07 (19).01.1865, St Petersburg – 22.11 (05.12).1911, Moscow
Painter, graphic artist

Serov’s parents were the composer and music critic Alexander Serov and Valentina Serova (née Bergman), a pianist, composer and public figure. After his father’s death in 1871 he lived with his mother in Munich, and from 1872 he began studying drawing with Karl Käpping. He moved to Paris in 1874 and studied with Repin. After returning to Russia in 1878 he recommenced his studies with Repin, living with his family and travelling with him to make studies; he accompanied him during his trip to Zaporozhye. With Repin he visited the Mamontovs at Abramtsevo and took part in their amateur dramatics. He was accepted by the St Petersburg Academy of Art in 1880, studying with Pavel Chistyakov. He stopped attending classes in 1885 and travelled to Holland and Munich, where he studied and copied Velázquez in the Alte Pinakothek. At the eighth exhibition of the Moscow Society of Art Lovers, in 1888, Serov won a prize for his Girl with Peaches, and his Girl Covered by the Sun was acquired by Pavel Tretyakov. Serov created a brilliant portrait gallery of his leading contemporaries: Diaghilev, Chaliapin, Leskov, Levitan, Rimsky-Korsakov and Korovin. He painted a series of portraits of Russian aristocrats and members of the royal family, including Nicholas II. His portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich won the Grand Prize at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. Serov also left his own unique mark on landscape painting, and his Overgrown Pond (Domotkanovo) became iconic. From the 1890s he took part in exhibitions by the Peredvizhniki (the Wanderers or Itinerants), but he and Levitan left the association after it split. He was elected a member of the Tretyakov Gallery’s Board of Trustees in 1899. After meeting and becoming a good friend of Alexander Benois and his circle, Serov joined the World of Art (Mir Iskusstvo) association in 1900 and played an active part in the circle’s activities, its publications and in Diaghilev’s ballet company: he produced the poster for the Saisons Russes in Paris and the curtain for the ballet Schéhérazade. In 1903 he was elected a full member of the Academy of Art but after seeing troops firing on a demonstration on 9 January 1905, he and Polenov resigned from the Academy in protest. He did political caricatures and collaborated with the satirical journal Zhupel (Bugbear). After visiting Greece and Crete with Bakst in 1907 he became interested in classical mythology. The result was his paintings The Rape of Europa and Odysseus and Nausicaa He took part in an exhibition of Russian artists in Vienna in 1908 and was elected a full member of the Vienna Secession. In 1909 he resigned from the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, where he had taught since 1897, in protest against its refusal to admit the ‘politically unreliable’ sculptor Anna Golubkina as a student. In 1910 he painted a portrait of Ida Rubinstein that was shown at the International Exhibition in Rome in 1911. The portrait bore witness to an unexpected change in Serov’s art, a change that he was not destined to complete because he died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 46. F.B.