Konstantin Korovin: The First Russian Impressionist

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Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939) was a notable Russian artist of the impressionist, art nouveau and realism periods, and a prominent theatre designer and writer.

Konstantin Korovin, Yaroslavna's Lament, 1909
Konstantin Korovin, Yaroslavna's Lament, 1909

Key Details

Birth: Date: 5 December 1861, Place: Moscow
Death: Age: 77, Date: 11 September 1939, Place: Paris, France
Education: Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1878-1886); St Petersburg Academy for Art
Medium: Oil
Style: Impressionism

Konstantin Korovin, Okhotino. September, 1915
Konstantin Korovin, Okhotino. September, 1915

Art Education

At the age of fourteen, Konstantin Korovin entered the architecture department at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Quickly realising his true passion was for painting, he transferred from architecture to the painting department.

The young Konstantin also spent a brief few months at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, but he returned to the Moscow school, where tuition better suited his artistic interests, although he continued to be mocked for his careless and crude brushstrokes and bright colours. In contrast, after three trips to Paris, he said: Paris was a shock for me… Impressionists… in them I found everything I was scolded for back home in Moscow.

Konstantin Korovin, Balcony in the Crimea, 1910
Konstantin Korovin, Balcony in the Crimea, 1910

Artistic Style

Vasily Polonov, a professor at the Moscow School, first captured Korovin’s fascination for the emerging Paris technique beginning to be known as impressionism. It was while studying with Polonov that Korovin painted Portrait of a Chorus Girl (or The First Swallow) for which he later became known as the first Russian Impressionist.

Konstantin Korovin, Portrait of a Chorus Girl, 1883
Konstantin Korovin, Portrait of a Chorus Girl, 1883

Korovin divided his time between Paris and Okhotino, north of Moscow, where his home’s glass-enclosed terrace became the artist’s studio and social salon. One of his most famous works, The Terrace captures a social moment in this room. This is one of many works in which he has suspended in time a simple scene in the company of friends.

Konstantin Korovin, The Terrace, 1915
Konstantin Korovin, The Terrace, 1915

Nina Moleva, in her biography of Korovin noted: …he would talk and paint with strokes so vigorous that they made his easel quiver.

Occupation and Remuneration

It was in the theatre that Korovin made his living. He applied his artistic talents in costume design and onto larger canvases, as a stage designer at both the Moscow Bolshoi and the St Petersburg Mariinsky theatres, as well as at La Scala Opera in Milan. He was so admired for his theatre design work on ultra-large canvases that the Russian Army consulted with him during the First World War for camouflage security for their headquarters.

Personal Life

Korovin enjoyed fishing, nature, and the company of friends, who universally described him as a cheerful man and an optimist. He particularly loved color. He mused upon his philosophy in his memoir: It always seemed to me that in painting there should be a harmony of colors, which gives a different mood of lyricism and romance. I paganly worship and admire nature and think that heaven is on earth.

Konstantin Korovin, Self Portrait, 1938
Konstantin Korovin, Self Portrait, 1938

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