Vsevolod Garshin was a writer and served in the military during the Russo-Turkish war. Although he became an officer when the war ended, Garshin resigned and focused on his writing. He was traumatized by the horrors and darkness which he endured on the battlefield. He was deeply empathic and had intense compassion for people and his writing reflects this trait. It's this virtue, that Repin immortalizes in the portrait painting.
The portrait captures Garshin looking straight at the artist or the viewer. Earlier studies performed by Repin in connection to Garshin show the writer in different poses. But Repin chooses this one as final. The writer has a melancholic look, full of deep empathy and understanding. His kind nature and passion for literature are the focus of the painting. Although Repin's other studies suggest the same empathic nature of the writer, they don't have the same emotional intensity as this last pose. Garshin sits at his desk, reading a book. Suddenly, he looks up at the viewer. Because of the intensity of his gaze, it's difficult to look away. The sadness and sorrow, which appears in his expression are deep. However, the kindness of the man is also present. His sensitivity combined with melancholy makes the painting of great complexity.
Repin manages to capture a deep sadness in Garshin's eyes. His eyebrows are lowered and symbolize a deep struggle of hurtful and sad emotions. He's surrounded by his tools of trade and protects the book that he's reading. His hunched posture reflects a submissive position to the power of his books. He is wearing black clothing as if he's mourning. Considering his participation in the war, it may be a symbol of respect for the lost souls on the battlefield. Gashin preferred to leave the military and devote himself to the arts. He experienced very dark and disturbing episodes during battle and uses literature and the arts to escape the devastating feelings. His extremely sensitive character is reflected by the gaze in his eyes which penetrates a viewer's heart and soul.
The Portrait of Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin is a dedication to an artist who overcame all fierce and fought alongside his fellow soldiers during the Russo-Turkish War. Although he was promoted to officer level, he preferred to dedicate himself to writing to express the disturbing and heartbreaking experience on the battlefield.