Ivan Kramskoi


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(b Novaya Sotnya, nr. Ostrogozhsk, 27 May [8 June] 1837; d St Petersburg, 24 Mar. [5 Apr.] 1887).

Russian painter. In 1863 he led a revolt of fourteen students at the St Petersburg Academy: they left together in protest because they thought its approach was out of touch with modern life, and in 1870 they formed the nucleus of the Wanderers, of which Kramskoi was a leading light. A sensitive and highly principled man, he believed that ‘only a sense of social purpose can give an artist strength and multiply his powers…only confidence that the artist's work is needed and appreciated by society can help those exotic plants called pictures to ripen’. He was one of the outstanding Russian portraitists of his time and also painted deeply serious religious works. The most famous is Christ in the Wilderness (1872, Tretyakov Gal., Moscow), of which Tolstoy said, ‘This is the best Christ I know.’ His style was clear and sharply focused, perhaps reflecting the fact that he had been a photographic retoucher in his youth. Kramskoi was a hero and intellectual father to a generation of Russian painters, including Repin, who called him a ‘mighty man’.

Subjects: Art.

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