WORKS BIORGAPHY
Alexei  Harlamoff

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The Museum of Contemporary Russian Art.


Alexei Alexeievich Harlamoff (A.K.A Alexej Harlamoff - Alexej Charlamoff) (1842-1923) was a Russian painter.

He was born close to Saratov on the Volga River, and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg at the age of 14. He won a gold medal in 1868 for his painting entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son. This enabled him to study in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts under the great portrait painter and teacher Leon Bonnat. Harlamoff’s talent in this area soon became clear as Emile Zola rated his portrait of Ivan Turgenev as amongst the best works of the Paris Salon of 1876. He regularly exhibited at the Paris Salon and won a second-class medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1878.

Harlamoff learned his skills copying old master paintings such as Rembrandt's Anatomy Lessons. He painted many military scenes and covered religious subjects in his early years. When his career evolved he became a respected portrait painter with important sitters as Tsar Alexander II, Prince Demidoff-San Domato and Ivan Tourguéneff. Harlamoff is however best know for his informal portraits of sitters whom he painted for their beauty and innocence. Harlamoff often used flowers to symbolise the short-lived innocence of youth. He preserved the Russian ambience in the details of for example a dress or facial features.

Queen Victoria greatly admired his painting of children playing with flowers that was exhibited at the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888. Harlamoff came to the attention of wealthy American and European collectors who appreciated his idealised portraits of young women and girls.

The question about the time and the place of Alexei Harlamoff's death remains open. In literature it is most frequently indicated that he died in Paris in 1922. Claims that he died in Saratov are not likely to be true. Official death records for 1922 in the Civil Registry Office in Saratov have been preserved completely, but his name is not mentioned. In 2005 a painting signed by Harlamoff and dated 1923 was discovered in a private collection.

Works of Alexei Harlamoff are displayed in many musea around the world. For example: the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Sweet Thoughts, 1890), The Athenaeum (The Young Model, 1883), Chi-Mei Museum, Taiwan (Blowing Bubbles), Alexander III Museum in St Petersburg, the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow and in the Brobinksi Collection.

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Alexei Harlamoff, The Portrait of an Innocent Girl from a Poor Family

Harlamoff's "Heads" make up a big part of his creative heritage. They are distinguished from his other portraits by an exquisite coloration. The painter contrasts his ideal of beauty with the imperfection of the real world.

Painting "Heads" and genre-pieces of the kind in 1880s, Harlamoff was searching for new graphic techniques. He switched from using heavy body-colors in the early period to covering the canvas with a thinner layer of paint, which sometimes shows the ground color. It allows us to suppose that the portrait was painted in 1880s or later, when the painter reached the peak of popularity - because artists date their works very seldom. The type of the "Head" also changed, more distant now from the Italian-Gypsy type, typical for the 1870s: now it's girls with airily-painted blond hair.

Harlamoff 's contemporaries used to say about the new type of the "Heads": "A ' Harlamoff 's Head' is almost a proper name for these small graceful children's heads with big eyes, either sad or thoughtful, with tender and subtle features, with porcelain skin, reminding of some dream; such heads are easier to find in the dreams of the poetic artist than in the real life." Starting from this period, more and more sentimental features appear in Harlamoff 's works.

The Portrait of an Innocent Girl from a Poor Family is different from the most of "Heads" produced by Kharlamov, as it lacks the sentimental hint. Inspired by the inner state of the model, he managed to finely convey the child's soul.

Harlamoff often used the same model, or his daughters, for the paintings like this. The model in this portrait appears for the first time and is never seen again in any of Harlamoff 's works. The girl belongs neither to his family nor to a privileged class - judging from her clothes, which are not accentuated in the painting and serve as a background; the clothes seem to have been painted carelessly, which is not typical for Harlamoff 's academic manner. He emphasizes the inner state of the model; chosen because of her looks, she only appears in one Harlamoff 's painting. Ignoring his own rules, he deliberately omits the details of her clothes to emphasize the main thing - the model's soul.

Harlamoff 's skill is amazing: he managed to convey the freshness of the skin, the speaking eyes and the magnificent hair of the girl - with great love. All these make the portrait one of Harlamoff 's outstanding masterpieces.

The portrait is in perfect condition. It was placed on a stretcher by the painter himself, in a frame, matching the epoch. The frame needs renovation. The portrait bears a clear signature - A. Harlamoff, made by the painter himself, in his recognizable manner, in the bottom left corner.