Mongol artist who became as famous as Russian Raphael

Alexei Yegorov

It is believed that Alexei Yegorov, a famous Russian artist, whose contemporaries are called the Russian Raphael, was born in 1776 near the Volga river bank, located in the former Kalmyk Khanate.

The Kalmyk Khanate was an Oirat or western Mongols khanate, established the Eurasian steppe in 1630. It extended over modern Kalmykia and surrounding areas, including Stavropol and Astrakhan. During their independence, the Kalmyks both raided and allied with Russia, in turn, engaged in numerous military expeditions against the Crimean Tatars, the Ottoman Empire, neighboring Muslim tribes, and the highlanders in the North Caucasus such as Chechens.

The Khanate was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1771, when the last Kalmyk Khan Ubashi decided to return his people to their ancestral homeland, Dzungaria. As a result, more than half of the Kalmyks left Khanate under the leadership of Ubashi Khan.

Alexei Yegorov, The Virgin with the Child Christ and John the Baptist.

Alexei Yegorov, The Virgin with the Child Christ and John the Baptist.

After failing to stop this movement Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia abolished the Kalmyk Khanate by transferring all governmental powers to the Governor of Astrakhan.

A bit later of these events, Russian Cossack soldiers found a small orphan boy in the Kalmyk steppes and handed him to the newly created Moscow Educational Center which was supervised by the Empress. According to the center, birth year of the boy was written as 1776, and he was baptized and given the name Alexei Yegorov. Only memory left from Alexei Yegorov’s childhood was a silk gown, embroidered boots and a tent in the steppes.

On August 14, 1782, six-years-old Yegorov entered the Academy of Arts as a student of Grigory Ugryumov, where he had gained a fame as the best draftsman and fortified with medals for his skillful lively drawings. Young Yegorov had been worked together with Ugryumov for long hours on drawings of the ancient sculptures and often surpassed his teacher.

Alexey Yegorov, The Savior’s torture

Alexey Yegorov, The Savior's torture

In 1797, he successfully graduated from the course and in the following year he appointed as a teacher of the Academy.

In 1800, Yegorov received the title of an academician and in 1803 he was sent to Rome with the best artists of his generation including Shebuev, Demut-Malinovsky and Dudin. Italian famous artists such as Vincenzo Camucchini and Antonio Canova marveled at his drawings and his rigorous style and inimitable fecundity.

The very first thing he did in Italy was a life-drawing of a nude model in such a difficult angle that he immediately acquired the reputation of a great master at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Alexey Yegorov, Avdotya Golitsyna as a vestal virgin

Alexey Yegorov, Avdotya Golitsyna as a vestal virgin

Once Yegorov argued with the Italian masters about the ability of the Russian artists to depict the figure of a man in full scale. While taking some coal in his hand, he started drawing the man from the thumb of his left foot. Even not departing from the wall, he portrayed the outlines of a man with all of his muscles and completed without any errors.

Yegorov enjoyed an amazing popularity in Italy as everyone knew him as a great Russian draftsman, sometimes called a “Russian bear”. He was a strong, educated, athletic and sociable young man. All parts of Rome were full of rumors about Yegorov’s Herculean exploits. The cost of his drawings, according to art connoisseurs, was determined by the number of gold coins placed on their surfaces.

Pope Pius VII himself admired him as a great artist and suggested him to stay in the Vatican. But, Yegorov and his comrades left Italy in 1806. After returning to Russia, Yegorov started to teach drawing again as an academician.

Alexey Yegorov, Susannah

Alexey Yegorov, Susannah

Yegorov demanded a thorough knowledge of anatomy and ancient sculpture from his students. He believed that everyone can draw; even he compared the art of academic graphics to mathematics.

Yegorov could reproduce any classical statue from his memory and his works were always accurate and correctly standardized all the muscles and bone structure. Later, the famous Russian anatomist and surgeon Ilya Buyalsky led his students to Hermitage to study anatomy and to search the errors of artists. And they distinguished Yeogorov as the only artist who draws without any error.

Alexey Yegorov, Portrait of Maria Byalskaya

Alexey Yegorov, Portrait of Maria Byalskaya

He adored clarity, simplicity, natural colors, and his brush was soft and bold, his figures was amazing. Main theme of the artist was large scale paintings on a biblical story and portraits of high society figures. Egorov’s portraits were small in terms of format. While his biblical compositions and characters are rather cold, they were written from the bottom of heart.

He was a good teacher and had many students who later become famous artists. Karl Bryullov, Peter Shamshin, Alexey Markov can be identified among his students.

Until now, it is believed that no one has achieved Yegorov’s level of mastery in depicting the human body.

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