Oil on canvas, 74.7 x 59.3 cm. Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.
Like Orest Kiprenskii, Vasilii Tropinin was one of the first Russian artists to make the transition from the calm logic and propriety of neoclassicism to the warmth and emotion of romanticism. His portrait entitled The Lace Maker shows this transition simply in the choice of subject; instead of portraying a woman of the upper class and nobility, Tropinin chooses to paint a "common" woman engaged in work. As would become popular in romantic painting, an everyday subject was chosen and portrayed in an almost idealized light. However, the lace maker appears too genuine and modest to be considered over-romanticized or over-idealized.
The light coming from the upper right hand corner creates a delicate, soft chiaroscuro resembling the soft rays of sunlight illuminating the lace maker's work. The background is clear and plain, which leads the viewer to focus more fully on the young woman and her tools. Since symbols were an important part of creating and defining character in neoclassical portraits, the work tools gathered around the young woman emphasize her trade and show her in an environment that is unique to her profession. As if interrupted for a moment, she looks directly at the viewer with a smile, continuing to do her delicate work. The careful, yet unconscious positioning of her hands helps to emphasize how familiar she is with her work. By combining pictorial clarity with a feeling of sensibility, Tropinin has infused a "common" subject with dignity and grace. [B.B.]