AIVAZOVSKY’S ESTATES AND LANDS*

Irina Pogrebetskaya

Article: 
POINT OF VIEW
Magazine issue: 
#1 2017 (54)

* The article draws on: Pogrebetskaya, I.M. 'Aivazovsky’s Estates and Lands' // Materials of research conference “Ivan Aivazovsky’s Artistic Heritage and Traditions”, dedicated to the centenary of Aivazovsky’s death and the 120th anniversary of the Gallery inauguration. Aivazovsky Picture Gallery, Feodosia, 2000. Pp. 28-33.

Although the main source of Aivazovsky’s income was the property that he owned, little is known today about exactly what belonged to the artist, or even where his land holdings were located. Art historian Irina Pogrebetskaya, for many years the chief curator at the Aivazovsky Picture Gallery in Feodosia, considers the evidence that remains.

The artist, who died in 1900, gave an estate to each of his four daughters. The eldest, Yelena (later Latri, then by her second marriage, Rybitskaya), received Baran-Eli (Boran-Eli), Maria Ganzen - Romash-Eli (Roman-Eli), and Alexandra Lampsi - Shakh-Mamai (Sheikh-Mamai). The estate of his youngest daughter, Zhanna, was located in the village of Otuza (today known as Shchebetovka). The estates that passed to his three eldest daughters are located on the steppes of Crimea, 25-27 versts (approximately 26-29 kilometres) from Feodosia, near Aivazovsky's Subash estate, which passed to his widow, Anna.

Before the Russian Revolution of October 1917, some of these estates had passed on to Aivazovsky's grandchildren. The artist's favourite grandson, Nikolai Lampsi, became the owner of the well-known estate Shakh-Mamai. Mikhail Latri, himself a talented artist, inherited Baran-Eli (now the settlement of Kashtanovka), and his sister Sofia (whose married name was Novoselskaya, later Mikeladze) inherited the Krinichki farmstead, located “on the postal route from Karasubazar to Feodosia”. Alexei Ganzen owned Romash-Eli: however, it is not clear from his correspondence whether or not he lived at this estate or in Stary Krym after leaving Petrograd, before his emigration.

Aivazovsky's heirs lost everything following the Revolution. Most of the estates were destroyed, and many of the artist's close relatives - including his daughters Maria and Alexandra, along with their families - left Russia. Crimean newspapers of the period reported that Yelena Rybitskaya died in Yalta in 1918, and that Zhanna Artseulova, a well-known pianist who was also a keen artist, died in 1922.

Only Aivazovsky's widow, Anna, lived on in Feodosia until 1941. After the nationalization of property she was able to retain several rooms in the artist's house, with a wooden balcony opening onto the courtyard. If only Anna had taken a seat on that balcony - it is known she liked to sit there - and taken up her pen to write her reminiscences of the 18 years that she spent with Ivan Aivazovsky, perhaps she might have also mentioned the family's property. Sadly, she never did.

This article incorporates the brief recollections about Aivazovsky left by the wife of the artist's cousin, Nina (nee Notara). Alexander Aivazovsky and Konstantin Artseulov also wrote about their grandfather, their recollections kept today in the Aivazovsky Picture Gallery. It also draws on archive materials found in Crimea and St. Petersburg, while further information was found in the few surviving prerevolutionary and contemporary publications. Aivazovsky's official accounting documents proved a source of information, too. The Gallery holds three lists from different years, according to which the artist's parents - the artist's father was a merchant of the 3rd guild - owned no property whatsoever.

In 1848 Aivazovsky received a personal noble title, and in 1864 he was awarded a Certificate bestowing a hereditary title upon him: thus, his descendents were classed as belonging to the nobility. By that time he already owned a stone house in Feodosia and 2,500 desyatins (2,725 hectares) of land in Shakh-Mamai in the Feodosia County. However, in spring 1846, the artist wrote to Count Platon Zubov, noting that he had bought land on Crimea's southern shores. That letter was written from Feodosia, and dated 16 March: “I spent almost all autumn on the southern shores of Crimea, where I delighted in the nature, one of the most beautiful parts of Europe... And that is why I bought a small fruit orchard on the southern shores. It is a remarkable place, in winter it is almost completely green, due to the cypresses and bay trees, and the roses bloom all winter. I am delighted by this purchase, and although it gives not a kopeck in income, it means I have no reason to envy those villas of Italy.”

Was this his first such land purchase? And where on the southern shores was this orchard that Aivazovsky had acquired? All we know is that in 1858 he sold an estate in Yalta to Count Alexander Mordvinov. Was that sale in any way connected with the land the artist bought in the mid-1840s?

