Ivan Argunov (Иван Петрович Аргунов) (1727-1822)

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Ivan Argunov was a Russian painter, who was one of the founders of the Russian school of portrait painting. He was a serf belonging to Count Sheremetev and had grown in the family of his uncle, Semyon Mikhaylovich Argunov, who was a steward of princess Cherkassky and later a major-domo for Count Sheremetev. For many years Semyon managed Sheremetev’s house on Millionnaya Street in Saint Petersburg and that was the house where Ivan grew up.

Portrait of a Woman 1784

Portrait of a Woman, 1784

From 1746–1749, Ivan Argunov studied painting with a German artist named Georg Grooth, who at the time was in employed by the Emperess Elizabeth of Russia. Ivan also got lessons from his cousins Fedor Leontyevich Argunov and Fedor Semenovich Argunov, painters working in Saint Petersburg on decorating the Imperial residences. Argunov’s first works were icons for the Palace Church in Great Tsarskoe Selo Palace (1753) and for the New Jerusalem Monastery (1749). At that time, he also created his only known historical painting “Dying Cleopatra”. His earliest known portraits were of Prince Ivan Ivanovich Lobanov-Rostovsky (1752) and Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Lobanova-Rostovskaya (1754). One can see the customs of traditional Russian Parsuna Art mixed with the new Baroque style.

Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Lobanova-Rostovskaya

Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Lobanova-Rostovskaya

In the 1760s Argunov was in his prime. He created many beautiful parade and psychological portraits and icons. Among his subjects were Russian royalty and of course Argunov’s masters, the Sheremetevs, as well as their relatives Lazarevs and Counts Tolstoy. He was one of the creators of the genre of posthumous portraits, painting many dead Sheremetevs.

P. B. Shermetev 1760

P. B. Shermetev, 1760

In 1770 Argunov became the majordomo for the Sheremtev’s house on Millionnaya Street, then the majordomo of the Moscow house of Sheremetevs, then one of the stewards for their estates (chlen krepostnoj kollegii grafov Sheremetevs). He painted much less but it was in that time (1784) he created his masterpiece “The Portrait of an Unknown Peasant”. Modern studies suggest that the woman in the portrait was the serf actress and singer of Counts Sheremetevs, Anna Kovalyova-Zhemchugova. Between the second half of 1780s until his death in 1802, Argunov did not paint but spent all his time managing different estates and businesses of the Sheremetevs.

Catherine II 1762

Catherine II, 1762

Argunov was an important teacher of art. He taught painting classes beginning in 1753 — before the opening of the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1757. Among his students were Anton Losenko, Fyodor Rokotov, Golovachevsky and Sablukov — all four future teachers of the Academy. Argunov’s sons were also his pupils. Two of them: (Nikolay Argunov and Yakov Argunov) became painters, while the third (Pavel Argunov) became an architect.

Portrait of Kalmyk

Portrait of Kalmyk


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