East Versus East: The Failure of Ilya Repin’s Parisian Cafe at the 1875 Paris Salon

Conference: The Paris Conference on Arts & Humanities (PCAH2022)
Title: East Versus East: The Failure of Ilya Repin’s Parisian Cafe at the 1875 Paris Salon
Stream: Arts - Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Ariela Shimshon, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel


In 1875 the Russian realistic painter Ilya Repin exhibited his massive work Parisian Café at the Paris Salon. The painting depicts a typical café in Paris. Repin was confident that the work would be a success. But the work was a failure: it was described in the December 1876 issue of the magazine La Voix as depicting vulgar characters and crucified by the criticisms of influential Russian painters and art critics. At that period the Russian milieu in Paris consisted of individuals who were highly influential on Russian culture. One of these was Ivan Turgenev, the leading realistic author, and a cultural icon. From 1874–5 Turgenev was the subject of two massive and, at first sight, very similar paintings. The painting from 1874 was by the young Ilya Repin, and that of 1875 by painter Alexei Harlamoff, a member of the Russian Academy and pupil of Léon Bonna. This lecture is an attempt to use the two portraits to uncover the reasons for the failure of Repin’s Parisian Café. I will maintain that due to Turgenev’s championing of Harlamoff, Western art-lovers formed a concept of la Russe in art, which for many years afterward determined an Orientalist perspective through which Russian artists were viewed

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