Not Expected Ilya Repin Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Ilya Yefimovich Repin was a Russian painter well known for his realistic style and subtle political commentary. Not Expected in just one version of a scene that Repin painted over and over, from 1883 to 1898.

Repin was obsessed with detail, and in one version of his Not Expected scene, also known as Unexpected Visitors or They Did Not Expect Him, he repainted the protagonist’s face four times in the hope of creating just the right expression. The original version of Not Expected was created in 1983, and almost seems like a practice run for the more famous, later version. A woman stands to the left of the picture, solemnly announcing her presence. One foot is forward; a tentative step into the room, as if she is waiting to ensure she is welcomed. The seated characters are shocked at her arrival, indeed, the one closest to the viewer is half out of her seat in surprise and presumably welcome. Her hand has flown to her mouth in sheer disbelief.

The two characters set further back, one at the table and one by what is presumably a piano, indicated by the sheet music on the stand, seem stunned. The rightmost figure who has a strong family resemblance to the rising woman seems almost angry. Perhaps the unexpected visitor left without warning, or caused trouble in some way. Repin's Not Expected paintings were oil on canvas, and the original uses a softer technique than the later versions, lending support to the idea that this was a trial run. The background seems almost stippled in with little detail, yet the people are incredibly detailed, and their expressions are lifelike; their emotions clear and obvious.

The later version shows the same room, but this time it is a man who is being shown into the room by a maid. An old woman rises to meet him, and several children seem overjoyed at his return. This is an attempt by Repin to convey the image of a revolutionary or rebel returning to his family home. The smiles and easy welcome indicate the positive attitude towards revolutionaries at the time, and give an important glimpse into Russian culture and politics of the late 19th Century.

Censorship was rife in Russia at this time, so no painting could be too obviously advocating socialism. This scene could easily be a family welcoming home a beloved son, but it is generally accepted that the political overtones are very real and very deliberate. Repin is still today considered a socialist artist and a champion of the common people, despite having painted many portraits of royals and the nobility.