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Kramskoy is a Russian master of genre, religious and historical portrait, who knew how to transfer human faces to a host and keep them there for centuries in the era before the ubiquitous distribution of photography. He wrote a lot, preferred realism to all other genres, often turned to Russian history as a source of inspiration.
A portrait of Nekrasov was ordered when the poet was already seriously ill and could not bear the long work in the portrait. He could be a sitter only 10-15 minutes a day, which is negligible for the portrait, and the only support in such difficult conditions for the poet was an old photograph given to him by the patient's relatives. Combining a letter from nature and a letter from a photograph, Kramskoy created one of his typical portraits, which for himself elevated almost to the rank of a separate genre.
For such portraits, a dark background was characteristic, with which the clothes of the depicted usually merged. Nekrasov’s brown frock coat, his black butterfly is no exception, the background comes in tone and is only slightly lighter. Neither clothes nor hands were worked out in detail - they simply were part of a person, but they were not given special attention - but the artist concentrated all his forces on his face. Lighting him with an external source of light, approaching the image of his features meticulously and carefully, Kramskoy transferred the person to the picture as he was in moments of rest.
No unnecessary emotions on the faces, just a focused look a little to the side. So Nekrasov - with his beard, light wrinkles, with the gaze of a man who saw life from the inside and found it quite entertaining - looks away and seems lost in thought. Perhaps he thinks of death, perhaps of the future, which he may not have, perhaps recalls the past or thinks of another poetic line.
However, it is also possible that there are no particular thoughts behind his eyes.
Only a frozen concentrated eternity in which he is immersed as he once was - many years ago.
Portrait of Emil Zola Edouard Manet