Aivazovsky's biographer, Nikolai Kuzmin, whose book “Memories of Aivazovsky” was published in St. Petersburg in 1901, wrote: ‘Aivazovsky spent eight or nine months at home in Feodosia, and the rest of the time - summer and part of autumn - he usually spent in his country estate at Sheikh-Mamai, or Shakh-Mamai as it is spelt in Russian, which, with its picturesque natural environment and proximity to the sea, inspired him.” This estate takes its name from the large hill under which legend has it the remains of the famous Tatar commander are buried (it is now known as Shakh-Mamai, Aivazovsky Settlement, Kirovsky Region).

It was in Shakh-Mamai that Aivazovsky received numerous guests, including the writer Anton Chekhov. On July 22 1888, Chekhov wrote to his sister Maria, from Feodosia: “Yesterday I visited Shakh-Mamai, Aivazovsky's estate 25 versts from Feodosia. It is an extravagant, fairy-tale estate of the kind you must probably find in Persia.” Surviving photographs of the Shakh-Mamai house confirm Chekhov's impression: the building was constructed in Oriental style, decorated with tall, narrow, carved columns and arched windows. Other descriptions of Shakh-Mamai survive, including one by Kuzmin: “A long avenue of poplars and cypresses led up to the artist's aristocratic house on this country estate, forming a living fence around the buildings, bathing the breathtaking shady garden in green, reminiscent of their beloved homestead far away in Ukraine. Shrouded in dense shade, the garden on the shores of the lake resembled a refuge for wistful dryads.”

The artist's grandson Alexander Latri, who took the surname Aivazovsky in 1899, also described the place in his reminiscences: his recollections, titled “From the Distant Past”, were published in the “Maritime Notes” magazine (a publication of the Society of Former Russian Naval Officers in America) in 1948 in New York: “The Sovereign bestowed upon him land 23 versts from Feodosia, to which Aivazovsky added several more plots of land, to create what was, by Crimean measures, a very large and productive grain-producing estate at Sheikh-Mamai on 6,000 desyatins of land. There he founded a dairy farm, and later built a steam-powered mill.” (A document in the Crimea State Archive entitled “On releasing Professor Aivazovsky from the requirement to submit plans for the steam mill, which has existed at the Sheikh-Mamai estate, Feodosia County, for over 50 years” also mentions the existence of the mill.)

Latri continues: “He builds a house on his country estate, not large, in Tatar style, with just eight to 10 rooms, but with a very large, high-ceilinged studio. And there was a guest wing with 22 rooms not far from the studio... There was a large pool in the flower garden in front of the house, comprising three circles joined by one channel, with a two-arshin-high [one arshin is equal to 71 cm - I.P.] model ship anchored in each corner. These were exact copies of the sailing fleet - complete with sails, cannons, etc, and were painted in black and white, as such vessels were in our day...”

Aivazovsky's time at Shakh-Mamai was filled with creative endeavours. As Kuzmin noted: “He would return to Feodosia with a vast number of new canvases and filled with new energy. ‘Being bathed in light and air' was clearly very good for him, as he himself attested.”

The artist's youngest grandson, Konstantin Artseulov, recalls that, while he was at Shakh-Mamai, starting work on a new painting, Aivazovsky would move into the studio, where “behind a partition there was a camp bed and a table with a candle and matches.” This seclusion helped the artist to focus on his work. The Subash estate comprised 2,400-2,500 desyatins of land (it is now known as the Zolotoi Klyuch settlement), and was well known for its outstanding water sources. But initially, Aivazovsky only owned part of this land, without water, next to a landholding owned by the heirs of Colonel Lansky.

A number of documents in Crimea's State Archives (files relating to the years 1851-1852) mention disputes between Professor Aivazovsky and Colonel Lansky over rights to use the water flowing through the Subash village. It seems from them that Lansky's heirs cut off the water supply, preventing the residents of Aivazovsky's estate and the nearby village from accessing the water. There was a court case, and Aivazovsky won - the Subash water supply was once again available to all local residents.

In the years 1864-1865, Aivazovsky bought 2,362 desyatins of land from the Lansky family, becoming the outright owner of the Subash territories and water springs. It is known that, when he married Anna Sarkizova (nee Burnazova) in 1882, Aivazovsky intended to give Subash to her, but later reduced this to 50,000 buckets of water a day, which she then gave as a gift to the town of Feodosia. As the artist's cousin Nina Aivazovskaya remembered, shortly before his death Aivazovsky wanted to sell the Subash estate and divide the proceeds from the sale between his daughters, but that did not happen.

