"Dying Cleopatra" is the first work in the history of Russian painting, dedicated to the figure of the ancient era, rich in great victories and great defeats. The picture captured an episode of the tragic death of the captivating Egyptian queen.
According to one version, Cleopatra, the legendary beauty and wise ruler, having learned that she must submit to Octavian and become a captive of his throne, committed suicide in her boudoir. Death occurred from a bite of a poisonous snake, which the servant carried into the chambers.
The famous figure is painted in a manner unusual for that time of the chest image. Until now, such a strong and unusual angle was used only once - in the work “Peter I on his deathbed”. The queen is imprinted reclining with her head thrown back. Her gaze, directed upwards, expresses suffering, bitterness and hopelessness.
The naked body is painted with delicate, delicate strokes that perfectly convey aristocratic-pale, translucent skin. From below, an insidious snake lurked in the chest - a messenger of imminent death. Against a dark background, Cleopatra seems to radiate inner light, she seems inspired and inaccessible. Her neat curls are beautifully decorated with pearls and fresh flowers. The image turned out to be refined and touching.
Despite the high tragedy of the plot, the picture is very sensual and intimate, not alien to any eroticism. These features indicate the then popular Rococo painting style. Soft, cool, harmonious shades, a beautiful contrast of a dark background and luminous, delicate skin, elegance and power - all this makes the canvas eye-catching.
"Dying Cleopatra" is exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery and is a great example of the early work of Ivan Petrovich Argunov. His artistic style quickly gained new features, making his subsequent work extremely different from this canvas.