Rokotov, Fedor Stepanovich
Born in 1735 (?) in the village of Vorontsovo, now part of Moscow; died Dec. 12 (24), 1808, in Moscow. Russian portrait painter. The son of a serf.
Beginning in 1760, Rokotov studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He was appointed adjunct professor at the academy in 1762; three years later he was made an academy member. Having studied paintings executed in Russia by L. Tocqué and P. Rotari, Rokotov was among the first Russian painters to master the methods of 18th-century Western European formal portrait painting (for example, Portrait of Catherine II, 1763, Tret’iakov Gallery and Leningrad Russian Museum). At the same time, the traditions of early-18th-century Russian portraiture are reflected by the simplicity and unpre-tentiousness of Rokotov’s early half-length portraits (for example, Portrait of I. L. Golenishchev-Kutuzov, early 1760’s, Russian Museum).
In 1765, Rokotov moved to Moscow, where his work led to the development of a distinctive Moscow style of portrait painting. His association with the more enlightened Moscow families (such as the Vorontsovs and the Struiskiis) and with the Moscow intelligentsia contributed to his growing disdain for St. Petersburg life—with its vanity and ostentation. The artist’s intimate portraits of the 1760’s and 1770’s are noted for an absence of ostentation, a subdued mood, and sincerity in representation. Rokotov conveyed the hidden feelings and passions of his subjects. The following works, all in the Tret’iakov Gallery, represent a unified group of personalities: Portrait of V. I. Maikov (c. 1765), Portrait of A. I. Vorontsov (late 1760’s), Portrait of A. P. Struiskaia (1772), Unknown Woman in Pink Dress (1770’s), and Unknown Man in Cocked Hat (early 1770’s).
Rokotov was particularly attracted to serious young faces, which he depicted as if emerging from profound darkness into the light. The charm of youth is reflected in the rosy cheeks, the tender color of the lips, and the moist brilliance of the dark-browed eyes. The emotional impact of Rokotov’s paintings in many ways depends on the transformation of the force of light. A stream of soft yet intensive light imparts a certain delicate-ness to the figures. Often it does not light up the subject entirely but merely brings out from the darkness the lighted side of the face or neck or the forward thrust of the shoulder. Shiny strokes of white or pink give the impression of shimmering lace, jewels, and moiré ribbons in the semidarkness.
By the 1780’s, Rokotov’s portraits were marked by greater brightness and clarity. The beckoning semidarkness was replaced by more definite color tones, and forms were better delineated (for example, Portrait of V. E. Novosi’tseva, 1780, Tret’iakov Gallery; portraits of the Surovtsevs, late 1780’s, Russian Museum; Portrait of E. V. Santi, 1785, Russian Museum). The portraits, most often oval in format, became more elegant and commanding. The ideal of human dignity and beauty, which always fascinated Rokotov, was now apprehended as the sitter’s lofty, often slightly haughty sense of spiritual superiority to his or her surroundings.
Rokotov’s later works reflect Russian art’s transition from the refinement of rococo to the clarity and severity of classicism. The artist’s last works date to the 1790’s.
REFERENCESLebedev, A. V. F. S. Rokotov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Lapshina, N. F. S. Rokotov. Moscow, 1959.
G. G. POSPELOV