Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky (Russian, 1839–1915),
Russian Beauty and Cat
oil on canvas, 45¼ x 36½ in., 115.6 x 92.7 cm
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Martin, 1954.172
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Best known as a painter of peasant scenes and founding member of the revolutionary movement known as the “Wanderers,” Makovsky established himself early on as a champion of Russian subject matter. Entering the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg — the only avenue for aspiring artists in the tightly controlled Czarist state — in 1858, Makovsky took an active part in an unprecedented rebellion against the authorities in 1863 and, with thirteen other students, formed the Artel’ Khudozhnikov, an independent artists’ cooperative. The Artel’ advocated freedom from Academic rules and subject matter and saw themselves as part of a new moral and rational order.
Russian Beauty and Cat perfectly embodies the modified realism and dawning nationalism of mid-century Russian artists. A carefully painted Tartar woman leans out an ornately carved window frame. The elaborate jewelry of her adornments contrasts with the softness of her face and bare shoulders —slightly sensual note accentuated by the contented, purring cat that she strokes.