Documents in the Crimea State Archive also reveal some interesting information about the Romash-Eli (now Romanovka) estate. There is a revaluation certificate for this estate in the archives, dated 1873: “The ‘Estate', comprising 338 desyatins of land, of which 250 desyatins are grain-producing and deliver an income of 300 rubles a year, 50 desyatins are melon-producing - delivering an income of 300 rubles a year, 30 desyatins of irrigated meadow land, suitable for a fruit orchard, bringing an income of 100 rubles a year, and eight desyatins of fruit orchard, which is surrounded by irrigation channels. There are 2,200 fruit trees in the garden: Crimean apples - 1,000, pears - 600, various types of plums - 600, cherries - 250, 500 nut trees, delivering an annual net income of 600 rubles.” Thus this modest estate provided an income of 1,300 rubles per year.

What kind of landowner was Aivazovsky? How did he treat his workers? Nina Aivazovskaya recalls: “During Aivazovsky's life there were only two chief managers at his Subash and Shakh-Mamai estate - the Armenian Peroni and Ivanov. They grew vegetables on the expansive fields at Subash, and turned over land to cucumber cultivation at Shakh-Mamai. This was the main source of income. Aivazovsky was not very interested in estate management, preferring to delegate everything to his managers. The estate managers had their crops and sheep. The leaseholders lived very well, nobody put pressure on them - they paid when they wanted to pay. As a landlord Aivazovsky was very generous to his employees, they were able to grow prosperous and stayed with him for years. He was very close to them, attended their weddings, and organized celebrations for them. He loved Tatar music, the bumbula and the zurna, and Tatar musicians travelled especially to visit him from Karasubazar. He really enjoyed listening to them, and would take up a violin and join in with them.”

Although some of his contemporaries (Nikolai Kuzmin, Nina Aivazovskaya) described him as indifferent to agriculture, he did take a real interest in the purchase of new land and sought to expand his property. Aivazovsky tended to buy land not far from Feodosia.

Documents held in archives in St. Petersburg and Simferopol indicate that in 1851 the artist rented out a plot of land. It is recorded in the official accounts: “With his Highness' benevolence, and not as an example to others, 1,500 desyatins of land from the state leasehold plot out of a plot referred to as Oigusk Tavrichesky Governorate in Feodosia County are transferred to him as of October 8 1851 for a term of 99 years, not subject to sublease, for a fee of 22 kopecks per desyatin.”

According to ‘Administrative Territorial Transformation in Crimea 17831998” records (published in Simferopol, 1999), Oiguya is the historic name for Vladislavovka. Aivazovsky bought this land plot 18 years later: “The Emperor on September 19 1869 deigned to order the sale of the Oiguya land plot, in Feodosia County, leased to State Councillor Aivazovsky, for 6,600 rubles.” The sale went ahead without tender, and the sale of the Oiguya land plot to Professor of Art Aivazovsky on the advice of the Minister of State Property was also recorded in the Council of Ministers' journal.

A great deal is known about Aivazovsky's generous charitable activities. During the Crimean wars of 1853 to 1856, the artist donated 150 rubles to the Feodosia Military Hospital for the purchase of canvas for mattresses. He donated hay from his own estate to fill them, “as full as the canvas will hold”. This generosity of spirit did not go unnoticed: in February 1855, he was bestowed with the Emperor's gratitude “in praise for his commendable expression of sympathy to wounded soldiers”.

Nikolai Kuzmin's assertion that Aivazovsky's estates were managed in an old-fashioned way from an agricultural point of view, without any modern improvements, is contradicted by information from the biologist Alexander Kiselev, who has studied beekeeping and meliferous plants. He noted that Aivazovsky's estates used frames painted in different colours - a real innovation for the time. He also mentioned that Aivazovsky personally gave names to his hives, such as “Pushkin”, “General Skobelev”, “Noli me tangere' and others. Sadly Kiselev's source for this information is not recorded. Nina Aivazovskaya also recalls there having been a lemon grove at Shakh-Mamai.

What other lands did Aivazovsky own? All the accounting documents include a vineyard with a little house in Feodosia; although no mention is made of their location, Kuzmin records that the wine made on Aivazovsky's estate was available in shops in Feodosia.

In the 1860s the artist acquired 12 desyatins of vineyard in the Sudak Valley. In Sudak, not far from the Genoese fortifications, he had a dacha (summer house). His grandson Konstantin Artseulov recalled that: “In the '90s, Aivazovsky took his whole family down to his Sudak dacha. There was no studio here, and he did no painting at all. He would spend entire days on the terrace, looking out to sea.” According to the historian Yury Belov, and the author of a travel guide to Sudak, Alexander Polikanov, Aivazovsky's summer house, together with the house owned by the composer Alexander Spendiarov, was destroyed in 1942. Aivazovsky also owned houses in Stary Krym, Yalta, and elsewhere. One of his houses in Yalta was built for his daughter, Yelena, in 1886.

