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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Ilya Repin’s house outside St. Petersburg, Russia

I had the chance to visit Ilya Repin's home several years ago while I was attending a 2-week workshop on language and writing at Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia. Repin's house is outside St. Petersburg in the middle of a beautiful forest. I visited in June, and the weather was pleasant, the cool, summer light made the atmosphere crystal clear. The colors seemed super-saturated, and I could not think of a more engaging environment for painting.

Ilya Repin was not a writer, but an artist, but it was extremely interesting to see the lovely home where he painted. It was in a wooded little area, and it had lots of windows and rooms, plus several inventions to make it easier for the cook to send him his meals without interrupting him. The house was comfortable and the rooms not too large, but definitely large enough for painting and having a studio.

His eyesight failed and he developed arthritic hands (similar to Matisse, I think). He had special accommodations made for that as well. One of Repin’s most famous paintings, “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” (1891) was painted in his home. Now hanging in the Russia Museum in Saint Petersburg (which I happened to visit as well), it depicts Cossacks engaged in the delightful task of composing a profanity-laced letter to the Sultan after they had defeated the Ottoman Empire troops in battle.

The Cossacks are laughing uproariously as they collectively pen the appropriate response to their mortal enemies. It’s a gorgeously composed canvas in the realistic / Romantic style of the late 19th century.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I found myself in the city museum of the town of Gandze, Azerbaijan, where I happened upon an exhibit describing Ilya Repin’s visit in 1888 where he sketched people and objects to correctly capture the people, artifacts, and culture of the Ottoman Empire.

Even more astonishing was a scabbard and long sword exactly matching the scabbard and sword which take center stage in Repin’s famous painting.

There is no doubt that I think of all three places: The Russian Museum, Ilya Repin’s house, and the Gandze, Azerbaijan City Museum’s Repin exhibit.

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