Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov was born in January 1865 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He was the son of music critic and composer Alexander Serov and his wife Valentina Serova, also a composer in her own right. Valentin grew up in a highly artistic background, and his parents thoroughly encouraged him to pursue his talents. In his childhood, Serov studied a brief period in Paris and also Moscow, under Ilya Repin. At age 15, he enrolled at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, where he studied for five years under Pavel Chistyakov. Both Repin and Chistyakov had great influence in Serov’s early life, the first with his realistic art and the latter with a highly strict pedagogical method.
In Serov’s early portraits like The Girl with Peaches and Girl In The Sunlight, some key features are noticeable, like the attention he had on the spontaneity of perception of nature and model. Also, the development of light and color, and the fresh and vivid perception of the world, indications of an early Russian Impressionism, though by that time Serov wasn’t aware of French Impressionists’ artwork.
From 1890 on, portraiture became the primary genre in Serov’s artwork. During this period, his style was already distinctive, notable for a poignant representation of his subjects’ psychological traits. Serov’s preferred models were writers, actors, and artists, such as painters Issak Levitan and Konstantin Korovin, and distinguished Russian composer Nikolai Romsky-Korsakov.
By 1894, Serov had already achieved widespread recognition. In the same year, the artist joined the Russian group of artists Peredvizhniki, aka The Itinerants. Soon, the artist was taking important commissions, such as portraits of Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, Prince Felix Yusupov, and Princess Olga Orlova.
Towards his late-career, Serov’s figures became increasingly clean and graphically refined. He also produced several landscapes with rural themes, showing a romantic turn to his artwork. The artist’s style became less influenced by Impressionism and more by Modernistic ideas; however, staying realistic and truthful to his comprehension of depicting nature. Some noteworthy artworks from this period are the portraits of Maxim Gorki, Maria Yermolova, Feodor Chaliapin, and Helena Roerich.
During his later years, he worked on many pictures exploring classical mythology. He often represented ancient traditions, with his interpretation, however.