The masterpiece reflects a portrait of Repin's father, who served in the Imperial Russian Army as a soldier in the Uhlan Regiment. The portrait describes Repin's father as an old man, reading a book. The painter uses dark colours for the background and the father's clothes. It offers a nostalgic feeling to the work of art. The old man is wearing a pair of glasses and is focused on reading the thick book. He uses his index finger to follow each word on the page. His facial expression is static, which suggests that he's deeply absorbed by the book. It's as if he's escaping to a different world.
The father is sitting at a table, which is covered by a dark red cloth. It's a darker shade than the brighter red colour on his shirt. There's a connection established between the two elements. The father uses literature to forget and overcome the darkness of his military experience. As a soldier in the Imperial Russian Army, he's witnessed horrifying episodes, which have traumatized him. Literature offers him a gateway to a different world. A world where he's free of any sadness or sorrow.
The character sits at the centre of the painting. He has a long beard, which is a symbol of many experiences, and superior wisdom. The father's long and white hair also contributes to contouring the profile of an experienced man. The painting is the artist's tribute to his father, whom he portrays in a deep light. The painting comprises soft colours and lines. All objects are clearly highlighted and form a complete scene. It's the time when the father reflects on his past experiences and uses literature to overcome deep sorrow.
The artist expresses his respect and honour for his father using art as an instrument. He contours his father's character as a wise, strong, and experienced man who gave him a rigorous but liberating education. The father was an inspiration for the artist who chooses to follow in his footsteps by entering the military. Nevertheless, Ilya Repin uses art to escape from the terrible experiences he went through on the battlefield. Both Efim Repin and Ilya Repin find comfort in art and literature as a form of escape and relaxation. It's the key to surviving the traumas caused by their military service.