Petrov-Vodkin, Kuzma Sergeevich

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Petrov-Vodkin, Kuz’ma Sergeevich


Born Oct. 24 (Nov. 5), 1878, in Khvalynsk, in present-day Saratov Oblast; died Feb. 15, 1939, in Leningrad. Soviet painter. Honored Artist of the RSFSR (1930).

Petrov-Vodkin studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture under V. A. Serov from 1897 to 1905, in A. Ažbè’s studio in Munich in 1901, and at private academies in Paris from 1905 to 1908. He visited Italy in 1905 and North Africa in 1907. Petrov-Vodkin was a member of the World of Art (from 1911) and the Four Arts (from 1924).

In the first decade of the 20th century, Petrov-Vodkin was strongly influenced by German and French symbolist and art nouveau artists (F. von Stuck, P. Puvis de Chavannes, and M. Denis) and by V. E. Borisov-Musatov. As a result of this influence, he became one of the principal representatives of symbolist tendencies in Russian painting.

After 1910, the elegiac contemplativeness, muted lyricism, languid rhythm, and gloomy palette of Petrov-Vodkin’s early works (The Shore, 1908; The Dream, 1910—both Russian Museum, Leningrad) were replaced by emotionally tense plastic images, sharply rhythmic composition, and contrasts of vibrant colors (Boys at Play, 1911, Russian Museum). The work Bathing of the Red Horse (1912, Tret’iakov Gallery), perceived in the emotional atmosphere of those years as a presentiment of a new historical era, heralds the artist’s final transition from cloudy allegories to true-to-life and still all-embracing symbolism. The painting also marked the artist’s transition from an inorganic combination of planar and three-dimensional elements to a unified monumental-decorative whole.

Petrov-Vodkin’s interest in Early Renaissance Italian painting and in Russian iconography, exemplified in Bathing of the Red Horse, was largely responsible for the harmonious illumination and refined modeling that characterized the artist’s works of the second decade of the 20th century. At the same time, his work from this period shows a retreat from classical perspective in favor of spherical perspective, which is achieved by using several points of view, including the vertical compositional axes, and turning the planes toward the viewer. This permits a concurrence of episodes occurring at different times, an emphasis of the moment of movement, and a feeling of vast space. Spherical perspective characterizes Midday (1917) and Morning Still Life (1918), both of which are in the Russian Museum.

In the 1920’s, Petrov-Vodkin developed solutions to problems of perspective, composition and color. He produced a panoramic effect in his paintings and united all forms and planes by using the three primary colors—red, yellow, and blue. In the Soviet period, he strove to grasp the essence of the country’s historical turning point through a “cosmic,” “planetary” comprehension of reality. He sought for a palpable reflection of the tragic and heroic encounters in life and for the discovery, in small things, of the diversity of natural ties.

Petrov-Vodkin produced thematic compositions imbued with the fervor of revolutionary struggle and with the idea of sacrifice in the name of the future (1918 in Petrograd, 1920, Tret’iakov Gallery; After the Battle, 1923, Central Museum of the Soviet Army, Moscow; Death of a Commissar, 1928, Russian Museum). He painted analytically austere portraits (the portrait of A. A. Akhmatova, 1922, Russian Museum), poetic genre-portrait compositions reflecting the fullness of being (Girl in a Sarafan, 1928, Russian Museum), and still lifes conveying the structured nature of the objective world (Bird-Cherry Branch in Glass, 1932, Russian Museum).

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Petrov-Vodkin worked extensively as a graphic artist and set designer. His literary works include short stories, novellas, plays, essays, and theoretical articles. Particularly noteworthy is his autobiographical My Story (part 1, Khlynovsk, 1930; part 2, Euclidean Space, 1932; republished together with the essays Samarkandia in Leningrad, 1970).

From the first years of Soviet power, Petrov-Vodkin was one of the reorganizers of art education. Between 1918 and 1933 he taught at the State Free Art Workshops and at the Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in Petrograd (Leningrad).


Kostin, V. I. K. S. Petrov-Vodkin. [Moscow, 1966.]
K. S. Petrov-Vodkin: 1878-1939 (exhibition catalog). Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
K. S. Petrov-Vodkin. [Album. Introduction by L. Mochalov.] Leningrad [1971].


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