Portrait of the Pianist Louisa Mercy D'argenteau
Ilya Repin was a truly a self-made man. Russia during the time of Ilya Repin's birth was in a caste system where its citizens were rated by class. His father, Efim Vasilevich (1804-1894), was a military settler which was in a category similar to a state-owned peasant. Thus upon his birth, Ilya was automatically registered as a military settler and though a notch above a serf, he was legally bound to live and work according to the demands of the state. Ilya was born in the outskirts of Chuguev in Little Russia which today is known as the Ukraine. This was a very rural area with modest homes and unpaved streets. During the time Repin's father was away serving in the army, the family lived in poverty. There was a lack of a primary school which denied the children any chance for advancement. However, Repin's mother, Tatiana Stepanovna (?-1879), who had taught herself to read, organized classes teaching her son and other children in their area. Since Repin's father was often away from home, his mother became his primary influence. Tatiana was deeply religious and passed on the teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church to her children. Later in life Repin would often compare the inspiration for art akin to his religious beliefs.