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Sergei Chepik (1953-2011) is regarded as one of Russia’s greatest painters, which made me want to see a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Mall Galleries in central London. I was not disappointed.

When I was in St Petersburg a few years ago, I visited both the Hermitage and the Russian Museum. I found I preferred the distinctive, intense works by native painters in the Russian Museum to the European masterpieces on show in the Hermitage. I am not, and never have been, someone who is knowledgeable about art, but I just found the Russian art more… interesting.

Chepik’s work could easily belong in the Russian Museum. It is visionary, beautiful and distinctive. The artist painted religious scenes, images from his native Russia, and pictures inspired by his later home of Paris. His religious images are bleak, almost fantastical, unsettling, and moving even to an atheist (which he was himself). Many of them were based on or evoke events from Soviet Russia.

Chepik also drew on folk tales for some of his works: a painting I particularly loved showed the puppet-figure Petrushka (the Russian representation of autumn) surrounded by Russian folk figures. Other images covered sinister clowns and other circus characters, book illustrations (including for Bulgakov’s The White Guard) and portraits.

This exhibition was free and I’m so glad I went – it seems Russians still make the most awesome art!

‘The Ship of Happiness’, Sergei Chepik

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