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Sergey Zaryanko and his “living” portraits: As a boy from the serfs, became the favorite artist of the royal family

The nineteenth century was truly golden in the art of Russia – not least because talented artists were valued and supported – both in the halls of educational institutions and in the halls of palaces. The history of the work of Sergey Zaryanko, who was able to revive the canvas and immortalize his model – is proof of this. However, if you do not take into account the brilliant career of the painter, his fate can not be called either simple or happy.

From serfs to artists
Sergei Konstantinovich Zaryanko (Sergei Zaranka – as his name sounds in Belarusian) was born in 1818 into a serf family belonging to Prince Lyubomirsky. The native village of the future artist was in the Mogilev province (on the territory of the present-day Vitebsk region) and gave Sergei, as it is believed, the first drawing skills.

In the mid-twenties, his father received his freedom and, together with his whole family, went to Petersburg, where he entered the service as much as a friend of the late emperor, Prince Golitsyn. Zaryanko Jr. was assigned to the newly opened Third Gymnasium, where children of different classes studied. But in 1833, Sergei’s mother died, and his father left the capital with a new wife. In the care of a 15-year-old boy were brothers and sisters, who left his father. Gymnasium had to quit – Sergei had to look for ways to support his family.

However, he did not forget about painting – in time noticed by the artist A.G. Venetsianov, whom he worshiped all his life later, he found himself, by his patronage, an independent (“outsider”) student of the Imperial Academy of Arts. After studying, Zaryanko received the title of “class” artist, which was equal to the 14th class of the Table of Ranks.

From “perspective art” to portraits
The first years of Sergey Zaryanko’s creativity are devoted to “promising art” – the depiction of interiors and landscapes. His teacher was the famous landscape painter M.N. Vorobiev, who taught, among others, I.I. Shishkin.

Zaryanko received his big silver medal of the Academy for the performance of the painting “The Hall of Law School with groups of teachers and pupils”. Contemporaries noted the brilliant “possession of perspective”, confident transfer of lighting, an unmistakable image of details.
Nevertheless, the artist’s financial situation continued to be deplorable, and for this reason, first of all, he began to give painting lessons and also took orders for the creation of icons and the painting of temples. In an attempt to cope with the needs of the family and pay off his father’s debtors, he asked the Academy for permission to take ownership of one of the paintings ordered to him, but was refused, however, due to financial difficulties Zaryanko was given a small allowance.

According to the testimony of the artist’s brother Nikolai, it was the work with the interiors that led Zaryanko to blind and restore his sight for a long time. However, until the end of his life, he clearly saw only one eye.
After the exhibition of 1846, arranged by the Academy, Zaryanko gained fame as an unsurpassed portrait painter. His images of the singer Petrov and General Lomnovsky amazed the public – the faces in the pictures seemed so alive.

From then on, Zaryanko wrote custom-made paintings for those who are able to pay for them – members of the imperial family became his regular clients, in particular, he repeatedly received orders for the image of Grand Duke Nikolai Alexandrovich, beloved by everyone.

Sergey Zaryanko worked on portraits with special care – it happened for a whole year. Critics noted his “loyalty to nature” – the similarity of the image with a living person struck the imagination. Nevertheless, according to the testimony of the artist’s family, such work was always paid inadequate.
Zaryanko continued teaching, which he built in accordance with the requirements of realism. During his life, Sergey Zaryanko received many honorary titles – academician, professor of painting, senior professor of the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture.

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