Konstantin Somov

( 30.11.1869 - 06.05.1939)  


is the most expensive Russian artist; master of landscape and portrait; representative of Russian symbolism and modernity. The artist wrote grotesque erotic scenes, created porcelain compositions and was engaged in book design. Born in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, he died in exile, remaining in demand until his death.


Konstantin Andreevich Somov was born in St. Petersburg.

His father, Andrei Ivanovich Somov, a mathematician by training, was the curator of the Hermitage for a long time.

Mother - Nadezhda Konstantinovna Somova (nee Lobanova) - took care of the house and children, was a good musician and a well-educated person. The family had three children. Konstantin's elder brother Alexander served in the Ministry of Finance. Younger sister Anna is a singer and designer. It is known about Anna that she studied painting at home under the supervision of her brother Kostya.


Andrei Ivanovich was the first to recognize the future great artist in his son and persistently instilled in him a love of painting.

This was largely due to the large number of drawings, engravings and paintings that were kept in Somov's house. Little Kostya began to paint at the age of six. As Alexander Benois recalled after the death of Somov, "Somov was nevertheless indebted to the environment in which he grew up for his main artistic culture."


At the age of 10, Kostya Somov entered the Karl May gymnasium in St. Petersburg. There he met the future artist Albert Benoit, with whom he would be friends all his life, and with the future pianist and composer Walter Nouvel, and with the future publicist and literary critic Dmitriev Filosofov. All of them subsequently participated in the founding of the art association "World of Art" and in the creation of the magazine of the same name.


After grammar school at the age of 19, Konstantin Somov studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Then he attended classes in the workshop of Ilya Repin, and later, having left for Paris, studied at the Accademia Colarossi, where he learned the lessons of Art Nouveau and French Rococo. As a teenager and young man, Kostya Somov often traveled abroad with his parents. He visited Paris, Vienna, Graz.

When he turned 21, Konstantin traveled with his mother across Europe, having visited Warsaw, Germany, Switzerland, Italy. At the age of 25, he traveled to Germany and Italy with his father.


The February revolution of 1917 delighted Konstantin Somov, but he met the October revolution with restraint, not finding a place for himself in the new political structure. Somov had a certificate of protection for his antique collection, however, subsequently all art objects were nationalized.

In 1919, the Furniture Museum was opened in his mansion, and in 1920 the paintings were transferred to the Rumyantsev Museum.

In 1918, at the age of 49, Konstantin Somov was promoted to professor of the Petrograd state free art educational workshops.


Life in exile

In 1923, when Somov was 54 years old, he went to America to organize an exhibition of Russian artists.

For over a year he worked on an exhibition, where, among other things, 38 of his works were presented, and never returned to Russia.

Since 1925, the artist Konstantin Somov permanently lived in France - for some time with his close friend and permanent model Methodius Lukyanov in Normandy, then in Paris, where he bought an apartment on Boulevard Excelmans.

In France, Konstantin Somov is not only engaged in creativity, but also actively participates in social activities, promoting Russian art. He led an active social life, attends exhibitions, concerts and performances, and teaches young artists.

Konstantin Somov died suddenly of heart disease at the age of 69. The artist is buried in the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois cemetery, 30 km from Paris.


Exhibitions and recognition

Konstantin Somov was a popular artist both in pre-revolutionary Russia and in exile. For the first time, Somov's works appeared at the exhibition of the Society of Russian Watercolors in 1894.

His first personal exhibition was organized in St. Petersburg when the artist was 34 years old. It featured 162 works by Konstantin Somov.

In the same year, 95 works were shown in Hamburg and Berlin. The artist regularly showed his work at exhibitions of the "World of Arts", his works were presented at the Berlin and Vienna "Secession" and at the Paris Autumn Salon.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the artist in 1919, his personal exhibition was held at the Tretyakov Gallery.

Somov's works are in the collections of the London Tate Gallery, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the Helsinki Athenaeum, in the permanent exhibitions of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Many of Somov's paintings were bought by private collectors.

By the way, Konstantin Somov became the most demanded artist at world auctions. His painting "Russian Pastoral", which he painted at the age of 53, was sold at Christie's in 2006 for a record amount of £ 2.4 million. The record was broken in 2007 at the Christie's auction in London by the same Somov - his painting Rainbow was sold for 3 million 716 pounds with a starting price of 400 thousand pounds.


