Repin is a skilled portrayer of the Russian people
Ilya Repin is above all known as a master of psychological portrayals of people and depictions of Russian folklife. The art education of the time emphasised the portrayal of human bodies and mythical subjects, but Repin and other realists were the first to highlight the depiction of ordinary Russian people as the most important task of art. Repin was endlessly interested in everything around him, which made him an incomparable portrayer of his time.
The Ateneum will be able to display Repin’s best-known paintings with masterful details, including Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870–1873) and Zaporozhian Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan (1880–1891), both from the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. There are psychologically accurate tensions in the mass scenes of Repin’s major works: each of the individual figures in the paintings seems to be living their own story in the midst of historical currents.
“Questions about human rights and the relationship between the people and their rulers and the ruling elite are still relevant today, but they also generated heated interest in the late 19th century. Art enables us to engage in discussion about socially important and topical issues”, says Marja Sakari, the director of the Ateneum Art Museum.
Repin, the most significant Russian artist of his time, depicted the Russian people, who had been freed from serfdom in the 1860s, as well as the intelligentsia of the era, and the relationship between the people and their rulers. His work has also strongly influenced the Finnish people’s current perception of the essence of Russianness.
Repin’s portraits display exceptional psychological depth
The exhibition’s many portraits feature members of the artist’s family, as well as cultural influencers of the time, such as the composer Modest Mussorgsky and the author Leo Tolstoy. In all, Repin painted more than 300 portraits, including portrayals of many influential women in culture. As one of the best portrait painters of his time, Repin captured exceptional psychological depth in his portraits.
During his career, Repin spent long periods in Paris, as well as in St. Petersburg and Moscow, together with his wife Vera Shevtsova and their four children. After the marriage ended in divorce, Repin started a relationship with Natalia Nordmann and built a studio home in Kuokkala (now Repino) in Terijoki, on the territory of the then Grand Duchy of Finland. The couple settled there permanently in 1903.
The Bolshevik Revolution closed the Finnish-Russian border in April 1918, and Repin remained an emigrant on Finnish soil. Repin had previously established warm relations with Finns such as Eino Leino and Albert Edelfelt, and had immortalised, among others, Akseli Gallen-Kallela in his paintings. He donated works of art to the Ateneum, and in honour of this, a large celebration was held for Repin at Helsingin Seurahuone.
An exhibition sought by the Ateneum for 25 years
The exhibition is the first review of Repin’s entire career in Finland in the 21st century, and the Ateneum has sought to stage it for 25 years. The exhibition will feature more than 130 paintings and paper-based works spanning a period of more than sixty years. Many of the works will be shown in Helsinki for the first time. The Ateneum collection also includes a great number of Repin’s works.
The exhibition will be realised by the Ateneum Art Museum and the Petit Palais (Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris/Paris Musées), in collaboration with the State Tretyakov Gallery and the State Russian Museum. The curator of the exhibition at the Ateneum is the chief curator Timo Huusko. After its time at the Ateneum, the exhibition will be on display at the Petit Palais in Paris.
The exhibition will be complemented by the publication of a richly illustrated exhibition catalogue with articles by experts, to be made available in Finnish, Swedish and English. The publication is edited by the curator Anne-Maria Pennonen.
Exhibition intros and guided tours for groups available for booking
You can get more out of your visit to the exhibition by booking a place at an exhibition intro, to be held in the Ateneum Hall. Guided tours in the exhibition galleries are only held outside normal opening hours on separate request. Virtual guided tours are also available.