Valentin Serov was born in St. Petersburg in 1865, the son of the composer and music critic Alexander Serov, and Valentina Bergman, a pianist and civic figure. In 1872-3, Serov took lessons from Karl Köpping in Munich, and, on the premature death of his father, from Ilya Repin in Paris from 1874-5 and from 1878-80. In 1880 he returned to Moscow, and until 1885 worked with Pavel Chistyakov at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and at the painter's studio. He visited Germany, Holland and Belgium in 1885 and Italy in 1887.
He began exhibiting in 1885, focusing on portraits of actors, artists, and writers, in which he was influenced by the realism of Ilya Repin, the old masters, and his friendships with Mikhail Vrubel and Konstantin Korovin. In 1894, Serov joined the Peredvizhniki (Itinerants), receiving important commissions from the nobility, which he executed in the grand manner, though remaining open to new influences. He married Olga Trubnikova in 1887, and in 1900 joined 'The World of Art' movement, turning away from the Peredvizhniki and becoming more democratic in outlook. Impressionismdisappeared from his work at the turn of the century, and Serov turned to historical and mythological subjects, to which he added his own interpretation. Serov sympathized with socialist movements, but died before the Russian Revolution, in Moscow on December 5, 1911.