Creativity Konstantin Somov

The manner of a modernist artist can be defined as retrospectivism, elegiacity, sophistication.

His close friend Alexander Benois, who in 1898 wrote an article about Somov in the magazine "World of Art", later wrote that the work of Somov was influenced by English and German graphics (Beardsley, Conder, Heine) and French painting of the 18th century, "Little Dutchmen" and Russian painting of the first half of the 19th century. Konstantin Somov saw nothing new in the work of the Itinerants, as well as in recognized masters such as Cezanne, Gauguin and Matisse, and plunged into the atmosphere of the Rococo of the 18th century.

Of particular interest to Konstantin Somov was the landscape, which he painted both in portraits and in genre scenes. In his paintings, the harmony of color and texture conveys an idyllic and soulful image of nature.

All types of eroticism are widely represented in Somov's works - buffoonery and buffoonery in gallant landscapes and eroticism of a naked male body in portraits. The artist himself believed that art is unthinkable without an erotic basis.



Konstantin Somov is a recognized master of the portrait genre.

His portraits convey not only the appearance of the hero, but look into the soul, revealing hidden secrets and showing all the ins and outs.

During his life, Somov created a huge number of portraits. The heroes of his work were his parents; childhood friends; famous and little-known people.

In the Tretyakov Gallery there is a portrait of the artist Evgenia Martynova "Lady in Blue", on which the artist worked for three years. This work is rightfully considered the pinnacle of the artist's work.

Somov creates a new type of portrait - retrospective. He paints his contemporaries in dresses of bygone eras, against the background of old parks.

The artist's brushes and pencils include portraits of Vyacheslav Ivanov, Alexander Blok, poet Mikhail Kuzmin, artists Yevgeny Lansere and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and many others. Konstantin Somov painted many self-portraits. On them we see him at different ages - from a young man to an elderly imposing person.



Somovsky landscapes are always filled with memories of his native land, with which he had to part in emigration. He painted both from nature and from memory what was dear to him - a rainbow, autumn, summer twilight, forest and fields.


Gallant sketches

Konstantin Somov showed Russia and the whole world gallant paintings and sketches stylized in the 18th century. It was a new word in art - stylization and grotesque. His ironic world is inhabited by lovers and mistresses, harlequins and kissing couples.The titles of the works already contain that fairy tale and mystery that attracted Somov all his life - "The Harlequin and the Lady", "Columbine's Tongue", "Lovers. Evening”,“Harlequin and Death”,“Island of Love”,“Sorceress”,“Gallant Scene”,“Magic Garden”,“Magic”,“Blue Bird”.


Book graphics

Konstantin Somov was a sought-after designer. He participated in the design of the magazines "World of Art", "Parisienne" and other periodicals. He created illustrations for "Count Nulin" by A.S. Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol's novellas "The Nose" and "Nevsky Prospect", covers for poetry collections by Konstantin Balmont "The Firebird. Svirel of the Slav ", Vyacheslav Ivanov" Cor Ardens ", the title page of the book" Theater "by Alexander Blok.

In 1929 - 1931. already in exile, Somov illustrated Manon Lescaut and Daphnis and Chloe for the Trianon publishing house. To illustrate "Daphnis and Chloe", he became close friends with a young boxer, who for a long time became the hero of a number of his works and a constant companion.

Fans of second-hand books know Somov as the designer of the most complete edition of The Book of the Marquise by Franz von Bley, published in 1918 in St. Petersburg, for which the artist not only created frivolous and erotic illustrations using a black and white silhouette typical of the 18th century, but also participated in the selection texts. The Book of the Marquise, designed by Somov, is rightfully considered one of the pinnacles of Russian book graphics.


Porcelain disease

In the 1900s, Somov began to cooperate with the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Konstantin Somov, who collected porcelain sculptures, had a special relationship with porcelain, “porcelain disease”. The compositions "Lovers", "On the Stone", "Lady with a Mask" have become classics of porcelain art and are still very popular among connoisseurs.


Konstantin Somov's work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from 729 USD to 7,330,801 USD, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 1999 the record price for this artist at auction is 7,330,801 USD for The Rainbow, sold at Christie's London in 2007. Konstantin Somov has been featured in articles for Daily Art MagazineRUSSIAN ART + CULTURE and ArtDaily. The most recent article is What I’ve Learned: Sarah Mansfield, International Director of Russian Art written for Christie's Daily in January 2022. 

Konstantin Somov - Graphics