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Portrait of Leo Tolstoy. 1884

Ge Nikolai,
Oil on Canvas
96 x 71


During the last period in his career, Nikolai Ge concentrated on Gospel themes, painting a series of works dedicated to the life of Jesus Christ. In 1882, he met Leo Tolstoy, becoming a convinced follower of his religious and moral teachings. Like the famous Russian writer, he also addressed important philosophical issues in his art. In 1884, Ge painted a portrait of Tolstoy at his house in Khamovniki, where the writer was working on What I Believe. Resolved in the traditions of Russian Realism, the portrait depicts Tolstoy working in an everyday setting. Ge wanted to show the writer’s mind and the course of his thoughts. The artist portrays Tolstoy as a teacher engaged in his own work. The sitter’s family regarded this painting as the best portrait of the writer in terms of its “likeness and the strength of the facial expression, despite the lowered eyes.”

Author's Biography

Ge Nikolai

Ge, Nikolai Nikoiaevich
1831, Voronezh - 1894, Ivanovskoe (Chernihiv Province)
Painter, draughtsman, history and religious painter, portraitist, landscapist. Studied mathematics at Kiev University (1847-48) and St Petersburg University (1848- 50). Studied under Pyotr Basin at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1850-57) and influenced by Karl Brullov and Alexander Ivanov. Fellow of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Rome and Florence (1857-63). Lived in Florence (until 1869). Professor (1863; resigned 1869). Founding member of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (1871). Influenced by Leo Tolstoy (i88os). Lived in Kiev and St Petersburg, moved to Ivanovskoe in Chernihiv Province (1876). Contributed to the exhibitions of the Imperial Academy of Arts (from 1857), Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions (1871-94), Exposition Universelle in Paris (1867) and the International Exhibitions in Munich (1869) and London (1873). One-man show at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1870).

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