The Splendiferous Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov’s style was conceived during his study at the Academy of Arts.  His was a departure from the fashionable movements of the period, for he was an enthusiast of an earlier age.  As the child of the senior curator at The Hermitage and a musician mother, Somov was exposed to artistic living early on, and thus experienced a wealth of impressions without much external seeking on his part.  Hung on the walls of his St. Petersburg childhood home was a substantial private collection, attracting artists and admirers from all across Russia.  A nurturing environment, certainly, as Konstantin must have first seen the world through the eyes of imagination instead of stark realism. He was, after all, surrounded by it.

Unlike many of his fellow artists, Somov was an admirer of Rococo when it seemed fusty and irrelevant.  1896 marks the years when he started painting his 18th century works but he continued attending to them long into his career.  Over the span of his life, he would go on to complete portraits, still lifes, and landscapes from the 18th century and beyond, favoring watercolor mixed with whitewash, gouache, and bronze.  He also illustrated books, including the cheeky Book of Marquise, and had a flair for capturing women.  Whimsy and merrymaking pervade his earliest work, and his admiration of Watteau and Fragonard is manifest.   I would consider him their lovechild, displaced in the 20th century, and with a bit of childlike delight thrown in.

Tell me what you think.  Like, love, or maybe just ambivalence?

Somov’s Inspiration

Left: Blind Man’s Bluff by Jean-Honore Fragonard (1769-1770)
Right: Two Cousins by Antoine Watteau (1716)

      Somov’s Works – 1896 to 1930

Lady by the pool (1896)
Rest After a Walk (1896)
Evening Rides (1897)
Evening Rendezvous
Evening (1902)
Lady and Cavalier (1903)
Fireworks (1906)
Fireworks in the Park (1907)
The Laughed Kiss (1909)
In Love with a Harlequin (1912)
Young Woman Asleep on the Grass (1913)
Book of Marquise Illustrations
Lady and Harlequin (1921)
Design of Costume for Awnings T. Karsavina (to Dance to Music by Mozart) (1924)
Holiday near Venice (1930)

9 thoughts on “The Splendiferous Konstantin Somov

    1. Yes, the harlequin is a bit gropey! The lady seems to enjoy it, though I must say, Monsieur Harlequin might be having a moment of personal pleasure. His face is hilarious.

      The voyeuristic element in Somov’s work pops up in many an intimate scene. In The Laughed Kiss the fellow misses her lips and heads straight for the bosom while some creepers standby.

  1. I love his attention to detail. The dresses are particularly ornate and show a real fascination with the that period/subject.

    I must confess, I’ve rarely seen work which, from piece to piece appear to be so stylistically distinct. (I had to reread and reexamine the images repeatedly to be sure I didn’t miss an indicator that they were executed by different artists!)

    An obvious artistic curiosity doubtless accounts for much of his visual adventurousness. Some pieces bring to mind Edmund Dulac, some seem strongly graphic, like Kay Nielsen, some appear very staged like Pierre Puvis de Chavannes might have done. In contrast, the ‘gropey’ quality feels almost Norman Lindsay (predating him by half a century!). One can almost hear the gentleman mumbling, ‘”nom-nom-nom” when viewing ‘The Laughed Kiss’….

    Like Lindsay’s focus, a few of the ladies seem about to breach the storm wall of their décolletage, however he really has a more innocent approach to his characters becoming frisky. Limited by his overriding interest in representing the outfits correctly or trying out a different visual approaches, there’s no consistent top-note of representing fleshy congress, merely romance and with a wry smile. Very sweet.

    1. I had the same reaction to Somov when compiling a selection for this post–some of the pieces are not immediately distinguishable as his. A bit confusing, but what a range. I like that he was experimental throughout his life; it is unusual.

      Thanks for mentioning Nielsen and Dulac. They’re pretty spot on as comparative artists. De Chavannes is new to me, but after a quick google search I see what you mean. As for Norman Lindsay, he really takes gropey to a new level! He sure likes his ladies buxom. His ‘Secret Lovers’ is the R-rated version of Somov’s ‘In Love with a Harlequin’.

    1. Happy to introduce you to Somov. I was taken with him immediately after stumbling across ‘Evening Rendezvous’.

      I wonder if throwing in the occasional creeper was popular in pieces from 1900-1930s? George Barbier’s illustrations have peepers positioned behind urns, statues, etc.

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