The Artist Konstantin Somov

The Artist Konstantin Somov was born in 1869 in Saint Petersburg, Russia to an educated and wealthy family. His father was the senior curator at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. At that time St Petersburg was the capital of Russia and so being the senior curator of the foremost art museum in the country was a significant title.

On his mother’s side, his mother was a musician from a family in the Russian nobility. It was therefore open to the young Somov to pursue whatever career and calling he felt drawn to. As a young man he studied at the Imperial Academy of Art and one of his earlier well regarded paintings was Lady in Blue, a portrait of the artist Yelizaveta Martynova. It is a daring painting with the sitter with bare shoulders and her left hand pointing to the V in her blouse.

Lady in Blue

Viewpoint - a card for every day featuring art by by Konstantin Somov showing a room with small bottles, flowers, books on a table, with a view through an open window over a field with trees and a house in the distance

The painting Lady in Blue is not as fine and delicate in execution compared to paintings by Titian or Rembrandt or Van Dyke, with the darker tones blocking up parts of the painting such as the sitter’s hair. That said, the person that is Yelizaveta Martynova shows through and the painting is successful for that.

Somov was a founding member of the ‘World Of Art’ movement and was initially excited with the prospect of sweeping change in the Revolution of 1917. Bearing in mind that the initial events of the Russian Revolution happened right there in St Petersburg, on his doorstep so to speak, it is not surprising that he was excited by the prospect of the wind of change coming to sweep through the country.

On the other hand, his life of privilege was under threat and with the Bolshevik rise in 1922 he changed his view on the attraction of the coming world within Russia. After visiting the United States he decided to quit Russia and lived out his life as an exile in Paris with his long term muse, companion, and sitter Methodius Lukyanov.

Somov painted a very broad range of subjects, from portraits to landscapes and in a wide range of styles, suggesting he was looking for his own original essence through which to express himself. His painting in this card that we named Viewpoint that you can see here is especially successful in its glowing richness and framed view from beloved objects inside, looking out towards pleasantness outside. Somov painted it late in his life, in 1934 and is a testament to how he retained his skill into his sixties and had found his feet and a vision.

We Visit St Petersburg

In 2017 my wife and I visited St Petersburg, and of course we want to see the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the General Staff Building, which is part of the Hermitage. But which part? We have to ask.

We arrive at the huge open space in front of the Hermitage and walk across the Square and follow the road towards the river and ask. People are very friendly and helpful. They look on the their phones and they ask their colleagues. No one knows.

Eventually we find out it in is the yellow-painted, curve of a building across the Square from the Winter Palace. We smile, realising we had stood next to this building earlier. Even now we cannot find the entrance. We walk through the arch to a door but it is not the right one. We ask again. It is back around the corner on the inner curve of the building, two doors down. At last.

Note: The entrance to the museum is to the left of the archway, almost directly behind the column as seen in this view.

View from the Winter Palace in St Petersburg across the Square towards the Hermitage Museum
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