The order for the portrait came from the president of the Academy of Arts, I. I. Betsky, an authorized representative of Catherine II. The recognition of D. G. Levitsky, which had increased by this time, can be judged by the fact that the artist received only fifty rubles for the first of the portraits ordered by I. I. Betsky, for the second – already four hundred.
The personality of the depicted was a very fertile material for the artist. Prokofy Akinfiyevich Demidov is the owner of the largest mining enterprises, a descendant of the Tula gunsmiths, even under Peter I, who laid the foundation of their
Prokofy Akinfievich was known for his eccentricities, which surprised not only Petersburg and Moscow, but also Europe. So, in 1778, he organized a national holiday in St. Petersburg, which, due to the enormous amount of wine drunk, caused 500 people to die. Once he bought all the stump in Petersburg to teach the British a lesson, forcing him to pay an exorbitant price for the goods he needed during his stay in England. There are many legends about the willfulness of the incredible rich man, where it is not always possible to separate truth from fiction. There are numerous examples of his “ingenuity”, like the Demidov “exit”, which consisted of a bright orange carriage, three pairs of horses and trainees – a dwarf and a giant. However, there are cases when Demidov made large donations, avoiding publicity.
The tremendous wealth received by section and a kind heart made Prokofy Demidov one of the most significant public benefactors.
They founded the Commercial School in Moscow and transferred large sums to the Moscow Educational House and Moscow University. Demidov’s scientific passion was picking up herbarium: his Moscow manor was famous for flower gardens and a botanical garden where rare plants were collected. In 1785, he wrote a serious treatise on the care of bees.
The image of P. A. Demidov is the most “pictorial” of all the works of Levitsky. In the portraits of the 18th century, all the components: clothing, accessories, furnishings, background – carried a certain semantic load, helping, above all, to determine the social status of the model.
In the portrait of Demidov, they have a slightly different meaning. There is not a single random detail in the picture, but every detail – from the herbarium and the watering can on the table to the facade of the building – testifies not to the prosperity of the image, but to his tastes, hobbies, character.
The entire structure of the portrait obviously parodies the traditional parade images by unexpected, almost grotesque comparisons. Instead of an official uniform with awards and regalia on Demidov, they put on a home vest, pantaloons, stockings, a wide-open robe, a cap, and a scarf wrapped around their necks.
The posture of the portrayed person serves as a contrast to this highly non-standard attire: at the same time, as it should be, the majestic and at the same time unconstrained: his left hand rests on a garden watering can, and the eloquent gesture of the right does not indicate the Educational House, to which he donated a large sum, but flowers. It is also deliberately contrasted opposition of household items with a solemn architectural background and a curtain draping columns.
Ugly, clever, possessing a brightly individual expression, the face of Demidov and his whole figure are written without any false significance and condescension towards age.
Levitsky was able to combine the features of extravagance with the elements of a ceremonial portrait. However, in the face of the figure, Slipping notes of bitter skepticism and irony.. The portrait demonstrates the artist’s high skill, his ability to look beyond humanity for the outside.