Aivazovsky's property holdings duly increased, as did their value. In 1901, after Aivazovsky's death, Kuzmin wrote: “Ivan Konstantinovich understood and was pleased to see the value of his lands grow every year. In 1883 he valued his estate at 300,000 rubles, and in five years' time he was keen to sell it for no less than half a million. Water carries huge value in the South, and his estates were richly endowed by the Subash water sources that supply water to the whole of Feodosia.”

Aivazovsky was proud of his business enterprises. In a letter to Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, in which he expressed his love for Crimea, the artist notes that he has studied “his native land not with the brush alone, but with his many years' experience in management”. On March 2 1868, Aivazovsky was elected a full member of the Imperial Society of Agriculture for Southern Russia. He was awarded two bronze medals, held in the Gallery's collection, for his contribution to agriculture.

In conclusion, it can be stated that the commonly held view that Aivazovsky's art provided his main source of income, through the sale of his works, is not entirely true. The artist was a major landowner, whose property included vast expanses of land and numerous estates in Eastern Crimea. The materials gathered here only allow for an initial foray into this subject: one day it will be possible to gain a fuller, more detailed understanding of Aivazovsky's lands and estates, one that will enable us to fill in some of the remaining gaps in the biography of this outstanding artist.

Illustrations

IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of the Sea from the Mountains. Crimea. 1864
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of the Sea from the Mountains. Crimea. 1864
Russian Museum. Detail
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Sheep Driven by a Storm into the Sea. 1855 (?)
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Sheep Driven by a Storm into the Sea. 1855 (?)
Sketch. Oil on panel. 13 × 35.3 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
The Subash lake at Aivazovsky’s Shakh-Mamai estate. 1900s
The Subash lake at Aivazovsky’s Shakh-Mamai estate. 1900s
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of the Sea from the Mountains. Crimea. 1864
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of the Sea from the Mountains. Crimea. 1864
Oil on canvas. 122 × 170 cm. Russian Museum
Hotel “Yevropeiskaya” in Feodosia, where Aivazovsky enjoyed sitting in the café. Postcard. Late 19th century
Hotel “Yevropeiskaya” in Feodosia, where Aivazovsky enjoyed sitting in the café. Postcard. Late 19th century
Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Aivazovsky’s house in Feodosia. 1900s
Aivazovsky’s house in Feodosia. 1900s
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of Sevastopol. 1845
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of Sevastopol. 1845
Sepia and white wash on paper. 19.4 × 30.3 cm. Russian Museum
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Feodosia. The Museum
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Feodosia. The Museum
Ink, pen on paper. 13 × 20.8 cm. Aivazovsky Picture Gallery, Feodosia
Ivan AIVAZOVSKY. Rain and Flooding at the Otuz River in Crimea. 1875
Ivan AIVAZOVSKY. Rain and Flooding at the Otuz River in Crimea. 1875
Oil on canvas. 63.8 × 95.2 cm. Private collection, Moscow
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Moonlit Night in Crimea. 1859
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Moonlit Night in Crimea. 1859
Russian Museum. Detail
The road to Ai-Petri. 1900s
The road to Ai-Petri. 1900s
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Ivan Aivazovsky. Feodosia. 1890s
Ivan Aivazovsky. Feodosia. 1890s
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Moonlit Night in Crimea. 1859
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Moonlit Night in Crimea. 1859
Oil on canvas. 58.3 × 76.2 cm. Russian Museum
View of Simeiz and the Ai-Petri mountain. 1890s
View of Simeiz and the Ai-Petri mountain. 1890s.
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Ivan Aivazovsky with visitors at the spring in the Shakh-Mamai estate. 1870s
Ivan Aivazovsky with visitors at the spring in the Shakh-Mamai estate. 1870s.
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Aivazovsky’s Shakh-Mamai estate. 1890s
Aivazovsky’s Shakh-Mamai estate. 1890s
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
KAREL BROZH. (based on a sketch by Aivazovsky) Opening of the Picture Gallery in Feodosia
KAREL BROZH. (based on a sketch by Aivazovsky) Opening of the Picture Gallery in Feodosia
Clipping from the “Vsemirnaya Illyustratsiya” (Global Illustration) magazine. 1880. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Pavilion with a Fountain at Stary Krym. 1858
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Pavilion with a Fountain at Stary Krym. 1858
Sepia and graphite pencil on paper. 14.3 × 22.7 cm. Russian Museum
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Eastern Cortyard
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Eastern Cortyard
Watercolour on paper. 23.8 × 33 cm. Aivazovsky Art Gallery, Feodosia
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of Feodosia from the Western Coast of the Harbour. 1858
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. View of Feodosia from the Western Coast of the Harbour. 1858
Sepia and graphite pencil on paper. 11.5 × 19.8 cm. Russian Museum
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Feodosia. 1845
IVAN AIVAZOVSKY. Feodosia. 1845
Sepia, white wash and graphite pencil on paper. 19.5 × 30.2 cm. Russian Museum

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