LETTERS FROM IVAN POKHITONOV TO PAVEL TRETYAKOV AND ILYA OSTROUKHOV

Eleonora Paston

Magazine issue: 
Special issue. IVAN POKHITONOV. THE ARTIST SORCERER

 


Pavel Tretyakov.
Photo. 1880s

Ilya Ostroukhov.
Photo. 1880s

THE COLLECTION OF IVAN POKHITONOV'S LETTERS TO PAVEL TRETYAKOV AND ILYA OSTROUKHOV AT THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY'S DEPARTMENT OF MANUSCRIPTS IS THE MOST COHERENT SET OF DOCUMENTS TO BE FOUND IN THE BODY OF ARCHIVAL MATERIALS, INCLUDING LETTERS, BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION, COMMENTS AND REVIEWS, RELATING TO POKHITONOV'S LIFE AND ART. OTHER COLLECTIONS INCLUDE THOSE AT THE CENTRAL ARCHIVE OF LITERATURE AND ART (MOSCOW), THE RUSSIAN MUSEUM'S DEPARTMENT OF MANUSCRIPTS (ST. PETERSBURG), THE ARCHIVE OF THE KOVALENKO REGIONAL ART MUSEUM IN KRASNODAR, AND THE STATE ARCHIVE OF THE KRASNODAR REGION (KRASNODAR). THESE LETTERS REVEAL NEW DETAILS OF THE ARTIST'S BIOGRAPHY AND SHED LIGHT ON MANY ASPECTS OF HIS CREATIVE METHODS.

The letters show that the artist, who had long lived and worked abroad, felt anxious about the reception of his art in Russia and reflected on the place of his oeuvre in the history of Russian art. Some comments made by art critics about his work show that Pokhitonov was often considerably concerned about these matters. One critic wrote in an article from 1918: “. ..For us, Russians, Pokhitonov is an essentially French artist; and not only for us. It will be the French section to which his art will be assigned. by future art historians.”1 Pokhitonov himself had this to say in his 1896 letter to Pavel Tretyakov: “Whatever you may think, I am a Russian artist above all and it makes me sad to think how small and barely noticeable is the mark I’ll leave behind in my homeland.”2. Like other letters to Pavel Tretyakov, this one demonstrates a relationship based on friendship and trust between the collector and the artist. These letters show Pokhitonov’s ardent desire to be understood and recognised by his compatriots.

In Russia Pokhitonov’s art for a long time remained unknown to the general public. “I don’t know why Pokhitonov doesn’t enjoy in Russia the same degree of popularity as [he does] abroad,” Vasily Baksheev wrote, remembering his meeting with the artist, “Ilya Repin, Vladimir Makovsky, Konstantin Savitsky thought very highly of him”3. Pokhitonov was likewise greatly appreciated by many other artists whom he met in France and Belgium, as well as in Moscow and Ukraine during his short visits to the homeland - Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov, Nikolai Kuznetsov. They had a chance to appreciate his art because they saw his pieces at Parisian shows or in his studio. In Russia, Pokhitonov’s art became available to a wider public only after Tretyakov bought in 1896 a large set of his pictures and displayed them at the permanent exhibition of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov’s Municipal Art Gallery. After that, Pokhitonov began to gain popularity not only in the West but also in Russia. The published letters provide an authoritative account of the history of acquisition of the artist’s works by the gallery.

Pokhitonov’s “Portrait of Ivan Turgenev” (1882-1883) was one of his first pieces to be acquired by Pavel Tretyakov. The portrait is listed in the gallery’s first catalogue, published in 1893, along with such pieces as “Early Snow” (1881) and “Snow in Pau” (1890)4. The next picture acquired by Tretyakov was “Early Spring. Pau. Laundrywomen on a Bank of the Gave de Pau” (1885). This piece was sent by Pokhitonov to Tretyakov in early 1895, and his letter of 26 March (14 by the old style) 1895, from Liège5, makes it clear that Tretyakov had seen that picture before, on his travels abroad. As the artist’s letters to Tretyakov show, most of his works now held at the Tretyakov Gallery were acquired by the collector in 1896 “in bulk”, without a preliminary viewing. Scholarship on Pokhitonov recycles as a fact the idea that Tretyakov came specially to Pokhitonov in Liege, Belgium, to select paintings for the gallery. One of the researchers writes: “A fine connoisseur of landscape painting and a devotee of Savrasov and Levitan, Tretyakov could not have failed to appreciate the magnitude of Pokhitonov’s art, ‘the truth and the mood’ filling his pieces, and bought from the artist 23 pieces in all when he came to Liege specially to meet with him”6.

