Pavel Shmarov (or Chmaroff, Chmarov, or Павел Шмаров) was born in Voronezh to a poor peasant family in 1874. In 1893, he went to study at a free art school run by L. G. Solovyov, where drawing and open air sketches were emphasised. The following year he was admitted for graduate studies at the Imperial Academy of Art. In the workshop led by the famed Ilya Repin, he became acquainted with other artists who were to gain great acclaim – Malyavin, Kustodiev, Ostroumova-Lebedeva and others.
In 1899, for his graduation, he painted on the theme of ‘Woe to the vanquished‘ and received a gold medal, the official title of ‘artist’, a government stipend and a scholarship to pursue his studies abroad. He travelled to Vienna, Rome, Florence, Venice and Munich. In Munich, he spent a few weeks studying at the art school of Anton Aschbe along with Borisov-Musatov. In 1904, he discovered Spain in the company of Kustodiev; the same year he was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition of St. Louis for the painting “Parisian Woman.”
Shmarov displayed his works at the Spring Salons of the Academy of Fine Arts. Between 1900 and 1910, he made a series of portraits of aristocrats, industrialists and prominent figures in the sciences and culture, as well as of the Czar Nicholas II and other members of the imperial family. They were so pleased with his work that he was appointed a court painter. He painted, as well, large scenes of battles, and decorative panels, and created drawings for newspapers (New Times, Evening Times), designs for the theatre, and illustrations for the works of Nekrasov and Pushkin and Zabelin. In his monumental canvas “The Battle of Borodino”, he successfully combined a lush palette, precision of design, and composition with historical accuracy.
In 1916, Shmarov was elected an academician of the Academy of Fine Arts. That same year, commissioned by the publisher Suvorin, he went to the front (during the First World War), where he made 30 drawings on a military theme. In 1917 he participated in the first exhibition of paintings, sketches and drafts of the Arkhip Kuinji Fund, and in 1919 at the first All-Russian Open Exhibition of art.
At the beginning of 1923. Shmarov left Russia for Rome; at the end of the next year he settled in Paris. He worked mainly on commission, painting portraits (of, among others, Feodor Chaliapin and Sergei Lifar), landscapes with bathers or young peasant women in Russian costumes, imbued with nostalgia for his native land, as well as numerous still lifes.
In 1928, his first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Charpentier. Shmarov participated in exhibitions of Russian art in Paris and various cities in Germany, England, Holland, Belgium, Argentina and Yugoslavia. Until 1939, he continued to exhibit his works at the salons of French art, and produced theatrical works as well. During World War II, he moved with his family to Boulogne-Billancourt, where they became parishioners of the Orthodox Church of St Nicholas.
He died in July 1950, having left behind a great artistic heritage, combining the Russian academic tradition with Art Deco. He was buried at the Pierre Grenier cemetery in Boulogne-Billancourt.
Widely considered one of the most talented students of the great Repin, he achieved for himself acclaim as the Russian Renoir. Going by his oeuvre during his life in France – peasant women, bathers, children in national costumes – it would appear that he had never really abandoned his motherland. At first, it appeared that all was going well for the artist. He received numerous portrait commissions (his fame as Russian court artist having followed him), ably supported by his wife (Olga Vinogradova, who was at one time a costume designer with the Bolshoi Theatre), and was a decorator for Sergei Lifar and Evreinov. As mentioned above, he painted Feodor Chaliapin attired as Boris Godunov (his wife having designed the costume). And yet, there never was enough money, he was often behind on his rent, and had to pay off his creditors with his art, which then ended up in the hands of collectors. Even today, says Vladimir Dobromirov (director of the Voronezh regional museum of art), there are many paintings of his in the house he rented.
Shmarov mastered the technique of painting with oils as though with watercolours. He much preferred the latter medium, but the French at the time were keen on works in oil. American and British collectors bought many of his pieces.
Joel Garcia, the owner of one of the largest collections of Shmarov’s art, nearly five hundred pieces, began collecting them in the 1970s. He said, “The first two paintings of Shmarov that I ever bought I found at a fair on the Place de la Bastille. They immediately filled my soul with gladness, and I began to buy painting after painting, everything that ever crossed my path.” He didn’t have enough money (remember Alexander Shlepyanov?) and had to borrow to fund his purchases.
Above all else, Shmarov loved to paint bathing women, his first explorations manifesting themselves in the illustrations to Pushkin’s ‘Water Nymph’ in 1905. In Paris he continued the theme. He hardly ever put dates on his works, making it almost impossible to determine the trajectory of his progress. He himself said once, “I am painting a series ‘The Bathers’. This is with a palette of whites. Next will be greens. I have a violet still life. And that’s it.”
The new impetus that Paris gave to his expression resulted in delicate greens and violets and blues redolent of quietude and tranquility. Some paintings were influenced by Impressionism. His old teacher Repin, long his supporter, said of him, “Shmarov marches ahead; inside this illiterate, simple boy sits a great artist. Please God, let him not stupefy himself, let him not stop in his progress as has so often happened with uncultured minds. But what warmth, integrity, softness, flexibility in his etudes! Such emotion and grandeur in his sketches!”
In Paris, Shmarov’s exhibitions often combined with those of Serebriakova, Benois, Telishev. Still, the Miriskusniki never counted him as one of their own. Shmarov often felt he was isolated, even though French collectors valued him highly and purchased his works. He constantly thought of returning to Russia. To his great misfortune, he was never able to.
Shmarov never attained the heights that Repin had in mind for him. Perhaps this is because he took a different route to his art. His art took on an anodyne quality, becoming more decorative and superficially beautiful as he undertook more and more commissions. Under Aschbe’s influence, he had discarded detail, stopped blending colours, much to Repin’s disapproval. He imitated many styles – a Rembrandtesque self-portrait, a portrait a la Renoir, symbolist works, and even a Miriskusnik style. He remained detached from the anxieties of the 20th century; his art reflected no internal agony, either of exile or intellectual pretension. He hid his own feelings and constantly depicted an idyllic, beautiful world. Above all, sadly, he demonstrates that talent and technical mastery alone do not result in greatness in the arts.
Despite such criticisms, though, today his art looks refined, masterful, elegant, romantic, hedonistic even. And for this he remains honoured.
- “Pavel Shmarov – the Russian Renoir“, Korostishevsky.org.
- “Shmarov has been returned to the motherland“, Zebra VRN.
- “Pavel Shmarov. Art.“, Russian Academy of Art, 14 December 2010.
- “The Fine Art and Graphic Art of Pavel Shmarov“, TvKultura.ru, 20 Jul 2010.
- “Undoubtedly, A Significant Artist“, Voronezh Courier, 12 Sep 2010.
- Dmitry Smolev’s article on a Shmarov exhibition, Izvestia, 22 Jul 2010.
- Catherine Boncenne has written Pavel Shmarov’s biography for various exhibition catalogues.