The laundress

This diptych captures something greater than a general observation about the common worker. Korzhev's work feels personal, intimate and universal.

This diptych, combining two essentially independent paintings into a single composition, became a milestone in Korzhev' s painting – it was completed in 1992, marking the start of his post-Soviet period. In these last decades Korzhev tur ned to the visual models of classical European art and embarked on his 'evangelical' series, as well as the 'monster' series ('tyurlik i') and 'social' paintings with everyday themes. It was at this time th at the interest in Korzhev's works cr ossed the national bor ders, and they began to be acquired by international collectors and connoisseurs. In paintings of those years one can clearly observe shifts in the artist's emphases and his intense focus on the interpretation of the most important themes, foremost among them the classical subject of the Return of the Prodigal Son. In the diptych the artist significantly transforms this theme, widening the possible interpretations by introducing modern allusions; he seems to be dividing the symbolism between the two figures – the bent over female and the kneeling down male – in an attempt to create a compositional formula of guilt, repentance and forgiveness. The artistic peculiarities of this work, as well as others in Korzhev's output, dir ectly reflect his adher ence to the tradition of the Russian school of painting, and in particular to its academic principles of creating the artistic image. 

Natalia Alexandrova


Oil on canvas


200 × 120 cm; 78¾ × 47¼ in.

Gely Mikhailovich Korzhev
1925 - 2012

​As early as the 1960s, the paintings of Korzhev – People's Artist of the USSR, laureate of the country's State Prizes, full member of the USSR Academy of Arts, and one of the distinguished masters of the Soviet and Russian school of painting – stood out among the works of his generation of artists. In his works, Korzhev asserted the moral and ethical principles he held to be true, traditional, and as his subjects he chose real people, their existence in time, their experience of their world.

The Great Patriotic War (World War II), coinciding with Korzhev's youth, became a formative event of his life and art. In July 1941 he turned sixteen and having completed his 'Voroshilov Marksmen' training, resolved to go to the front. It was only after persistent pleas from his teachers at the Moscow Special School of Art that Korzhev agreed to be evacuated to the village of Voskresenskoe along with other students of the School. He would remember his three years there for the rest of his life as a time of hardship and hunger, but also extraordinarily exciting intense learning and early achievement. It was during this time of war that the artist's core 'imperative' and romantic ideas were formed, to do with the necessity of fighting for life, man's moral strength and resilience in the face of death.