Boris Kustodiev’s Ideal of Beauty

5 Jun

I became acquainted with Kustodiev’s work through exploring the Slavic mythology and I couldn’t be more happier with what I have discovered because Kustodiev’s paintings are enchanting with their vivid colour palette and choice of subjects.  In this post, I shall focus on his painting The merchant’s wife painted in 1918.

1918. Merchants Wife - Boris Kustodiev

Boris Kustodiev’s first impressions of the way of life of the provincial merchant class were formed at an early age when his family rented a small wing in a rich merchant’s house after his father had died. Boris later wrote ‘The whole tenor of the rich and plentiful merchant way of life was there right under my nose… It was like something out of an Ostrovsky play.’ He later recalled his childhood memories through his paintings, using water colours and oils to recreate the lively atmosphere of the merchant’s life he witnessed as a child.

In the painting above, called The merchant’s wife, we see a beautiful and plump Russian lady in a luxurious surroundings. Looking at this painting I feel an irresistible need to look at it again and again. There’s something so appealing in those vivid colours, opulent decorations and abundance of details; bright sky, town and trees in the background, lots of lavish food; grapes, watermelon, apples and bread, along with finely embroidered tablecloth, richly decorated pottery; all interwoven with Russian tradition. Modernism of the merchant world intermingled with Russian tradition, world of values and ideals.

1920s Merchant’s Wife - Boris Kustodiev

Kustodiev’s inspiration did not stop on one painting for he painted three more, also named The merchant’s wife. The one above also displays the merchant’s wife in a luxurious surrounding, however, here she is painted nude, which shows her beauty; Russian beauty later developed in his painting named Russian Venus. The merchant’s wife is depicted as plump, fair and gracious with hair gold as wheat, eyes blue like the sky and lips soft, delicate and red like a cherry. She is lying on a bed, surrounded by shiny pink bed-linen while her hand rests on a snowy white cotton pillow.

Wallpapers in vivid blue with red roses print emphasize the richness and luxury surrounding this lady whose beauty is negligent and in conceited. She’s not vain, rigid or uptight, quite the opposite, she simply enjoys the comfort of merchandise life; a simple minded, innocent soul whose moral values cannot be tainted by earthly treasures and cheap pleasures – that shows her strength and loyalty to the Russian tradition. Her spirit belongs to Russia and she’s not able, nor she wishes to let herself to pompous life popularized by aristocrats.

1924. Boris Kustodiev - Merchant’s Wife

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