During pages 492-505, special light is thrown on the character of Mihailov and the characters surrounding him. Compared to other sections, this episode is not particularly important to the plot. It does not involve any fundamental aspects that drastically change the rest of the book, but reveals characteristics and more importantly clearly shows Anna and Vronsky’s relationship. This section comes directly after Levin and Kitty’s wedding and the extreme happiness that ensued. This contrasts with this section as, although they show happiness, a blanket of boredom seems to lure over the entire section, for Vronsky in particular.
Anna Karenin and Vronsky, who are lodging in Italy, visit Mihailov and this section shows many relevant connections to the rest of novel. In general, we find that Vronsky, who try’s his hand at painting, when faced with the greater aptitude of Mihailov, stops his experimenting and allows Mihailov, a professional, to create a portrait of Anna. This shows Vronsky’s weakness at this stage, and this same weakness is revealed earlier on in the novel. Although we are aware that Vronsky’s love for Anna seems quite real, he does not attempt to tear her away from Karenin, but rather continues with many visits to Anna in secret. He does not stand up to Karenin by demanding a divorce, but rather waits passively for Anna to take action at first.
When the character of Mihailov is first introduced, a quarrel with his wife arises. He is a very passionate character, and when involved in his art, his emotions flare. He later approaches his wife and fixes the situation. When associated with the rest of the story, the characters of Karenin and Vronsky seem related to this thought. Karenin, who is deeply absorbed in his work (as is Mihailov) is either too busy, or too apathetic to take special notice to Anna’s affair. When he gets upset with her, he does not seek (or if he does, does not have the strength of heart) to recover the situation, he merely lets it prolong until it is too far out of his reach to better. Mihailov’s argument with his wife is due to his passion for his job, his art. Karenin’s failure with his wife is in part due to the same thing; only Mihailov realizes his fault and restores his relationship with his wife.
The opening chapter of the novel starts with Oblonsky, realizing he is in a quarrel with his wife, unable to perform any work (partly because his work involves her), but this shows quite a contrast between Mihailov and him. Mihailov, a very passionate character, works at his best whilst quarrelling with his wife. “He never worked with such fervour or so well as when things were going badly with him, and in particular after a quarrel with his wife.”
Unlike with Oblonsky, or even Karenin who seems perturbed performing his duties during his uneasy time with his wife, Mihailov takes this anger and turns it to good use, to work on his art rather than let it hinder him. The simple fact that Mihailov does indeed seem to love his wife, while Oblonsky (and arguably Karenin) don’t, shows that perhaps an argument with someone you care for fuels one of your other loves. Mihailov, when working on his art, locks himself in his studio. He does this consciously, as he is aware that he needs his privacy and solitude to accomplish his goals. Anna, in a different way, accomplishes the same thing. By pursuing her affair with Vronsky, and by leaving Karenin, she locks herself up in her own cocoon of society, where she is restricted from visiting others.
Of Mihailov’s works, three are shown special attention to. Firstly, the painting of Christ before Pilate, one of controversy which Vronsky says he must have, is “critically analyzed” and praised by the three “art aficionados.” Mihailov, although very critical of the three wealthy observers, takes their opinions incredibly seriously. As an artist, he seeks for his interpretations and his views to be seen through his art. Their comments both give him extreme pride, but also tear him down, as he is at times very insecure with his work.
The second painting, that which draws the most attention and praise, that of two young boys fishing, appears to contain symbolism. “Two boys were angling in the shade of a willow-tree. The elder had just cast the line and, all absorbed, was cautiously drawing the float from behind a bush; the younger boy lay in the grass, leaning on his elbows, with his tangled flaxen head in his hands, staring at the water with dreamy blue eyes. What was the thinking about?”