Our brush for you: Nikas Safronov painted a portrait of Viktor Bout


Artist Nikas Safronov met with Viktor Bout just a few weeks after the former prisoner returned to his homeland from an American prison. In December 2022, the Russian was exchanged for basketball player Brittney Griner, who was convicted in the Russian Federation for drug smuggling. The master invited him to the Izvestia studio to talk about the creation of the work, and then invited Viktor Bout to present the portrait. Details are in our report.

“I added a little body to him”

The studio is located near Red Square in the apartment of Nikas Safronov, which occupies several upper floors in a residential building. The Kremlin towers are visible from the windows. The holder of the title of People’s Artist of the Russian Federation works in several rooms, but writes from nature in the library. There is a coffee table in the center, sofas around, and bookcases along the walls. On the shelves are volumes on art. Brushes, pencils in vases. And there are paintings everywhere – on the chest of drawers, on the walls, on the floor. On the easel is a fresh portrait of Viktor Bout.

“This is a finished sketch,” explains Nikas Safronov. — He worked in sanguine and sepia (graphic crayons made of burnt sienna or iron oxide combined with clay. — Izvestia) on tinted paper. Finished with Italian pencils, brown and white. They create the desired texture. This graphic portrait of Victor is ready. But it will also be picturesque.

Photo: Izvestia / Kristina Kormilitsyna

Victor Bout

Victor Bout posed for Nikas in this very room – at the first personal meeting. Prior to that, they had known each other in absentia. A few years ago, when Victor was still in an American prison, his wife Alla turned to Safronov, as Booth was an admirer of the artist’s work. Nikas invited her to the workshop and handed over art albums, painting textbooks and scientific articles to Victor. So he wanted to support the imprisoned Russian. True, these materials were not allowed to be transferred to the prison.

– I tried to draw something there, in prison, so it was very interesting for me to get to know such an artist personally. And to learn some tricks, perhaps, it will be possible in the future. As for my portrait, I did not express any wishes. The fact that Nikas decided to write me was a big surprise for me, ”Viktor Bout told Izvestia.

The master made several sketches right during the conversation. As the artist says, the main thing in this process is to capture the character.

– It is important that the person posing does not sit still for a long time. Contact with the artist will happen only when the person relaxes. Therefore, Victor and I talked about life, about love during work. He even told jokes. True, I already heard them fifteen or twenty years ago. This is understandable, so many years have fallen out of life. And when Victor smiled a little, dimples appeared on his cheeks, his eyes became squinted, and his good-natured character was read in this, ”the artist shared his memories.

Photo: Izvestia / Kristina Kormilitsyna

It took several nights to complete the portrait. A man looks from the picture with a slight smile, hidden by a thick mustache, with slightly disheveled hair. And the man on the canvas is a little stronger than in real life.

“Victor lost weight in prison,” Safronov explains. – I added a little body to him. This is acceptable. We do not copy a photograph, but make images so that it is recognizable and at the same time beneficial for the person being portrayed. But at the same time, he retained wisdom, experienced life experience. All this can be seen in the eyes.

According to Nikas Safronov, such graphic work usually costs about a million rubles for a customer. But for Viktor Bout, this is a gift.

“I will send his portrait into space”

In the studio of Nikas Safronov there is a room that can be called the Hall of Fame. On the walls are countless pictures of the artist with presidents, politicians, Hollywood stars and world celebrities. Framed photo with Sean Connery, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Madonna, Sting, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Margaret Thatcher, Montserrat Caballé and Sophia Loren. Nikas has been friends with the Italian film star for many years. He painted her portraits more than once and calls her his muse.

Photo: Izvestia / Kristina Kormilitsyna

Artist Nikas Safronov

– Sophia Loren is a phenomenon in world cinema, and Viktor Bout is an international personality, – Nikas Safronov is sure. “We remember how many years they tried to return a person illegally convicted by the United States to their homeland. And after the experience, Victor surprised me. He turned out to be a very humble person. She practices yoga, follows a routine, and reads a lot. Whole, wise, deep philosopher. With such an interlocutor is always interesting.

As another pleasant surprise, the artist decided to invite Viktor Bout to become – literally – a personality of a cosmic scale. To do this, you will need to send his portrait into orbit – Nikas’ paintings already have experience in high-speed travel around the Earth.

“How the capital has changed!”

A month passed from the moment of writing the portrait to the next meeting. Restaurateur Aleksey Vasilchuk invited Nikas Safronov, Viktor Bout and his wife Alla to his Russian restaurant on the 85th floor of a Moscow City OKO tower. This is the highest located restaurant in Europe. And we were lucky with the weather: from the panoramic windows the city is visible at a glance.

While the guests settled down, Victor and Alla admired the view of the capital for some time.

  • This is even higher than the height of a bird’s flight, – Victor Bout smiled. “Simply amazing, amazing, how beautiful! How the capital has changed since I last saw it, almost beyond recognition. 15 years ago, none of this existed. Here I am looking at Shelepikhinskaya embankment, at the Moscow River, at this area, which I once knew well – the changes are so striking!

Photo: Izvestia / Kristina Kormilitsyna

Alla But

Nikas admitted that handing the portrait to him is a little exciting. But he hoped that his hero would like the image. And so it happened. Receiving a gift, Viktor Bout smiled, shook hands with the master and hugged him.

This time the artist made an exception – he also showed working sketches for the portrait. Usually he does not do this and cites the story of Valentin Serov, the author of The Girl with Peaches, as an example.

  • Once Serov painted a portrait of Nicholas II. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna looked over the artist’s shoulder and made remarks: “Here the cheek is not like that, but here the chin should be corrected.” Serov turned around and handed her a brush, saying: “Finish yourself, since you are so good at it.” And left. And no matter how they persuaded Diaghilev, Chaliapin, no matter how they persuaded him to return to the portrait, Serov was adamant: “Not a foot in this house again!”

Safronov admitted that this time he brought sketches only because Izvestia asked him about it when they were visiting him, but he did not show them then. And then I thought about it and decided to take them with me to a restaurant.

Photo: Izvestia / Kristina Kormilitsyna

Victor Bout did not criticize the sketches – he examined them with curiosity, wondered what kind of pencil they were made with. Alla But shared her impressions of the artist’s work with Izvestia.

  • On the one hand, the eyes, it seems to me, are still sad, but this is understandable. On the other hand, he smiles here, which is extremely rare. Even now, despite the fact that almost two months since he returned home, it is felt that he has not yet departed from the experience. And Nikas seized a moment of happiness. This is the most important thing, says the wife.

By this time dinner was served – borscht, pies and other treats. Victor admitted that he really missed Russian cuisine in an American prison.

Soon the artist and the model will meet again in the workshop. In the work – a portrait of Viktor Bout in oil.


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