Born into a family of Russian serfs, Aleksei Alekseevich Kharlamov studied with history painter Aleksei T. Markov at the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St. Petersburg starting in 1856 and with Leon Bonnat in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts in the early 1870s. While widely renowned for his official portraits of sitters such as Ivan Turgenev, Tsar Alexander II, and Sergei Tretyakov, Kharlamov is best remembered for his informal portraits of girls and young women whose beauty and innocence he captured in a romantic style. In this painting, the relationship between the two figures is ambiguous: are they sisters, or a young mother and child? This ambiguity and the surprising lavishness of their costume, despite the rustic setting, compel the viewer to imagine a back story for the scene.
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