Constantin Alexievitch Korovine (1861 - 1939)


Constantin Korovine, the Russian painter, was born in Moscow in 1861 and died in Paris in 1939. While well-known early in his career for the costumes and ballet sets he designed for many of the Moscow theatres, he also became acquainted, at an early age, with French Impressionist painting and introduced the Impressionist style to Russia, both in his own work as well as by persuading Russian collectors to buy French Impressionist paintings.


Korovine was a professor at the Conservatory of Art in Moscow and an honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy. He also exhibited in most of the major cultural centers of Europe. In 1900 he was appointed the architect and decorator of the Russian Village at the Paris International Exhibition for which he was awarded a gold-medal. Leonce Benedite, in L 'Art au XIX Siecle, commented on one of Korovine's paintings shown at the Exhibition: little picture, “A la Fenetre” allows us to judge. Mr. Korovine's artistic talent, but what charming finesse, sober and delicate tonal harmonies, as well as a vivid and astute sense of observation (pp. 469-70)!


Korovine's close association with the French Impressionists had a significant impact on the Russian art world. In painting outdoors, he adopted the Impressionist techniques, which he practiced with wide and bold brushstrokes. His subjects were inspired by popular Russian folk culture (in addition, he illustrated numerous Russian novels), and he carried out in his paintings a style close to his French contemporaries.


He belonged to the Union of Russian Painters, which brought together young Russian Impressionists such as Abram Arkhipov (1862-1930), Serge Ivanov (1864-1910), and Alexis Stepanovitch Stepanov (1858-1923) who were known as the “Ambulants”. These men had a vigorous naturalistic drive and used bold and sometimes dusky colors in their Impressionist compositions. They subscribed to the humanitarianism of Gogol and Tolstoy in Russia and the Maupassant and Zola in France and were attracted to many of the same popular folk, historical and naturalistic themes which, in music, inspired Borodine, Rimsky-Korsakof and Moussorgsky.


Korovine brought Impressionism to the attention of the Morosov brothers, Michel (1870-1904) and Ivan (1871-1921), who were important Russian collectors. He became advisor and curator to the Morosovs, whose collection of Manets, Renoirs, Degas, Monets and Sisleys was bequeathed in 1910 to the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow. A famous pastel portrait of Korovine by Valentin Alexanderovitch Sorov (1865-1911) hangs in the Tretiakov. This collection was viewed by Russian artists and artists and their friends and patrons and helped to stimulate a deep understanding of Impressionism and Post- Impressionism in Russia.


Thus, the groundwork was laid for Russia to playa major role in Post-Impressionism and expressionism. The careers of painters such as Kandinsky, Jawlensky, and Chagall drew international attention and respect. A form of Expressionism appeared in the work of Maliavine, Kuznetsov, and the illustrious Kasimir Malevitch (1878-1935) who in turn went on to develop Russian Abstract art.


Another facet of Expressionism can be seen in the colorful frenzy of the later works of Korovine and those of Alexander Nikolaievitch Benois (1870-1960).


After the October Revolution of 1917 in Russian, Korovine moved to France where he continued to paint and create ballet and opera sets for the Parisian theatres. L 'Art Russe a Paris (Edition de "La Russie et Le Monde Slave") was published in 1931 and illustrates several of his designs, including sets for Borodine's "Prince Igor".