The little seamstress signed Harlamoff (lower left) oil on canvas 85 x 107.5 cm. (33 ½ x 42 ¼ in.)
Provenance: The Fortnum & Mason Collection
Literature: Included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Harlamoff by O. Sugrobova-Roth and E. Lingenauber, to be published in November 2006
Together with such renowned artists as Aivazovsky (1817-1900) and Repin (1844-1930), Harlamoff has always enjoyed a high reputation in Western Europe, and his attractive and sensitive portraits of young children and peasant girls have always been keenly sought by collectors, more so with the emergence in recent years of Russian collectors, eager to buy the best work painted by their countrymen.
Born in 1840 close to Saratov on the Volga, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg at the age of fourteen. In 1869 he was awarded a gold medal with a travel scholarship which enabled him to travel to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Leon Bonnat (1833-1922), whose work in portraiture was a strong influence on the young artist, prompting him to produce portraits of the poet Alphonse Daudet, the singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia in the 1870s. His portrait of Ivan Turgenev caught the eye of Emile Zola who rated it as among the best works of the Paris Salon of 1876. It was at Bonnats suggestion that in Harlamoff travelled to Spain in 1874 to study the work of Velasquez.
Highly praised by his contemporaries, the marine artist Alexei Bogoliubov (1824-1896) visited him at his Paris studio in 1875 declaring of his future that everyone predicts a brilliant career. Turgenev also claimed that Harlamoff was his favourite artist and was particularly taken with his little portrait heads. In 1883, the huge demand for the artists work from private collectors and dealers in London and Paris, was noted in the Russian journal Novoye Vremya.
Harlamoffs reputation grew as he participated in the Salon exhibitions between 1875 and 1882, again in 1909, in the Universal Exhibition in Vienna in 1873, and in the Paris Exhibitions of 1878, 1889, and 1900. Highly praised by the French art critics, he came to the attention of wealthy American and European collectors who appreciated the genre pictures and portraits that he was producing, particularly his idealised portraits of young women and girls. Queen Victoria greatly admired his painting of children playing with flowers that was exhibited at the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888.
Harlamoff exhibited with the Peredvizhniki from 1879-1917, becoming a member of the association in 1882. His work, whilst criticised for a lack of social commentary, was highly praised for its quality.
His popularity waned in the later years of his life with the work after 1910 produced in a far more sketchy style. He died in Paris in relative obscurity on the 10th April 1925.