Oil on canvas, 67 x 53.6 cm. Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.
Ivan Petrovich Argunov (1729-1802) was born in Moscow, a serf on the estate of the Count Sheremetev. It is possible that he studied art with his cousin, Fedor Leontevich Argunov and with G. Groot. Like Antropov, Argunov was also a member of the first generation of portrait painters in Russia, and he benefited from the interest his owners had in portrait painting. As portraits became popular among the upper classes, many serf owners were anxious for their serfs to learn to paint, so that they would be able to paint good likenesses of them. As other peasant artists of the time, he painted portraits of his owner and of other peasants. In his paintings, rich in details, Argunov shows himself a master of chiaroscuro. The Portrait of a Peasant Woman in a Traditional Russian Dress depicts a common peasant in a traditional "kokoshnik" headdress and a "sarafan," usually a sleeveless dress worn over a shirt, but sometimes, like here, with thin sleeves attached. Argunov's amazing technique does justice to the fine clothing of his subject. He is able to render with great accuracy the gold thread used to decorate the kokoshnik and the sarafan. His extraordinary technique in placing alternating brushstrokes to properly depict the different directions of the thread both on the kokoshnik and on the dress gives us a feeling that we can touch the embroidery. Equally impressive is the rendering of the gauzy texture of the woman's sleeves and the brilliance of a single red button fastening the top of the sarafan. While being attentive to the details of his sitter's clothing, Argunov does not neglect her physical appearance, altering and adjusting the light which illuminates her face and bosom. The subject of his portrait is a beautiful woman with slightly rouged cheeks, manicured eyebrows, and a slightly wide nose. Finally, the artist is able to finish the portrait by adding beautiful large earrings, a large coral necklace, and a rainbow sash around the waist of the model. Despite all this attention to detail and an unusual technical ability to represent it, the master created a portrait of extraordinary balance and charm.[S.H.]