Leo Tolstoy in Color

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The above color photo of Russian author Leo Tolstoy was taken around 1908 at Yasnaya Polyana estate by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, who went around Russia taking color photos with with RGB filters. Prokudin-Gorskii’s over 2,000 Color Photos of Russia (1907-1915) was collected in The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated in the Library of Congress exhibition.

Prokudin-Gorskii’s method meant that three images were combined on a paper mounting and aligned. Each copy took Prokudin-Gorsky two to three days of work time, and it was, of course, expensive, but the results were very durable. He published color inserts in each issue of the Fotograf-Liubitel (An Amateur Photographer), a monthly journal he was Editor-in-Chief of in 1906–1909. In September 1908 issue of Fotograf-Liubitel Prokudin-Gorsky published his above famous photograph of Tolstoy. In the letter to Tolstoy, Gorskii mentioned seeing a terribly-created color photo of the author. However, the above is the only known color photo of the Russian author.

It was in fact the biggest project of Prokudin-Gorsky’s life–one can only imagine the joy of the photographer to be given such an opportunity to capture for posterity (and in color) the grand old man of Russian letters. Taken two year’s before the author’s death in 1910, the image was widely reproduced on postcards and in various publications of the time. This (without forgetting or neglecting his reputation based on his other work on monuments) eventually brought him to the attention of Tsar Nicholas II. Tolstoy would be the inadvertent catalyst for the go ahead of the biggest project of Prokudin-Gorsky’s life.


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3 thoughts on “Leo Tolstoy in Color

  1. I have the coffee table book, “Photographs for the Tsar”, published in about 1980. The Tsar sent Prokudin-Gorskii all over Russia to take photos, since he would never be able to go himself. It’s a fabulous book.

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