Fedotov Pavel

Moscow, Russia

04.07.1815 - 26.11.1852

Painter, professor of painting, graphic artist, cartoonist.

Pavel Andreevich Fedotov was born in Moscow on June 22, 1815 in the family of Andrei Illarionovich Fedotov, who served in the army under the reign of Catherine, who received the rank of lieutenant and noble status upon retirement, later impoverished titular adviser, and his wife Natalia Alekseevna Kalashnikova. In addition to his son Pavel, two more daughters were born in the family.

At the age of 11, he was sent by his father to the First Moscow Cadet Corps, where he attracted the attention of his superiors with good abilities and exemplary behavior. In 1832 he graduated from the course with honors (his name was listed on the honorary marble plaque in the assembly hall of the building). In his spare time, cadet Fedotov loved to draw. The first drawings of the future artist were caricatures of comrades, himself, and the corps authorities.

On December 13, 1833, by order, he was promoted to ensign and sent to the Finnish Life Guards Regiment. In this regiment, located in St. Petersburg, Fedotov served for 10 years. After 3-4 years of service in the regiment, the young officer began to attend evening drawing lessons at the Academy of Arts. In his spare time, he practiced at home, drawing watercolor and pencil portraits of his colleagues, scenes of regimental life and cartoons. Knowing well the facial features and figure of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich, Fedotov painted his portraits, which were willingly bought by sellers of paintings and prints.

In the summer of 1837, the Grand Duke, who returned to St. Petersburg from abroad after treatment, visited the Krasnoselsky camp, where the guards greeted him with an ovation. The picturesqueness of the Grand Duke’s meeting with the military made an indelible impression on Fedotov, and in just three months the artist painted a watercolor painting “The Meeting of the Grand Duke” (for the first time during his service Fedotov received a vacation to paint this picture). The painting was shown to the Grand Duke, who granted the artist a diamond ring. This award, according to Fedotov, “finally imprinted artistic pride in his soul.” After that, the artist began the painting “The consecration of banners in the Winter Palace, renovated after the fire.” Hoping to improve his financial situation, Fedotov decided to present the painting to the Grand Duke, who showed it to his august brother. After that, the highest was ordered to “grant the drawing officer the voluntary right to leave the service and devote himself to painting with the content of 100 rubles. in bank notes per month.”

After much thought, Fedotov finally submitted his resignation, and on January 3, 1844, he was dismissed with the rank of captain and the right to wear a military uniform. After parting with the epaulettes, he found himself in difficult living conditions: on a meager pension of 28 rubles 60 kopecks per month (which was equal to 100 assignation rubles), granted by Nicholas I), it was necessary to support oneself, help a family in need, hire sitters, purchase materials and benefits for work. However, the love of art kept Fedotov optimistic, helped him to struggle with difficulties and persistently go to the intended goal — to become a real artist.


After retiring, at first Fedotov chose for himself the battle genre as an area of art in which he had already successfully tried his hand and which in the Nicholas era promised honor and material security. Having settled in a poor apartment in one of the distant lines of Vasilievsky Island, content with a 15-kopeck lunch from the cookery, he began to practice even harder in drawing and writing sketches from nature both at home and in academic classes.

In order to expand the range of his battle plots, which had previously been limited to infantry, Fedotov began to study the skeleton and musculature of a horse, under the guidance of Professor Saurweid. Of the works conceived by Fedotov at this time, but remaining only in sketches, the most remarkable, according to his friends, were “French marauders in a Russian village in 1812”, “The crossing of the huntsmen fording the river on maneuvers”, “Evening amusements in the barracks on the occasion of the regimental holiday” and several compositions on the theme “Barrack life”, performed under the influence of Hogarth.

