Mikhailov assumes that his visitors are wealthy Russians who pretend and presume to know a great deal about art. Mikhailov shows them a scene of the admonition of Pontius Pilate. Golenishchev compliments Pilate’s expression, seeing him as a kindly but ignorant bureaucrat. Mikhailov is thrilled, as this was what he intended. Anna compliments Christ’s expression, seeing the pity in it; Mikhailov is again delighted. Vronsky, however, compliments an aspect of technique, and Mikhailov is dejected, as the praise is only technical, not emotional. The painter and Golenishchev begin arguing about the historical Jesus.
Mikhailov sees through any other roles Vronsky might be trying to play and views the visitors simply as Russians trying to sound Continental in their opinions. Mikhailov wants to be complimented not for his technical prowess but for his skill in depicting emotions: anyone can put on the right role and pretend to be a painter, but one cannot feign a soul. Vronsky only understands the technical excellence in painting, not the emotion behind it.