Boris Kustodiev was born in Astrakhan in 1878.
Studied in Astrakhan and later at The Saint Petersburg Imperial Academy of Fine Arts under Ilya Repin (1896–1903). Participated in the creating of The State Council Session (1901-1903, the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg). As one of Repin’s favorite pupils and the remarkable portrait painter, Kustodiev was invited by his teacher to work on a large ceremonial painting of members of the State Council. However, the artist expressed himself to the fullest in genre paintings on the subject of the Russian provincial way of life and the life of merchants. His paintings are festive and bright in color. Visited France and Spain as the pensioner of the academy.
During the first Russian revolution of 1905-1907 Kustodiev cartooned for "Zhupel" and "Adskaya pochta" magazines. In 1908, he began to work in the field of portrait sculpture. Since 1911, he was the member of artists' associations such as the World of Art and the Russian Artists' Union (1907-1910). Living in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, the artist frequently traveled to upper Volga cities and villages where he painted scenes from traditional country life (the 'fairs', 'Shrovetide' and 'village feasts' series) and colorful folk characters such as the 'tradeswomen', 'tradesmen' and the bathing beauties known as 'Russian Venuses'. His first canvas of the kind ("Fair" (1906), kept in The State Tretyakov Gallery) was commissioned by the State Papers Dispatch Department for a planned but never produced series of cheap popular prints.
A brilliant graphic artist, Kustodiev also created poignant caricatures and theatrical art. After the 1917 revolution, Kustodiev made his best book illustrations (for N.Leskov' "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" and E.Zamyatin's "Rus"; both 1923, etc.) and stage designs (E.Zamyatin's "Flea" for the Second Moscow Academic Art Theater, 1925, etc.). He became the member of the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia. In 1916, an illness confined Kustodiev to an wheelchair, but he kept on working in his usual cheerful manner. 'Merry Shrovetide festivities' were one of his favorite themes, which he painted from memory.
Boris Kustodiev's works are kept in The State Tretyakov Gallery and The State Russian Museum as well as in numerous museums and private collections.
Boris Kustodiev died in Leningrad (former and present Saint Petersburg) in 1927.
Boris Kustodiev, one of the best loved disciples of Ilya Repinlya Repin, expressed himself best in genre painting depicting everyday life in the province and the lives of the merchants. He made use of the Shrovetide subject on a number of occasions; it is the most joyous of all Russian celebrations, which continues the pagan rites of saying farewell to winter. Kustodiev dreamed of painting a typically Russian canvas. He aspired to creating a story that would incorporate the colour of everyday national life, but the artist never sacrificed his painting for narration; the theme of his works was always subservient to purely pictorial objectives. Shrovetide is both a genre painting and a landscape, and these two dimensions appear to be complementary. The artist shows a troika ride, and the manner in which the ride is presented makes us imagine that the whole world is celebrating. The bright sparkling colours appear to be imbued with the joy of this popular fair.