Wit, keen observation, the ability to notice typical features of people of different classes, knowledge of the situation of their lives, the ability to convey the character of a person — all these properties of talent, vividly manifested in Fedotov’s drawings, indicated that the true vocation of the artist was genre painting. In this choice, the artist was partly helped by a letter from the fabulist Krylov, who had seen some of Fedotov’s works and advised him to take up genre painting. Having listened to this advice, according to the sketches available in his album, Fedotov painted two oil paintings one after the other: “The Fresh Cavalier” (1848, another name: “The Morning of the official who received the first Cross”) and “The Picky Bride” (1847, based on the plot of Krylov’s fable).

Fedotov showed them to Bryullov, the all-powerful in those years at the Academy of Arts, who was delighted. Fedotov was nominated by the Academy Council for the title of academician and received a cash allowance, which allowed him to continue the painting “The Matchmaking of a Major” (1848, 1851 — the second option). This painting was ready for the academic exhibition of 1848, at which it appeared together with the “Fresh Cavalier” and “Picky Bride”. (Currently, all three paintings are in the Tretyakov Gallery, in Moscow).


In 1848, the Academy Council unanimously recognized the artist as an academician, and after the exhibition, Fedotov’s name became known to the general public, laudatory articles by critics appeared in magazines. Fedotov’s popularity was promoted by the fact that almost simultaneously with the “Matchmaking of the Major”, a poem explaining the meaning of this painting, composed by the artist himself and distributed in handwritten copies, became known. Fedotov from a young age loved to write poems, fables, elegies, album plays, romances, which he himself put to music, and, during his time as an officer, soldiers’ songs.

Fedotov’s poetry is much lower than the works created by his pencil and brush, but it also has the same advantages. Fedotov did not attach much importance to his poems and did not print them, allowing only acquaintances to rewrite them. The poem “Racea” for the painting “The Matchmaking of the Major” was rightly considered by his acquaintances to be the most successful work of Fedotov’s poetry.

The academic exhibition of 1848 brought Pavel Andreevich, in addition to honor and fame, a slight improvement in his financial situation: in addition to the pension of the state Treasury, 300 rubles a year were released from the amount allocated by His Majesty’s cabinet to encourage worthy artists.

In February 1850, Fedotov went to Moscow to visit his relatives who were in financial distress to help them. In Moscow, an exhibition was organized from the artist’s paintings from the St. Petersburg exhibition and from several sepia drawings, which led the Moscow public to even greater delight. Fedotov returned from Moscow happy, healthy, full of bright hopes and went back to work. Now he decides to introduce a new element into his work, which was directed before to expose the vulgar and dark sides of Russian life, the interpretation of the phenomena of light and pleasing.

Portraits occupied an important place in Fedotov’s work, in which irony gave way to light, contemplative lyricism. Among them stands out “Portrait of Nadezhda Pavlovna Zhdanovich, married to Werner, for the harpsichord” (1849, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg).

However, despite the fact that by the end of the 1840s the artist received well-deserved recognition, even in this, the best period of Fedotov’s work, not everything was cloudless. Censorship banned the publication “In the Evening instead of preference”, conceived by Fedotov and his closest friend Evstafiy Bernardsky, who joined the Petrashevites and went through their process. Nekrasov’s Illustrated Almanac, for which Fedotov made illustrations, was also banned. Fedotov described the excesses of censorship in the fables “Diligent Khavronya”, “Tarpeian Rock”.

In 1851, for the sake of earning money, the artist began the composition “The return of the institute to the parental home”, unfinished by him and replaced by another plot: “The arrival of Nicholas I to the patriotic Institute”, which also remained only half developed.

The principled nature of the artist, along with the satirical orientation of his work, caused increased attention of censorship, patrons who had previously favored him began to turn away from Fedotov. In the painting “The Widow” (1851, 1852 — the second version, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), the image of an attractive young woman who suffered a great misfortune — the loss of her beloved husband — is full of regret for the lost happiness. The unfinished paintings “Anchor, more Anchor!” (1852, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) and “Players” (1852, Museum of Russian Art, Kiev, Ukraine) are full of feelings of the fatal absurdity of being and thoughts about the meaninglessness of human existence, anticipating the theme of the absurd in the art of symbolism.

