This work appeared during a period in European history when representational painting was questioned and transformed (early 20th century). The mood was even more serious and melancholic in Russia, where the Silver Age in art and literature was characterized by the dark mysterious poetry of Alexander Blok and the paintings of demons by Michael Vrubel. As one critic writes, this painting was made at a time of “spiritual crisis of Russian intelligentsia, brought about by the failure of the first Russian Revolution [of 1905]; the time of broken dreams, worst disillusionment, and loss of faith in human spirit, spiritual disconnect between dream of wonderful future and reality of everyday life.” As a result, At the Dressing-Table had a miraculous joyful impact during the exhibition in 1910 and Tretyakov Gallery (one of the largest art museums in Russia) acquired it immediately. It was included in a Soviet textbook despite its author leaving Russia in 1924, and probably remains there today
- Irina Artisarkhova
Zinaida Serebriakova came from a talented artistic family, her father being the sculptor Evgeny Lanceray and her uncle the Ballets Russes designer Alexander Benois. She began to draw at a very early age selecting simple subjects from daily life surrounding her, such as her family and the landscape in her native village of Neskuchnoye. She first came to prominence in 1910 with the exhibition of her celebrated self portrait Woman at the Mirror (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).
After emigrating to Paris in the 1920s, she earned a living painting society portraits, but spent much of her free time exploring subjects she had first discovered in Russia. She continued to paint her children into adulthood, including affectionate studies of her daughters, Catherine and Tatiana, often posing in the nude. She also painted other female models, reclining in her studio with patterned wraps and decorative drapes. Such nude studies were informal, often highly erotic, characterised by a spontaneous, but firm handling of line.
Her daughter Catherine accounts for the success of her mother's nude studies, probably the most immediate and intimate images of the female body in Russian art. She writes "The female nude was mother's favourite subject. While she was in Russia young peasant women would pose for her. In Paris her friends would come over to her studio, drink a cup of tea, then they would stay and pose for her. They were not the professional models that you might find in Montparnasse and maybe this is the reason why they are so natural and graceful."