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Kramsky’s painting “Portrait of the Chemist Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev” is one of many portraits in the artist’s work, dedicated to famous figures of Russian culture. In general, if we talk about this tradition, I would like to note that almost all of Kramskoy’s works from this cycle “show through” one common feeling, namely, underlined love and great respect for the people whom he depicted on his canvases. To find among them a truly repulsive and negative character is almost impossible.
In the picture we see Dmitry Mikhailovich Mendeleev, captured, apparently, at the moment of deep thought. His eyes, at first glance, directed directly at the viewer, nevertheless wander and are filled with a certain abstract thought, and his fingers squeeze a piece of pencil with force.
Also, the very image of the great scientist is made exactly in the manner in which Kramskoy usually wrote a gallery of prominent figures. The image of Mendeleev is close to the icon-painting; he seemed to have descended from the icons of Andrei Rublev or the “martyrdom” canvases of the recognized Spanish Karavagist José de Ribera. Dimmed light and the yellow tones of the “driven to despair of madness” distinctly appearing in the exposition give the figure of Dmitry Mikhailovich a striking resemblance to another Kramskoy painting entitled “Portrait of Dostoevsky”.
However, the "madness" of Mendeleev is different than that of Dostoevsky. This is not the craziness of genius, which has broken the valve of the existential principle, but the awareness of certain truths by scientists and the constant search for unique, new knowledge.
The focus on the picture is shifted to the face of Mendeleev, who stands out as a bright spot against the background of dark tones. It makes a striking contrast with the predominance of dull colors and makes the viewer believe that now, a second ago, a fire of insight burns on the brooding face of a genius.
In general, it is worth noting that Mendeleev himself was very close to the circle of Wanderers at one time. He is one of the prominent founders of society, and in 1878 - at the same time this portrait was painted - in his apartment there were constant meetings of the advanced art front, to which Kramskoy belonged. Dmitry Mikhailovich tried himself in the role of art critic: in the same year, in the Petersburg Journal he published his article dedicated to Kuindzhi's Moonlit Night on the Dnieper.
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