative personality. However, his works gradually took on a coldness of form and superficial prettiness. Although Kiprenskii attempted to paint in the realist style characteristic of Russian art of that time, the analytical character of realism remained alien to his artistic method.

In 1828, Kiprenskii returned to Italy, where he attempted to reveal the many different psychological states of people through their interaction with one another (for example, The Newspaper Readers in Naples, 1831, Tret’iakov Gallery). However, he often provided only superficial descriptions and speculative conclusions (for example, M. A. Pototskaia and S. A. Shuvalova With the Ethiopian Girl, c. 1835, Kiev Museum of Russian Art).


Atsarkina, E. N. Orest Kiprenskii. Moscow, 1948.
Alekseeva, T. V. “O. A. Kiprenskii.” In Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, vol. 8, book 1. Moscow, 1963.
[Suris, B.] Kiprenskii—portretist. Leningrad, 1967.
Pospelov, G. G. Russkii portretnyi risunok nachala XIX veka. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.