November 01, 2012

Pavel Fedotov

Pavel Fedotov

Virtually everyone in Russia knows Pavel Fedotov’s paintings. All you have to do is mention The Major’s Courtship, Newly Decorated, or The Aristocrat’s Breakfast to elicit the appropriate chuckles and knowing nods, as if you’ve just told an amusing story that everyone knows but never tires of. And it really is as if Fedotov is as much a storyteller as a painter.

The Major’s Courtship, for instance, tells the story of an officer who has squandered his fortune and decided to marry a merchant’s daughter. The marriage will be a good deal for all concerned: it will put an aristocratic sheen on the merchant’s money, which, judging by the opulent décor of his parlor, appears to be in no short supply. The fiancée, naturally, makes a show of maidenly bashfulness and a desire to flee the scene, but she does not actually go anywhere. The major tries to cut a dashing figure, leaning against the doorway while casually twisting his whiskers, as if to say “I’ll soon show you what a fine fellow I am.” Of course, the impression is somewhat undercut by the fact that a stool right in front of him appears to be mimicking his stance.

In Newly Decorated (the Russian name, Свежий кавалер, translates literally as “Fresh Cavalier”) we see a young man in government service who has just been awarded his first order and obviously spent the previous night in drunken celebration. Now that morning has come, he evidently rolled out of bed wrapped in his bedclothes, which hang on him like a Roman toga. He proudly shows his pregnant (by whom?) servant girl his cross-shaped medal, which is pinned to his toga-bedding. She hardly seems impressed.

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