The tragic story of the artist Chartkov began before the store on Shchukinsky yard, where among the many paintings depicting peasants, he saw one, and having given for it last twenty kopecks, brought the painting home. This was a portrait of an old man in Asian garb and seemed unfinished, but it was caught up by with such a strong brush that the eyes on the portrait looked like alive. At home Chartkov learns that the owner came with the non-commissioned police officer, demanding payment for an apartment. Chartkov’s annoyance regretting twenty kopecks and sitting in poverty, without candles multiplied.
Going to bed behind the screen, he sees through the cracks lit by the moon portrait and its fixed gaze. In fear, Chartkov puts a curtain on it, but then he sees eyes, translucent through the screen, it seems that a sheet is torn off, finally, he sees that the sheet in fact is no more there, and the old man moved and got out of the frame. The old man comes to him behind the screen, sits in legs and starts to count money taken out from a bag brought by with him. A bundle with the title "1000 gold pieces" rolled to the side, and Chartkov grabs it secretly. Desperately clutching the money, he wakes up; hand feels the weight that had been in it a second ago. After a series of successive nightmares, he wakes up late. The police officer who came again with a host learned that there was no money, offered to pay with his works.
Portrait of an old man attracts his attention, and, looking at the canvas, he inadvertently squeezes the frame - on the floor falls familiar bundle with the title "1000 gold pieces."
The same day Chartkov pays the owner and being consoled by treasures, having muffled down the first wish to buy paint and lock up for three years in the studio, takes luxury apartment on Nevsky, gives an advertisement in a walking newspaper - and already the next day accepts a customer. Important lady, describing the details of future portrait of her daughter, takes her when Chartkov seemed only to grab something important in her face. The next time she remains dissatisfied with the similarity of yellow face and the shadows under the eyes and finally takes over the old job of Chartkov - Psyche, slightly renovated by an annoyed artist.
In a short time Chartkov becomes popular: grasping one common expression, he wrote many portraits to meet a variety of claims. It is rich, admitted to the aristocratic homes, of the artists speaks sharply and haughtily. Many who knew Chartkov before, are amazed, as how talent could disappear so noticeable at first. He is important, reproaches the youth of immorality, becomes a miser, and one day, at the invitation of the Academy of Arts, came to look at the painting from Italy which was sent by one of the old comrades, sees perfection and understands the abyss of his fall. He locked himself in the studio and is immersed in the work, but must stop every minute due to ignorance of the elementary truths, the study of which he disregarded the beginning of his career.
Soon he is obsessed by a terrible envy, he starts to buy the best works of art, and only after his death because of fever connected with consumption, it becomes clear that the masterpieces for the acquisition of which he has used his vast fortune were brutally destroyed by him. His death is terrible: old scary eyes appeared everywhere.
Chartkov’s history had some explanation after a short time at one of St. Petersburg's auctions. Among Chinese vases, furniture, and paintings the attention was attracted by an amazing portrait of a man whose eyes were painted with such a skill that seem alive. Price increases in four, and there comes an artist B., claiming his special rights for this painting. In confirmation of these words, he tells a story that happened to his father.
Having outlined for the beginning of part of the city called Kolomna, he describes the giant Asian who once lived there, and was able to lend any amount of money. His interest seemed small and the repayment terms very favorable, but the strange arithmetic calculations of the amount to be refunded, increased enormously. Ominous was the fate of those who received money from the hands of sinister Asian.
The father of the narrator, self-taught artist, intending to portray the spirit of darkness, often thought about his terrible neighbor, and one day he himself came and demanded to draw a portrait of himself in order to stay in the picture "quite like a living". Father was pleased to take over the business, but better he managed to grab the old man's appearance, more alive came out the eyes on the canvas, more painful feelings took possession of him.
Having no longer the strength to bear the growing aversion to work, he refused to continue, and the old man's plea explaining that his life would continue after death in the portrait of a supernatural force, scare him completely. The next day the moneylender he died. Over time, the artist observed a change in himself and decided to destroy the portrait, but a friend of his asked for the painting and the artist gave him this terrible work. Everyone who got this portrait next was trying o get rid of it as soon as possible.
The artist understands that part of the moneylender’s soul moved into a horrible portrait, and the death of his wife, daughter and infant son finally assured him of that. He put a senior son at the Academy of Fine Arts, and went himself to a monastery, where conducted a rigorous life, seeking all possible ways of self-sacrifice. Finally, he took up a brush and was writing for a whole year a painting of Christmas. Work was a miracle, full of holiness. To his son, who had come to say goodbye before traveling to Italy, he said a lot of his thoughts about the art including some instructions. Having told the story of the usurer, he begged his son to find walking on hands portrait and destroy it. And now, after fifteen years of fruitless searching, the narrator finally found the portrait, - and when he, and with him all the crowd of students, turned to the wall, a portrait as not there. Someone says, "Stolen".