The painting is a portrait of Sophia Dragomirova, who was the daughter of the successful and highly-respected general, writer and military scientist Mikhail Ivanovich Dragomirov (1830-1905), whom the artist painted in 1889. There's very little information about Sophia's life. She was 17 years old in the painting. She had 2 older brothers, who achieved high ranks in the military. Sophia changed her name to Lukomskaya after marriage. Short after the portrait painted by Repin, the artist Valentin Serov also made a portrait of young Sophia.
Sophia's eyes are at the centre of the portrait. She looks sad and expresses intense exhaustion. In Ilyia Repin's portrait, Sophia supports her head with her left arm. She's extremely tired after so much reading. This is suggested by the books which you can barely notice at the margin of the painting. Her elbow is leaning on a small table, which is covered by a colourfully flowered cloth.
Sophia's clothing seems to be a traditional outfit. Also, the religious symbols on her bright necklace restrain her. Her headdress, which is decorated with blue flowers of intense colour, is a strong contrast with her sorrowful and nostalgic expression. Her overall look is melancholic and a clear reflection of deep suffering. She cannot escape the hurt in her life.
Unlike other young women, Sophia expresses a strong sense of maturity. She's captivated by literature but also cannot escape the restrictions of her upbringing. The military legacy in her family has a dramatic effect on her personality and character. She feels lost and tries to enter different worlds to escape the one she's in.
The Portrait of Sophia Dragomirova by Iliya Repin is a mirroring of a deep melancholy felt by a young woman who grew up in a family, which imposed military rigour and upbringing. Unlike her brothers, she's a more sensitive personality and uses literature to find peace and harmony in her life. She reads until she's exhausted. This reflects the intensity of her desire for freedom. The painting is currently housed by the St Petersburg Russian State Museum.