Leonid Solomatkin (1837–1883) was a talented genre painter of urban lower classes in the Russian Realistic style. The artist travelled across half of Russia, painting, selling icons and making sketches of itinerant street acrobats, organ-grinders, beggars and the destitute of society. He honestly described the life of impoverished slum dwellers and wayfarers with lyricism and a deeply personal insight, characteristic of the man who himself was interrelated with the outcasts of society.
The fate of Solomatkin, typical of artist in the 1860’s, reflects the tragedy of the whole generation of Russians that failed to live through the conflict between utopian hopes and impossibility to see them realized. He was born to a poor peasant family and orphaned at an early age, only to live among strangers. Throughout his youth he intuitively drew his own life experiences of destitution. These wholly honest portrayals of poverty and everyday life of the subjugated masses gained him entrance to art school in 1855. Solomatkin fortuitously studied art under Apollon Mokritsky (1810–1870) at the at the College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow for five years. In 1861 he was accepted at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg where he followed the Realism traditions of Pavel Fedotov (1815–1852) and the Dutch seventeenth-century masters, whom he studied in the Hermitage Museum. He was awarded the Academy’s silver medal for his painting Policemen Carolling (1864). His regular participation in exhibitions and a success with the public at large did not prevent Solomatkin from a life of distress, solitude and a desire to hide from reality by seeking oblivion from the vinous excesses of life steeped in wine.
Leonid Ivanovich Solomatkin - Original Painting Available
Coaching Inn (1870), Signed by L. Solomatkin in Cyrillic
Oil on canvas - 15,28'' x 25,59''
Leonid Solomatkin is ensconced in Russian art history as the image of a “legendary vagabond”, a “raconteur of urban lower classes”; conveying the sorrows and joys, exposing the weaknesses and emphasizing a special kind of dignity of those suppressed to the “urban underbelly”, outcasts of society. The artist, not restricted by generally accepted moral standards, paints a story in the first person. Solomatkin not only makes us sympathize with his characters, he helps us understand and even feel amity toward them. Rustic travelers’ inns, taverns and their habitués formed the world that was well familiar to the wanderer Solomatkin, and without which he just could not exist, therefor he perceived it as something quite natural. Nevertheless, a sincerity of feeling in Solomatkin’s canvases, combined with an outwardly orthodox manner of representation, evoked and still evokes in the viewer a sense of man’s tragic discord with the world. The main thing in Solomatkin’s attitude toward people is that, in his opinion, everybody, whatever his or her position in society is, can get into trouble or put in a ridiculous situation and that everybody is worthy of compassion. His “humble folk”—wayfarers, populating street scenes and village fêtes, contain facets of the complex, contradictory world, where good and bad, kind and evil, cruel and sentimental are intermixed in an incredible and sometimes unbreakable way. Each work tells a remarkable very human story of the realities of life.
Solomatkin is a unique figure in Russian art, if he failed to become a principal, whose work would open up new horizons and pioneering trends in art; he still occupies an esteemed place of his own among the great genre painters of the 1860s. Solomatkin’s themes associate him with the Russian masters of the last half of the nineteenth century – alongside: Vasily Perov, Illarion Prianishnikov, Vasily Pukirev and others. His method of a very personal interpretation of his life experience and environment, and the realization of his artistic oeuvre makes us treat his work as “distinctly Solomatkin”, paintings of a singular originality, rendered with an intensity of spirit. The most essential feature in contemplation of Solomatkin, conceivably, is that having given much of his considerations and emotive sentiments to people cast out by society, he advanced a permanent record and a profound love of common people in his work. That is where the enigma of Solomatkin’s popularity lies.
Solomatkin is a truly venerated artist and his memorable paintings, like popular songs, became inseparable from the people. All those who have ever discovered Solomatkin’s art for themselves, could not remain indifferent to his sincere, passionate and tragic intuitive talent. Leonid Solomatkin was a vinous voyager, excessively fond of wine, lived in poverty and was often a transient traveler, without a home. He was also an extremely talented, classically trained Realist painter, who chose to paint reflections of his own humble origins and the most vulnerable and exposed of society. He died of tuberculosis in a hospital for the poor at the age of forty-six.
The jolly life genre theme of a Coaching Inn or tavern was a recurring subject for the roving artist Solomatkin. Inebriated men have a heart-to-heart talk leaning a cart loaded with hay. Large stoneware flagons strewn about, a half full bottle of spirits make the conversation more soulful. Not far from them, people are rejoicing in laughter as a dandy dances to a tune played the violin. On the side of the well traveled roadway, a priest blesses a peasant laden with a pack of their chattels. At the horizon, in the distance a white temple of God is gleaming against a somber sky, a sign of hope, forgiveness and remission of the sins of frivolity.
It’s very intriguing to look at Solomatkin’s genre works. They contain highly observant attention to detail, painted only from the reference of his own experience, alive with realism of the artist’s reality. Typical of Solomatkin’s work, Coaching Inn, 1870 shows the abject poverty and neglect: shutters askew from their broken hinges, rotten boards on the roof top partially covered with patches of straw all but open to the elements. The artist unperturbed with his own or their lot in life and like a true Christian, doesn’t dwell on the deleterious, but the simple joys of a lowly life, as well as this spontaneous moment of shared happiness of his common folk heroes.