If in the 1890s Serov was interested in the variety of “artistic manifestations”, reflected in a variety of pictorial manners, the portraits of Gorky, Ermolova, and Shalyapin, created in 1905, express a different concept of the creative personality. Now the characters of the Serov portraits are heroes in the full sense of the word, marked with a seal of exclusivity, proud solitude, as if ascended to a pedestal. The most alarming revolutionary time, apparently, brought to life similar images, close to the worldview of romanticism.
Chaliapin’s portrait is written in charcoal on canvas, and the fact that Serov turned here specifically to the drawing is symptomatic. This is how – in the drawing – the most “intimate”, lyrical portraits of the late Serov are performed (Obninskii’s portrait with a rabbit, portraits of the Kasyanov girls). Exalting the chamber art form to a monumental degree, the artist makes us remember that drawing is primarily a means of not creating “heroic images” but transmitting “a thrill of psychic life.” Shalyapin is depicted exactly as an artist – in a concert suit, with an actor’s bearing, in a situation of somewhat affective posing. At that time he was at the height of glory, his contemporaries noted his arrogance and unbalance, peculiar to the spoiled success of the “star.” Indeed, Chaliapin was a nervous and resentful man; often complained, that if he
The soul and mask are called Shalyapin’s memoirs; Double life – so titled memoir notes by Sarah Bernhardt. But after all, every person in different circumstances is unequal to himself, that is, in one way or another, something “imagines himself.” And especially that Serov was well aware, a person is inclined to take a certain pose, to play a role in front of the artist; the image and appearance of a person is twofold between what he is and what he wants to seem. Absolute coincidences of the inner essence of the model and its external manifestations are rare, if at all possible, and are unlikely to be accessible to external observation, even less often they occur in portrait painting dealing only with images, reflections of the visible. Exactly how the essential, the inner manifests itself, shines through in the outer, constitutes the problem of portrait art in general, and that one – the main one – the collision of the serov art,