The Unexpected Visitor

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Ilya Repin, The Unexpected Visitor, 1888
By EMMA SHAPIRO 

The Unexpected Visitor portrays an intellectual prisoner returning home unannounced from an evidently long imprisonment. The most admirable part of Repin's work on this painting is his ability to exhibit the emotions of six different individuals impacted by this event on a singular canvas. In Repin's original drawing of The Unexpected Visitor, he painted the visitor as a female, but changed it to a male in attempt to mimic reality. He also does this in order to make the visitor not only male, but a son, husband, and father simultaneously. 

The returning prisoner draws the eye of the viewer, due to Repin's meticulous use of linear perspective in the floorboards. The eye then wanders to the grandmother standing weakly in shock, and the daughter glaring in confusion and fear. To the right, the older child, a son, looks up excitedly, recognizing his father's return. Unlike the daughter, his age allows him to remember his father, giving the viewer a hint into how long the man's imprisonment lasted. We notice the wife's preoccupation with playing the piano has shifted to staring in utter confusion and no doubt joy for her husbands return. In the back the maid does her duty politely waiting to see the processions. The maid's eye are fixed on the prisoner questioning his identity as well as his intentions. The cook, equally as dark as the man, peeks from behind the maid, intrigued as any bystander in this situation would be. Repin shows the Tsar's rules effects on a family in the late 19th century, and how it individually impacts each person.

The door divides the painting into two halves. One half contains the wealthy family sitting around the table together, surrounded by chairs, paintings, photographs, a map, and a piano. The other half, that the man stands in, is left completely bare, besides the window offering a light source. The door isolates him from his family and brings him down in the social sphere, including him with the working class of maids and cooks. 

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