Painter, graphic artist and stage designer, Борис Михайлович Кустодиев was a pupil of the classical Russian painter Ilya Repin. While studying at the Astrakhan Theological School, he was impressed in 1887 by an exhibition of the russian realist painters, the Wanderers, and he subsequently decided to become a painter.
In 1896 he enrolled at the Academy of Arts, St Petersburg, where he studied with Il’ya Repin. In 1904 he studied briefly in Paris under René Menard (1869-1930) and travelled to Spain, where he especially admired the paintings of Diego Velázquez. Like Andrey Ryabushkin before him, Kustodiyev concentrated on painting Russian provincial festivities, as in Shrovetide -1916; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus. But in his paintings of the merchant class Kustodiyev added a new note of satire. Using the bright reds and blues of Russian folk art, he delighted in painting the merchants’ plump wives in their leisure activities. One of his most striking images is Merchant’s Wife Drinking Tea -1918; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus., where the ample figure dominates the tea table and the surrounding area by her bulk and her self-satisfied expression. She is as round and as succulent as the fruit on the table. This work, like many others, has an oriental richness of colour that Kustodiyev saw as part of his Astrakhan heritage.