A man of genius, a creative person is always very attractive both to his contemporaries and descendants. What kind of man was he? How did the unusual natural gifts imprint in his looks? How do they differ, those selected ones, from the ordinary people among whom they live? What is the connection between the character of a great person and his works? These question have been and will be put by various people, from ordinary readers to scientists, specialists on psychology of creative work and artists of the next generations who experienced the effect of the creative work of their great predecessor.
The works by Dostoevsky have been enjoyed by a great number of readers all over the world. The deeper we penetrate into his mighty artistic cosmos, the more frequently we fall to thinking about the author of the genius works himself.
Dostoevsky's contemporaries left numerous memoirs about his character, his habits, his appearance beginning from his young days and till the last years of his life. Being put together these memoirs are sometimes strikingly contradictory. Thus, A. E. Riesenkampf recollected that Fyodor Mikhailovich "….was in his young years a little round plump blond man with a rounded face and slightly turned-up nose". However, A. Ya. Panayeva who was familiar with Dostoevsky in those years wrote that he "was skinny, small and fair-haired". And doctor S. D. Yanovsky remembered him as follows: "his height was shorter than medium, with big bones, and he, in particular, was broad in shoulders and chest…". It is difficult to explain such difference in the perception of one and the same person by different people. It is possible that the general impression of the physical appearance of Dostoevsky was influenced by his not being a man of the world, by his nervousness, shyness, especially in his young years.
From many reminiscences one can see that the first impression on meeting Dostoevsky was sometimes almost disappointing: his appearance was not loud, not aristocratic, there was something ailing in his face, this peculiarity was marked by almost all memoirists.
Such intricate and not very good impression was produced by Dostoevsky on Anna Grigoryevna Dostoyevskaya (Snitkina) when on October 4, 1866 she first came to him to do some shorthand job. To a twenty-year-old girl Dostoevsky seemed old and sick. He immediately confirmed the impression telling her that he suffered from epilepsy and had had a fit. Besides he was absent-minded and several times asked his future assistant what her name was. "I left Dostoevsky's place feeling very sad. I didn't like him and had a very distressing impression," recollected Anna Grigoryevna her first meeting with her husband many years later.
However, both in his young and mature years those first impressions of his interlocutors from his appearance were forced out when they came over to a deeper communication. Then the inner significance, the unique character of Dostoevsky's personality opened up and his looks were perceived in a new way. Thus, S. D. Yanovsky, one of the most devoted friends of his youth, wrote: "His big, compared to the entire head, forehead, sharply pronounced frontal sinuses and the prominent edges of the eye-sockets, without any eminences in the bottom part of the occipital bone, made the head of Fyodor Mikhailovich look like Socrates'.
" The contradiction between an outward "plainness" and deep spirituality of Dostoevsky's appearance is emphasized in the reminiscences of Vs. Solovyov: "Before me was a man of a small height, slender but quite broad-shouldered, who seemed to be younger than his fifty two years, with a thin fair beard, high forehead with thin but not gray soft hair, with small light brown eyes, with a homely and common, at first sight, face. But this was only the first and instantaneous impression, this face once and forever stamped up in one's memory, it bore an imprint of an exclusive, spiritual life". This description complies with the portrait descriptions by other memoirists (A. E. Vrangel, N. N. Fon-Foht, V. V. Timofeyeva-Potchinovskaya and others).
Dostoevsky's contemporaries who knew him personally observed his features closely trying to read the secret of the personality of the great man. The descendants look intently at the remained photo portraits, they read the lines of memoirs using them to study his appearance, habits, the way he spoke, recited poems, they look intently at his manuscripts trying to penetrate into the mystery of the creative process studying his rough note-books and the peculiarities of his handwriting.
In Dostoevsky's lifetime the artists K. Trutovsky, V. Perov and Dmitriev-Kavkazsky painted his portraits. Together with his photographs they give us an idea about the writer's appearance and, at the same time, open up his complex and intense inner world.
These lifetime images (photographs and artistic portraits) together with memoirs have always been a basis of creating the writer's portraits by artists and sculptors of many generations up to our days. However, although these works are often called Dostoevsky's portraits, they are actually not such (as, for instance, a classic portrait made by V. Perov), in the strict sense of this word. In the works of many artists of XX century Dostoevsky's image often acquires a generalized symbolic meaning.
Thus the portrait made by V. Falileev (1921) emphasizes the inner strain of thought of the master, the author of The Karamazovs Brothers, the prophet and thinker: his face being recognizable, has the predominant features that can not be rendered by a photograph. Such symbolic presentation of the writer's image can be also found in the works of E. Neizvestny, G. Glikman, Yu. Seliverstov, G. Nemenova and others. Many portraits of Dostoevsky made by artists and sculptors of XX century are an integral part of his creative world; sometimes he appears surrounded by his characters, sometimes his image is represented by a few personages (an auto lithography by V. Mishin). An individual treatment of the writer's fate is marked by a graphic sheet by Yu. Brusovany, a wooden relief made by I. Knyazev, a bronze model of the monument to Dostoevsky by P. Shevchenko. The work made by V. Golubev "Dostoevsky and Gogol love Russian people" and a series of drawings by Yu. Nikitin from the book "The Harmsiade" feature an ironic "anti pathetic" approach of the certain layer of the contemporary art. The artists still have a desire to comprehend the writer's personality through the conventional but inexhaustible formulas ("the one who glorifies the humiliated and outraged (?)", "the very Petersburg writer"). In this semantic field a great many of various works were created in the spirit and style of various art schools (portraits by I. Ivanov, Sotnikov, Semenov).
One can often hear that a portrait of Dostoevsky tells more about the artist than the subject of his work. This fact is quite significant: only those things that produce a strong and deep impact in a creative mind can stimulate an artist to self-expression.
Pictorial, graphic and sculpture portraits of Dostoevsky being put together give us a possibility to have a fresh look at the multi-formity of the Dostoevsky perception existing in the artistic mind for more than one hundred years.
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