The painter studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1896–1903) under the tutorship of Ilya Repin, and participated in the making of The State Council Session (the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, 1901-1903).
His talent as a brilliant portrait painter became already apparent during his studying years. During the first Russian revolution of 1905–1907, Kustodiev produced cartoons for Zhupel and Adskaya pochta magazines. In 1908, he began to work in the field of portrait sculpture. He was a member of artists’ associations such as the World of Art and the Russian Artists’ Union. Living in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the artist frequently traveled to upper Volga cities and villages where he painted scenes of traditional country life (the ‘fairs’, ‘Shrovetide’ and ‘village feasts’ series) and colourful folk characters such as the ‘tradeswomen’, ‘tradesmen’ and the bathing beauties known as ‘Russian Venuses’. His first canvas of the kind (Fair, 1906, Tretyakov Gallery) was commissioned by the State Papers Dispatch Department for a planned but never produced series of cheap popular prints. After the 1917 revolution, Kustodiev made his best book illustrations (for N. Leskov’s 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.).
The artist’s works are in the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, and in many regional museums.