Andrei Matveev. Russian painter of XVIII century

The development of secular painting in Russia began with the portrait. And in this regard, it is impossible not to mention Andrei Matveev (1702 – 1739).

After all, he was the first who depict a person of simple origin. Like himself.

Matveev. Self-portrait with wife
Andrey Matveev. Self-portrait with his Wife. 1729. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo: author’s archive.

Only noble people were depicted before him. And here the artist himself as the son of a simple commoner. His wife is the daughter of a blacksmith.

Pay attention to what a high quality portrait! You can compare it with a portrait of the same time by another artist.

Unknown artist. Portrait of A.I. Panina
Unknown artist. Portrait of A.I. Panina (in the marriage of Princess Kurakina). 1715. Tver gallery. Photo: author’s archive.

Obviously, Matveev was head and shoulders above his colleagues professionally. And in terms of working with chiaroscuro, and in terms of maintaining the proportions of the body.

And he was even close to a psychological portrait. You can feel the tenderness with which he treated his wife precisely in her image painted with love.

Of course, the artist had an advantage. As a great talent, Peter I sent him to study in Holland and Belgium. He was the first Russian artist who received a full academic education.

And when he himself became a teacher, he willingly passed on his knowledge and skills to young colleagues. It was with him that professional secular painting began in Russia.

Andrey Matveev. Portrait of Peter I.
Andrey Matveev. Portrait of Peter I. 1720-s. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

But note that at the same time in his portrait there is nothing from the magnificent baroque of Rubens. Namely, first of all, in this style he was trained to work in Europe. His portrait is devoid of excessive details, as well as attributes of status. Perhaps this is the most benevolent image of Peter I.

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Due to his gentle and kind nature, Matveev saw the most positive qualities in others and emphasized them in his heroes. Alas, very few easel works of this remarkable artist have come down to us.

When he returned to Russia after his studies, Peter I had already died, and his heirs used the artist’s talent to their fullest. Yes, there were orders for the painting of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, and the halls of the Hermitage. But more often he was sent to paint carriages and dovecotes.

Occasionally the artist also worked in the mythological genre.

Andrey Matveev. Venus and Cupid.
Andrey Matveev. Venus and Cupid. 1726. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

However it is clear that he had not yet been given complex angles and nudity. We see too large neck of Venus, shoulders too different in length, as well as an excessively large lower body of Cupid.

But you have to give credit to this artist. He was one of the first Russian painters. A few decades before this, the masters depicted only static figures based on the heritage of icon painting. For example, here are the example of Tsar’s portrait.

Unknown master of the Armory. Portrait of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich
Unknown master of the Armory. Portrait of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. Late 1670s – early 1680s. Tretyakov Gallery. Wikimedia Commons.

Matveev passed away at the age of 37. Rather, “burned out” under the yoke of countless orders.


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Author: Oksana Kopenkina

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