Valentin Serov

by Armand Cabrera

Valentin Serov was born on January 7, 1865 In Saint Petersburg. His father Alexander Serov was a composer and music critic and his mother Valentina was a pianist. Serov’s father died when he was 6. His family moved to Munich and then Paris and at 9 Serov took lessons from Repin at his Paris studio learning to draw from casts and paint from life.

His family returned to Russia a year later first to Kiev then to Moscow. In Moscow Serov resumed studies with Repin for two more years. In 1880 Repin sent Serov to the Academy in Saint Petersburg for formal training under Pavel Christiakov. Serov studied at the Academy for five years.

In 1889 Serov married Olga Trubnikova.
He won a medal for his portrait of Angelo Masini in 1890 at the Moscow Society of Art Lovers. In 1897 he began teaching at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. In 1900 Serov received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Paris World Exhibition for his portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich.


Serov is considered the first Russian Portraitist to break from academic tradition and adopt a modern style. He worked as an impressionist using his academic training as an anchor for his expressive handling. His paintings captured the character of the sitter with bravura brushwork and strong sensitivity to color and shape over detail. He quickly became a much sought after portraitist.


Serov’s portraits have an immediacy and intimacy to them they seem to be snapshots of a moment in time with the sitter. This seemingly casual approach and required much effort on the artists part and his paintings often took weeks and sometimes months to complete.

Valentin Serov died in Moscow on November 22, 1911 at the age of 46.


Valentin Serov
Dimitri Sarabyanov and GrigoryArbuzov
1982 Aurora Publishing

The Itinerants The masters of Russian Realism
Elena Nesterova
1996 Aurora Publishing



Any human face is so complex and so unique that you can always find in it traits worthy of portrayal be they good or bad. For my part, each time I appraise a person’s face I am inspired, you might even say carried away, not by his or her outer aspect which is trivial, but by the characterization it can be given on canvas.~ Valentin Serov

2 thoughts on “Valentin Serov

  1. Great stuff! Thanks for posting about him.

    I wonder why Repin sent him to the academy for formal training? You'd think Repin could handle that himself.

  2. Jesse,

    According to Serov's biography Repin felt he had taught him everything he could and so recommended Christiakov to Serov. Remember Serov had studied with Repin privately since he was eight. I think it shows Repin's integrity.

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