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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Putin Portrait For Your Parlor

President Vladimir Putin may be in the newspapers every day and on the television every evening, but for some that is just not enough. Portraits of the president are not uncommon in homes and offices alike.

"He is our president, and I like having him in our office," said Svetlana Osuva, an accountant in Moscow. "I think he is quite handsome," she added. The portrait at her work is a photo of a stern-faced Putin staring out from his desk with a Russian flag in the background.

There are many such photos for sale at Dom Knigi bookstore on Ulitsa Novy Arbat, and they all cost less than 5,000 rubles. A 70-by-50-centimeter photograph, with a frame of fake wood and gold leaf, costs 4,800 rubles. Putin in a winter navy uniform complete with hat and fur-trimmed collar costs 1,900 rubles, and a favorite of the staff is one of him talking on the phone at the office. "It looks like he is talking to you," a bookstore employee said.

Putin is just one of the people that artist Igor Babailov has painted. His portfolio includes Pope John Paul II and U.S. President George W. Bush. Babailov was commissioned by the Canadian Embassy to paint Putin, but he did not have the opportunity to do it at a live sitting, and so used a combination of photographs and video footage.

"The hardest part is trying to capture his downward sideways glance, it feels like he is looking through you," said Babailov in a telephone interview from his studio in the United States.

Babailov presented the portrait to Putin, a moment that he cherishes. "I can still remember there was a very warm aura in the room, and the president dropped all formalities and hugged the Canadian prime minister," Babailov said.

Courtesy Of Igor Babailov
Painter Igor Babailov, left, posing with Putin at the presentation of his portrait.
When Babailov was asked if he would object to painting presidential maybes Dmitry Medvedev or Sergei Ivanov, he said: "Painting each portrait requires an individual approach in capturing the essence of the sitter. If I were ever to paint Medvedev and Ivanov, that would be my goal."

Paintings by Babailov are made to order, and although he doesn't like putting a price on his work, he said that a commissioned portrait, like the one of Putin, would cost upward of $35,000.

Not all artists take Putin so seriously. Andrei Budayev uses computer imagery to appropriate famous paintings, with politicians in the place of the original protagonists. One of his bestsellers is Mikhail Khodorkovsky as Jesus Christ. He said various oligarchs and socialites, including Ksenia Sobchak, have bought his pictures.

Budayev has a good selection of Putin pictures in his studio. There is an image of Putin taking off a mask of his own face, as well as him etched into Mount Rushmore. In a painting that parodies Hieronymus Bosch's triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights," Putin stands in the center supervising a variety of tortures in the background.

Humor does not come cheap, and the large, 2.5-by-1.2-meter paintings range from $3,000 to $10,000. Budayev's agent Sergei Smirnov said they are popular. "[Putin] isn't as fashionable as Luzhkov, but he is the president, so naturally the pictures sell well," he said.

Portraitist Viktor Derugin sells paintings of Putin via his web site, A pencil-and-oil painting of Putin reclining on an elaborate armchair costs $2,000 including the frame. A copy costs $300, smaller pencil drawings cost $130, and all can be ordered on the web.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Ulitsa Arbat's stalls are an option for those who need a Putin portrait but who can't afford to buy one from a renowned artist.
Professor Graeme Gill, a University of Sydney specialist on Russian economics who has been a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Moscow State University, said that the Russian tendency to glorify leaders stems from religion. "A lot of it comes from the veneration of saints and implies a veneration of those who can show the people the way to the promised land, and that assumption can easily be translated into political life," he said.

Still, he said things used to be worse: "In terms of media saturation, the emergent cult of Putin is nowhere as developed as the cult of Stalin. Even compared to Brezhnev, his memorabilia is far less prominent."

And Putin is not as popular as he once was. Bookberry bookstore on Nikitsky Bulvar used to sell Putin portraits, but has stopped due to falling demand. There also used to be paintings of Putin for sale around the Central House of Artists, but one of the stall owners, who refused be named, said: "We do not paint people like Putin or Bush, instead we have Che Guevara and Chairman Mao. Everyone who used to paint Putin has gone broke."


Igor Babailov:

Andrei Budayev:

Viktor Derugin:

Dom Knigi,

8 Ul. Novy Arbat, 290-3580,