Main | Art magazine | Betrayal of her fiancé and a stroke. How did the fate of Kramsky's daughter, with whom he wrote his famous “Unknown”, turn out?
Betrayal of her fiancé and a stroke. How did the fate of Kramsky's daughter, with whom he wrote his famous “Unknown”, turn out?

Betrayal of her fiancé and a stroke. How did the fate of Kramsky's daughter, with whom he wrote his famous “Unknown”, turn out?

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In 1883, Ivan Kramskoy painted a stunning picture “Unknown”, which left more questions than answers. No, no one ever had any questions about the level of artistic execution, but there were many guesses and assumptions about the identity of the unknown.


The critic Stasov was the most categorical: “a kokotka in a wheelchair”, so this picture was strongly discouraged for young men, and especially for girls: what if they take an example from her. And in fact, a richly dressed lady in the proud solitude rides in a wheelchair, looking at everyone around with undisguised defiance and arrogance. Here, of course, Kramskoi's skill in constructing the composition played a role, he chose a very interesting point of view - slightly from below, as an ordinary passerby would look at this lady, and this gave a stunning result of alluring and inaccessible beauty - as they say, “Masha is good, but not ours”.

Lady with an umbrella

And especially in that portrait, the eyes of the unknown are impressive, which became the main highlight of the picture, singled her out among others. Thanks to them, she was called “Russian Gioconda”. True, in Da Vinci's painting the main mystery is an amazing half-smile, and in Kramskoi's portrait the unknown's look: haughty, arrogant, but at the same time you can feel in it a certain defenselessness, understanding of her true, rather ambiguous position in society, as if arrogance is a kind of protective mask.

Sketch of the painting Unknown

Some believed that the painting depicts a literary character, in particular, Anna Karenina, but it is very doubtful that such an emancipated lady will throw herself under the train. And with the most popular version that the stranger is an ordinary cocotte, you can argue. She is dressed though very richly, as the daughters of rich merchants and factory workers dressed at that time, wanting the best here and at once, but with impeccable taste, as if she had been an aristocrat all her life. In general, there is a clear contradiction.

There was a version that this is the mistress-ballerina of some grand duke: the Romanovs always had a weakness for them. But some raised higher: the stranger - Catherine Dolgorukova, who became the wife of Emperor Alexander II. Obviously, Kramskoy would not dare to paint such an esteemed person in such an ambiguous image, so he changed her facial features and made her completely unrecognizable.

A girl with a cat. Portrait of Sophia Ivanovna Kramskoy

But there was another version: Kramskoy painted a portrait of his daughter Sophia. True, there is a question: why did the loving father need to portray his daughter so reminiscent of the usual cocotte. However, for Kramskoy it was not the personality of the stranger that was more important, but the theme of the confrontation between the individual and the crowd, of how society itself, condemning such young ladies, provokes them to reciprocate their contempt. And in this context, the choice of Sophia as the main model would be quite logical. By the way, although Kramskoi had six children, and he himself dreamed of founding a dynasty of artists, only Sophia was able to paint at a less serious level.

Portrait of the artist's daughter Sophia. 1882

At first she was an “ugly duckling”, but gradually grew into a real beauty who had no shortage of suitors. But she chose Sergei Botkin - the son of a famous doctor. True, the choice was not too successful: Botkin on the eve of the wedding decided to cancel everything, that is, in fact, threw his bride at the altar and offered her hand and heart already her friend Alexandra Tretyakova - the daughter of a famous art collector and factory owner. It is not known whether it was more calculation or sincere love, but Sophia will not be envied in any case.

Kramskoy painting a portrait of his daughter

Unable to find happiness in her personal life, Sophia went into art and soon began to paint portraits not much worse than her father.

Sofia Kramskaya. An old song

She married only in her 35th year of life, to the young Hermann Junker and was happy. True, the happiness lasted only 15 years, until the premature death of her husband.

Неутешное горе

Sophia had a hard time, and a year later the revolution began, which changed the lives of many people before and after. Sophia also had a hard time. To somehow make ends meet, the young artist had to go against her convictions - to organize an atheist exhibition in the winter palace and illustrate the books of the publishing house “Godless”.

Sofya Kramskaya. Portrait of a girl in a kokoshnik

And then Sophia Kramskaya was accused of aiding “hostile counter-revolutionary elements” and exiled to Siberia for three years. Only from the shock of fifty-year-old Sophia had a stroke, and she was half paralyzed. But still she was treated in the prison hospital and sent back to the penal colony. A letter that Sophia wrote to Maxim Gorky's wife came to her rescue. Gorky stood up for the disgraced artist in high offices, and Sophia was allowed to return to St. Petersburg. True, she died strangely - from general blood poisoning, when she pricked her finger. Indeed, a difficult fate, but who would say that the life of the unknown will be easy and pleasant?

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