The portrait of Briusov was made by order of Ryabushinsky, the publisher of the magazine “Golden Fleece”, who planned to put in the magazine a series of graphic portraits of poets and artists made by outstanding masters. Despite the fact that Vrubel had been living in Usoltsev’s psychiatric hospital for about a year, the enterprising Ryabushinsky did not stop it – he came there with Bryusov, provided the artist with an easel, a box of colored pencils, and persuaded him to accept the order. However, Vrubel did not have to persuade, because he liked Bryusov very much.
He wrote: “A very interesting and handsome face: a dark-haired man with dark brown eyes, a beard and a pale pale face: he reminds me of the southern Slav, either Insarov or our teacher Fejerchako. I worked 3 sessions: portrait knee, standing with arms crossed and shining eyes, directed upwards towards the bright light. ” Vrubel liked Bryusov’s poetry as well – he did not seem to know them before, and now, having read, he found that “there are a lot of thoughts and pictures in his poetry, I like him more than all the poets of recent times.”
Absolutely coherent and robust tone of Vrubel’s letters, as well as the fact that he was able to perceive and appreciate the difficult Bryusov poems, shows that his intellect has not gone far. However, the first impression he made on Bryusov was difficult. “He came in with an unfaithful, heavy walk, as if dragging his feet, a sickly sick man, in a dirty, wrinkled shirt.” He had a reddish face, his eyes like a bird of prey, sticking out his hair instead of a beard. “First impression: crazy!”
But then Bryusov tells how the artist changed during work. “Vrubel’s life was noticeably frustrating in all the movements of Vrubel, but as soon as Vrubel’s hand took coal or a pencil, she acquired an extraordinary confidence and firmness. The lines he conducted were unmistakable. The creative power survived in him all. The man was dying, continued to live. “
The same amazed Doctor Usoltsev, who watched his patient every day.
After the death of the artist Usoltsev wrote: “As long as the man is alive, he breathes everything, while Vrubel breathed everything he did.” It was not with him as with others, that the most subtle, so to speak, the latest in appearance representations-aesthetic ones-perish first; they killed
him last, because they were the first. “
The portrait of Bryusov was first written against the background of a dark bush of lilac, from which the face acted boldly and vividly. Bryusov was delighted with the portrait, but the artist did not consider it finished and continued the sessions. Bryusov had to leave for two weeks to Petersburg; On his return he gasped – the whole background with the lilac was erased. “Mikhail Alexandrovich so wished,” – explained the young artist who visited Vrubel in the hospital and helped him wash off the background. Bryusov Vrubel said that the lilac does not fit his character (perhaps it was so!) And that he will make a new background depicting the wedding of Cupid and Psyche, from a photograph of the Italian fresco. Perhaps, Briusov’s predilection for poetic wanderings among the old eras, which Vrubel caught in his poems, inspired the artist to this idea. He set to work on a new background, but managed to put on the canvas only a preliminary sketch, where the hints on the image hardly differ. At that work was interrupted, as the vision began to refuse the artist – he saw badly what his hand was doing, confused colors, took not the pencils that he wanted.
Bryusov claimed in his memoirs that the portrait in its present form “did not reach even half of the artistic power that was in it before,” that “we have only a hint of a brilliant work.” It is impossible to verify this now, but the high quality of the portrait, such as we see it now, is beyond doubt. After all, the face and figure remained untouched, and the new background, although sketchily sketched, is a characteristic Vrubel black-and-white “crystals,” they beautifully frame the face, so it does not seem silhouetted or too dark. Face plastic surgery, staging, crossed arms – everything is so perfect that there is no discount for the disease: the portrait of Bryusov stands on the level of Vrubel’s best works. The sharp play of lines subtly conveys the majestic and domineering spiritual aura of the model. Not to mention the irreproachable resemblance to the original, it has a high monumental structure, even some kind of rapprochement with the image of the poet-prophet, although there is nothing excessively ecstatic or broken: Vrubel guessed in Bryusov a poet of a thinking and strong-willed. Bryusov finished his memoirs with the words: “After this portrait, I do not need another one, and I often half-joke that I try to remain similar to my portrait made by Vrubel.”