When young Andrei Korolyov drew his 400th portrait, he made it to the Russian Book of Records. Soon after, a jury of adult artists and art scholars issued Korolyov an official diploma testifying that his portraits “are characterized by an individual style and bear a resemblance to the original.”
“Andrei began drawing at age three,” his mother Tatyana recalled. Certainly, all children draw, but Russia’s Pari agency (see Russian Life, Nov/Dec 2001) would not register Korolyov as a record holder if he were not truly unique in his genre. The seven-year-old artist portrays well-known personalities ranging from Peter the Great to the leaders of the American revolution: Washington and Franklin (copied from greenbacks now ubiquitous in Russia). At that, Korloyov never uses an eraser. For young Andrei, his mother explains, drawing portraits is both an art and a way of learning: he first reads about the life of a famous personality, then does a portrait, but “only if and when he has respect or admiration for a person,” she said. “Surprisingly—maybe not—he is not wild about drawing Lenin, even though Andrei was also born on April 22!”
Korolyov has become a Russian sensation, featured in articles and on TV programs, like a millennium-eve program on Russia’s oldest artist, 101-year-old cartoonist Boris Yefimov (see Russian Life Aug/Sept 1999). Korolyov was seen as the perfect choice for a symbolic passing of the “baton” from Russia’s oldest artist to its youngest (see photo at right).
Korolyov sent his portrait of President Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin as a New Year’s gift and received an official “thank you” letter from his aides. At the suggestion of drawing a portrait of American President George Bush on the eve of the May US-Russian summit, Koroloyov responded with the frankness you would expect from a seven-year-old: “I don’t want to.” Scoring P.R. points is something he has yet to worry about. But then, under the weary eye of his mother, the boy artist promised to give it a shot sometime in the future.
In fact, Koroloyov’s parents don’t consider him to be a “wunderkind” and only want him to have a normal and happy childhood. Tatyana is not even sure if Andrei will become an artist. Only recently has Andrei begun taking private art lessons.
“And even this professional artist for now is not teaching him much,” Tatyana said. “He just explores his individuality. They say it’s better not to learn much before age nine, so as not to lose one’s individuality too quickly.”
What Tatyana Korolyova said she is sure of is that Andrei has many talents and will make a name for himself. In addition to his portraits (which now number over 500), Korolyov plays the piano and “every time you ask him what he wants to be in life,” his mother said, “he gives you a different answer.” Today it is: “I want to be a chemist.” Dmitry Mendeleev was one of the first portraits Korolyov drew.
One of the first signs of Korolyov’s talent was when, at age five, he quickly mastered the ability to copy various Chinese symbols. His father Alexander, a journalist specializing in Sino studies, was understandably proud. “Upon seeing this, native Chinese I showed it to were amazed,” he said. “They told me, ‘OK, our five-year-old children can also draw these symbols, but then this is a Russian child!’”
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