Isaac Ilyich Levitan (30 August [O.S. 18 August] 1860 – 4 August [O.S. 22 July] 1900) was a classical Russian landscape painter who advanced the genre of the "mood landscape".
Youth: Isaac Levitan was born in a shtetl of Kibarty, Augustów Governorate in Congress Poland, a part of the Russian Empire (present-day Lithuania) into a poor but educated Jewish family. His father Elyashiv Levitan was the son of a rabbi, completed a Yeshiva and was self-educated. He taught German and French in Kowno and later worked as a translator at a railway bridge construction for a French building company. At the beginning of 1870 the Levitan family moved to Moscow.
In September 1873, Isaac Levitan entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture where his older brother Avel had already studied for two years. After a year in the copying class Isaac transferred into a naturalistic class, and soon thereafter into a landscape class. Levitan's teachers were the famous Alexei Savrasov, Vasily Perov and Vasily Polenov. In 1875 the school admitted Nikolai Chekhov, brother of the Russian writer, Anton Chekhov who would later become Levitan's closest friend.
In 1875, his mother died, and his father fell seriously ill and became unable to support four children; he died in 1877. The family slipped into abject poverty. As patronage for Levitan's talent and achievements, his Jewish origins and to keep him in the school, he was given a scholarship.
Early work: In 1877, Isaac Levitan's works were first publicly exhibited and earned favorable recognition from the press. After Alexander Soloviev's assassination attempt on Alexander II, in May 1879, mass deportations of Jews from big cities of the Russian Empire forced the family to move to the suburb of Saltykovka, but in the fall officials responded to pressure from art devotees, and Levitan was allowed to return. During that year Levitan painted ??????? ????. ?????????? (Autumn day. Sokolniki), which depicted a long path in a Moscow park. When Nikolay Chekhov saw the work he told Levitan the path needed someone walking on it, so Chekhov painted a woman in a black dress walking toward the viewer. This kind of collaboration between a genre painter such as Chekhov and a landscape painter such as Levitan was common in the school. In 1880 the famous philanthropist and art collector Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov bought the painting for 100 rubles. Tretyakov continued to purchase Levitan's works and eventually acquired 20 additional paintings (See also Tretyakov Gallery).
Savrasov, who was influenced by painters in the Barbizon school, such as Camille Corot, took students outside to paint en plain air. Previously, the Russian countryside had been considered too uninteresting for painting, but for Levitan landscapes became the center of his work. Savrasov taught Levitan to paint details in his landscapes and to bring his emotions into his works.  But by 1883 Levitan had grown discouraged with the Moscow School of Painting and decided to enter a landscape painting in the hopes of winning a silver medal which would qualify him to be a classed artist. Levitan showed the painting to Savrasov, who had been drinking heavily and had stopped teaching at the school; Savrasov wrote "silver medal" on the back of the canvas. The school rejected the painting, and Levitan stopped attending classes. One possible explanation for why the school snubbed one of its best students was because the disgraced Savrasov had commented on the back of the canvas. Korovin repeated gossip that antisemitism played a part in the rejection. The Soviet writer, Konstantin Paustovsky, repeated the contention that some thought a Jew should not be painting the Russian countryside.
In the spring of 1884 Levitan participated in the mobile art exhibition by the group known as the Peredvizhniki and in 1891 became a member of the Peredvizhniki partnership. During his study in the Moscow School of painting, sculpting and architecture, Levitan befriended Konstantin Korovin, Mikhail Nesterov, architect Fyodor Shekhtel, and the painter Nikolay Chekhov. Levitan often visited Chekhov and some think Levitan was in love with his sister, Maria Pavlovna Chekhova.
In the early 1880s Levitan collaborated with the Chekhov brothers on the illustrated magazine Moscow and illustrated the M. Fabritsius edition Kremlin. Together with Korovin in 1885-1886 he painted scenery for performances of the Private Russian opera of Savva Mamontov, a railroad baron and art patron, who developed an artists' colony 37 miles from Moscow. In his memoir, Polenov wrote that when the curtain rose for the underwater scene Levitan painted with Victor Vasnetsov for the opera Rusalka the audience applauded.
In the 1880s he participated in the drawing and watercolor gatherings at Polenov’s house.