Illness and death:

Worries and frustration, together with the constant strain of the mind, hands and eyes, especially when working in the evening and at night, had a devastating effect on Pavel Andreevich’s health. The artist’s eyesight deteriorated, he began to suffer from blood flushes to the brain, frequent headaches, aged beyond his years, and an increasingly noticeable change took place in his very character: cheerfulness and sociability were replaced by thoughtfulness and silence.

In the spring of 1852, Fedotov showed signs of acute mental disorder. His behavior was peculiar. Soon the Academy was informed by the police that “a madman is being held at the unit, who says that he is the artist Fedotov.”

Friends and superiors of the Academy placed Fedotov in one of the private St. Petersburg hospitals for the mentally ill, and the tsar granted 500 rubles for his maintenance in this institution. Despite this, the disease progressed. In the autumn of 1852, friends managed to transfer Pavel Andreevich to the Hospital of All the Mourners on the Peterhof Highway. Fedotov died here on November 26 of the same year.

He was buried at the Smolensk Orthodox Cemetery in the uniform of a captain of the Life Guards of the Finnish Regiment. The Censorship Committee banned the publication of the news about the death of P. A. Fedotov in the press. During the artist’s lifetime, not a single literary work of his was published. His poem “Correction of Circumstances, or the Marriage of a Major”, published in 1857 in Leipzig, was banned for distribution in Russia.

In 1936, the artist’s ashes were reburied in the necropolis of the masters of arts of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra with the installation of a new monument.

Military ranks and ranks:

  • 1830 — Junior non-commissioned officer
  • 1832 — senior non-commissioned officer
  • 1832 — Sergeant Major
  • 1833 — ensign
  • 1836 — lieutenant
  • 1838 — lieutenant
  • 1841 — staff captain
  • 1844 — captain

The value of creativity:

Pavel Andreevich Fedotov is the founder of critical realism in Russian painting. Two directions prevail in his work. The first direction is dominated by drawings and sketches created under the strong influence of Hogarth. Still poorly proficient in drawing, Fedotov achieves not so much an accurate reproduction of reality, as he flaunts human weaknesses and shortcomings in relief, ridicules the vulgar or dark sides of contemporary Russian mores.

The plot of these works is characterized by complexity and intricacy. Their main idea is emphasized by the addition of side episodes to the main scene expressing it. The artist does not skimp on accessories that can enhance the disclosure of the plot and sometimes completely clutters up his composition with them. The movement of human figures, although characteristic, is angular and exaggerated. The same must be said about the faces whose type and expression turn into a grimace. The predominant element of these works is caricature.

As Fedotov improved, the nature of his works changed, becoming less refined. At the same time, the typicality of the figures depicted, the meaningfulness of their movements and the expressiveness of their faces not only did not weaken, but also increased due to the fact that the artist increasingly worked from nature, not imposing on her the forms and expressions presented to his imagination, but looking in the real world for something that corresponded to these ideas.

The clutter of the composition, its explanation by means of various trifles gradually gave way to simplicity and naturalness. The very idea that formed the basis of the composition became more and more serious and close to life. Striving to go in this direction and overcoming the difficulties that arose due to insufficient mastery of technology, Fedotov, thanks to his sharp mind, rare observation and persistent diligence, achieved brilliant results. But the results would have been even more striking if fate had given him better conditions and his life would not have been interrupted so cruelly and prematurely.

Nevertheless, what Fedotov has done is enough to make his name forever one of the most glorious in the history of Russian art. He discovered a new vein of nationality and satire, which had not been touched by anyone before in Russian painting, the first of all artists showed an example of its successful development and left it as a legacy to subsequent talents.


Reference: Wikipedia, 2021


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