The Girl with Peaches. Valentin Serov’s Life and Talent in One Painting

Valentin Serov. The Girl with Peaches (The Portrait of Vera Mamontova)
Valentin Serov. The Girl with Peaches (The Portrait of Vera Mamontova) 1887. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

“The Girl with Peaches” is not just a visit card of Valentin Serov (1865-1911).

This is a unique work that allows us to understand the artist at a very deep level. There is so much of Serov “woven” in it that we can talk about it endlessly.

Young Serov

“The Girl with Peaches” shows how authentic Serov was. It is enough to know the circumstances under which it was painted.

Imagine that it was created by a very young artist who had hundreds of other works ahead of him.

He was only 22 years old. That says one thing. Serov was so talented that he managed to create masterpieces without having serious skills.

Although Serov had one important advantage over others.

He was born in a creative family. His mother was a composer. It was her suggestion that at the age of 9 (!) Serov already began training not with a mediocre painter. But with Ilya Repin himself.

Therefore, at the age of 15, he painted quite strong works of art. Like, for example, the portrait of Lyalya Simonovich.

Valentin Serov. The Portrait of Lyalya Simonovich.
Valentin Serov. The Portrait of Lyalya Simonovich. 1880. The Russian Museum, Saint-Petersburg.

But I am struck by another fact. “The Girl with Peaches” was created immediately after Serov’s trip to Italy, where he studied masterpieces of the old masters.

And despite all his impressions, he created his “The Girl with Peaches” which is not very similar to the works of Renaissance or Baroque artists.

It is painted in the style of … impressionism. As you can understand, there was no sign of impressionism in Italy at that time.

Serov-impressionist

It is unlikely that Serov saw any French impressionist works before creating his “Girl with Peaches”. And few Russian artists saw them. Especially gifted, as you have already understood, were sent to Italy to study realism.

It turns out that Serov pained like an impressionist intuitively. And this is not his only work in the style of Impressionism. The following summer, he created another of his masterpieces, The Girl in the Sun.

Valentin Serov. The Girl in the Sun.
Valentin Serov. The Girl in the Sun. 1888. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

There are a lot of signs of this “airy and sunny” style in The Girl with Peaches.

The brushstrokes in it are not hidden, creating an atmosphere of lightness and freshness.

You can also see Serov’s desire to capture a moment of life. It is as if the girl has just run into the room. The blush on her cheeks tells you that. She has just sat down at the table and grabbed a peach. She is going to cut it open with a knife and enjoy it.

Everything the Impressionists loved. No climaxes, no twisted plots. Just a moment from everyday life.

There is also a typical of the Impressionists the effect of “random” composition. Look how interesting the space is “cut” by the frame.

To the left there is the edge of another room and a chair in it. To the right, the candlestick barely fit into the frame. This also very much emphasizes the aliveness of what is happening.

But one thing still distinguishes Serov from the Impressionists. The latter, as a rule, worked quickly. After all, they wanted to capture the moment here and now. Until, for example, the sun went down. Their masterpieces are the result of several hours of work.

Serov could not work so quickly. And The Girl with Peaches is no exception. He painted this picture … for 2 months. He started in August and finished in September.

Hence the yellow foliage outside the window. And the peaches themselves which ripened in the Mamontovs’ greenhouse just in September and October.

Art Quiz

Serov-psychologist

Serov was a psychologist by nature. And even at such a young age, he managed to capture Vera Mamontova’s character.

The girl was very active and curious. But she was already entering the stage of adolescence. So, she could control herself and pose for the artist.

We can easily read all this from the created image.

Valentin Serov. The Girl with Peaches (fragment).
Valentin Serov. The Girl with Peaches (fragment). 1887. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Lively eyes that show genuine interest in what is happening. Tanned skin. The girl obviously spent all her free time outdoors.

Slightly disheveled hair, ordinary cut. Her hands are holding the peach at ease. An easy-going, fun-loving girl.

Her light pink blouse with an elegant bow, as well as the simple furnishings of the room very well echo this character.

Now compare Vera’s portrait with that of her cousin Praskovya Mamontova. It was painted in the same year, by the same 22-year-old Serov.

Valentin Serov. The Portrait of Praskovya Mamontova.
Valentin Serov. The Portrait of Praskovya Mamontova. 1887. Private collection.

Cherry dress. Gray-maroon background. Chin down. Eyes are looking slightly from under their brows.

A completely different color scheme, another facial expression, a different pose.

This is a girl who tends to be self-absorbed. She is more vulnerable, less active than Vera.

Serov and the Mamontovs’ family

Although Vera Mamontova is depicted in close-up, Serov managed to include many remarkable details in the surrounding environment.

It immediately becomes clear that he was well acquainted not only with the girl herself, but in general with this house and its atmosphere.

Andrey Allakhverdov. Valentin Serov.
Andrey Allakhverdov. Valentin Serov. 2016. Private collection (you can see the whole series of portraits of XIX-XX centuries artists on the website allakhverdov.com).

Indeed, Serov considered the Mamontovs’ estate in Abramtsevo his second home. He spent there a long time every year since the age of 10.

His mother was a very busy woman, not particularly concerned with her son. And there he felt loved and needed. Hence so many interesting details.

Vsevolod, Sergey, Alexandra and Andrey Mamontov (Vera Mamontova’s brothers and sister). Dining room in the Abramtsevo estate (where Vera Mamontova posed).
Vsevolod, Sergey, Alexandra and Andrey Mamontov (Vera Mamontova’s brothers and sister). Dining room in the Abramtsevo estate (where Vera Mamontova posed). The end of 1880s.

What can we read from these details?

Pay attention to how many chairs fit into the frame of the picture! The photo of the same dining room shows that there really were a lot of them. It is obvious that the family was large, and they liked guests.

Yes, the Mamontovs’ estate was a club for creative people. It was often visited by Vasnetsov and Vrubel and Korovin. And many other artists, writers, and actors.

We also see that the interior of the house is quite simple. Although the Mamontovs were rich people. Light walls, an ordinary tablecloth, a single painted dish.

Valentin Serov. Savva Mamontov.
Valentin Serov. Savva Mamontov. 1891. The Tula Museum of Fine Arts.

Savva Mamontov, the head of the family, was called the Russian Medici. For his patronage of talented people. He did not care about the financial situation of the guest. People in this house were valued for their gifts and human qualities.

Serov also judged people by their actions, never by their status. So, it’s not surprising that he felt so comfortable in this house.

The Mamontovs’ family and their home are a very important part of the artist’s life. And just in the picture “The Girl with Peaches” we can perfectly feel it.

Interestingly, the general public did not see The Girl with Peaches for 40 years after its creation (except for the participation of the picture in occasional exhibitions).

It was in the Mamontovs’ family until 1929. Until it was taken out of the Abramtsevo estate and transferred to the Tretyakov Gallery.

Maybe it’s for the best. It is unlikely that public would have appreciated The Girl with Peaches when Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) were popular. Its time had not yet come.

«Read more about Russian artists’ masterpieces».

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Thanslated by Anna Samoilenko

Photos: Commons Wikimedia

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