1697 the famous British artist Godfrey Kneller painted a portrait of a
young Tsar Peter the Great. Some three centuries later the Russian artist
Sergei Pavlenko was honoured to paint Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth
II. The connection between two distant events demonstrates that the Russian
school of painting, had since the time of Peter the Great developed into
one of the finest European schools. It also acknowledges the talent of
the contemporary Russian artist Sergei Pavlenko.
The official portrait is a difficult commission even for a great artist.
There is always the danger of repeating oneself; the temptation using
virtuoso methods, while keeping disengaged from the very subject portrayed.
In fact many 'fashionable' artists, mediocre in their creative ability,
work in a similar manner, treating the business of painting as mere business.
The art of Sergei Pavlenko is of a different nature. The tradition of
the Russian school of painting from Ivan Nikitin, the favourite artist
of Peter the- Great, to Professor Boris Ugarov, Pavlenko's teacher, asserts
the approach, where the individuality of the sitter, a unique blend of
his/her inner and outer features, is placed in the foreground and transformed
by the creative force of the painter into an artistic representation.
At the turn of XIX-XX century, a generation of outstanding Russian artists,
such as Ilya Repin and his pupils, Valentine Serov and Boris Kustodiev
developed a strong stylistic and typological line of portraiture painting.
Continuing this tradition, Sergei Pavlenko added a greater spontaneity
and freedom of creative breath, which had been impossible in pre-revolutionary
Russia, in the turmoil on the eve of fatal historical events.
As a portrait painter Pavlenko is at ease with any form of commission.
He confidently composes individuals (Portrait of Lord Euston),
couples (Mr and Mrs Van der Wyck) or groups (The Earl and
Countess Verulam and their children). He is equally brilliant in
portraying men, women (Countess Dalhousie) and children (Portrait
of Olga Voyadzides). The artist's consistency signifies the maturity
of his talent.
The variety of the artistic tasks are approached with an appropriate stylistic
manner, very plastic and liberated. Pavlenko masterly conveys the surface
and perspective of space; the tangibility of the subject and the momentum
of human emotion. Pavlenko also demonstrates a flawless sense of form
and colour, developed during his academic years and perfected in tireless
His portraits are colourful maestri yet never gaudy. The visual opulence
is in harmony with the noble constraint of the features of the sitters.
Pavlenko ingeniously uses many shades of black, from the stern to most
refined, reaching a colouristic balance as a whole (Portrait of The
Duke of Marlborough).
Being a Russian artist Pavlenko cannot be indifferent toward his models.
Whenever it is appropriate, his approach is warm hearted, respectful and
attentive toward the Inner world of the person he portrays. As Valentine
Serov did a century ago, Pavlenko also designs psychologically expressive
'formulas', capable of passing to future generations the truth about his
times and people.
Portraits by Sergei Pavlenko are historical in many senses. Indeed, they
present the prominent members of the contemporary world, yet, their historicity
is expressed in their artistic truth, which elevates them above the truth
of reality. Centuries will pass, while the gallery of Pavlenko's portraits
will continue to appear as a poetic suite about modern Britain as seen
through the penetrating insight of this talented Russian artist.
Senior Curator of the Late XIX and XX Century Paintings,
The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg