The greatest mastery that achieved genius is presented in Portrait of Olga Konstantinovna Orlova, 1911, one of the most beautiful Belle Époque portraits of high society woman in the late Russian Empire. Princess Orlova was considered to be the most elegant fashionable icon and one of the richest ladies in St. Petersburg that time. Her image is penetrated with femininity and grace; her gaze is cold and supercilious.
Was she really beautiful and attractive? Indeed not everyone could say so and some of her circle could have found her not only ugly but also not particularly interesting person. We can see the same emphasizes in Serov’s representation, he regards her elegant appearance with a cold eye. With the bare shoulder, deep décolletage and fingers playing in her pearl necklace, she is not flirting with the viewer and “her body in not inviting”.
The work on this portrait started in 1909 lasted for 2 years because of the constant travels of the sitter. Serov initially made some interesting sketches of the elements: her face, dress and poses. He resumed sessions after his return from Paris to St Petersburg in 1911. Although long pauses were not convenient, Serov created this portrait with the great ease, enthusiasm and was satisfied with the result. However, the Princess didn’t share the same love for the compiled portrait and rather disliked it. She didn’t want to keep it and after the death of the artist she immediately gave it to The Russian State Museum.
What could make the sitter abandon her portrait? Yet, there is no evidence about the reason, however, she may dislike how Serov had presented her gesture or the face. Soviet critics would discuss Orlova’s portrait as an indictment of aristocracy. The public saw her as a cold and unpleasant prop for displaying the stunning outfit. Her gaze shows an arrogant indifference to the fate of the Russian people. However, was that criticism and aloofness intentional for the artist? The single surviving letter from princess to Serov is informal and warm, even somewhat flirtatious. As known, Valentin didn’t have principled objection to luxury, he even enjoyed many aspects of Silver Age and liked good taste and pure elegance.
We can see, nevertheless, a gesture in Orlova’s portrait of self-assurance, in her conspicuously crossed legs covered by shimmering silk dress. This conveys something beyond elegance and image of the ‘socialite’. She stands from her representative portrait as a self-possessed and powerful woman - “the psychological refinement of contemporary women”.
 Valkenier, Elisabeth Kridl, Valentin Serov. Portraits of Russia’s Silver Age, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 2001.
 Efremova, E.V., Valentin Serov, Moscow, Art-Rodnik, 2010.
 Valkenier, 2001, p.176
 Ibid., p.177