Pokhitonov’s letter to Tretyakov of 29 September 18967 makes clear that Tretyakov intended to visit Liege, but only after the purchase of the artist’s pictures for the collection. According to a biography of Tretyakov's life8, he did this as planned on 3 November 1896, during his European travels that lasted from September through to early November of that year. By that day Tretyakov first visited Antwerp, where he met his daughter Vera Pavlovna and her husband Alexander Ziloti, and then visited Pokhitonov in Liege. By 4-5 November he was already in St. Petersburg. The subject of conversation between Tretyakov and Pokhitonov during that brief visit remains unknown. The important point is that the meeting took place after the artist’s pictures had found their place in one of the gallery’s rooms. Another important point is that after this event, of great significance to Pokhitonov, his involvement in Russia’s art scene became more regular and varied.

After Pokhitonov settled in Belgium in 1906, the selection of his works to be displayed at the Tretyakov Gallery continued to be a matter of importance for him. In his letter of 18 March 1906 to Ilya Ostroukhov, the then chairman of the council and a trustee of the Tretyakov Gallery, proposing that the gallery buy one of his paintings, the artist said that the gallery’s collection had “not a single Russian piece”9, meaning not a single piece that he had created in Russia. In the same letter, the artist talked about the circumstances of his life that had motivated him, in early 1906, to leave Russia, to general surprise. These circumstances long remained a secret not only to the artists with whom he mingled, but for his relatives as well. Pokhitonov’s grandson Igor Markevitch, who wrote an article about the artist for a catalogue of his 1963 solo show at the Tretyakov Gallery, complained: “I did not succeed in my attempts to learn why Ivan Pavlovich again left Russia in 1906 in spite of the respect he enjoyed here”10. The solution to this puzzle can be found in Pokhitonov’s letter to Ostroukhov mentioned here. This letter, like another to Ostroukhov dated 15 November 1917, speaks of the longtime friendship between these two prominent talented people, as well as Ostroukhov’s thorough knowledge of Pokhitonov’s personal affairs, which made it possible for the artist to share his most private thoughts with his friend.

Pokhitonov’s letters to Pavel Tretyakov and Ilya Ostroukhov provide us with many insights into the artist’s inner world. They make a significant contribution to the scholarship devoted to one of Russia’s most prominent landscape painters.

Eleonora Paston

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov
14/26 March, 1895. Liege.

Dearest Pavel Mikhailovich,

[Several days - E.P.] ago Nikolai Nikolaevich [Gritsenko - E.P]11 wrote that you finally received my painting12. -I would be most interested to know if it arrived safely and if you’re content with the way it was accomplished. It seems to be one of my better works - at least all who saw it think so. I’m anxious to know your opinion.

If you’re not annoyed with me, you’ll much oblige me by writing to me. I should have begun with another solicitation, that is by begging your pardon for failing to reply to your letter last year. This discourtesy on my part was occasioned in some degree by my sluggish disposition and in some degree, and mainly, by the hopes I entertained of meeting you and having a rendezvous with you instead of writing a reply... Regrettably, our meeting didn’t happen: my annoyance was doubled because apart from wishing to simply see you I was also eager to discuss many things with you and to give you some suggestions. Perhaps this year I’ll have plus de voin in this respect and we’ll be able to meet.

Anyway, please accept my belated apology for my past misstep and give my kindest regards to Vera Nikolaevna.
I remain most respectfully yours,
Ivan Pokhitonov

P.S. Nikolai Nikolaevich wrote that you asked him about my address for the transmission of money. Here it is:
220, Rue Trou-Louette a Bressoux prés Liège.

Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 2744.

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov
220, Rue Trou-Louette a Bressoux pres Liège. 20 January 1896.

Dearest Pavel Mikhailovich!

I wish very much to send my works to the itinerant exhibition this year. I know you have certain rules for the occasions when an artist wants to exhibit his painting, but I have forgotten your conditions: can a picture be displayed only during the first year after its purchase or you allow to have it exhibited once irrespective of the date when it became yours?

Whatever the case may be, I take the liberty of humbly asking you to allow me to send to the forthcoming itinerant exhibition such paintings as you may wish to choose. This said, I believe it is pertinent to remind you that as yet not a single painting has been displayed at an itinerant exhibition and that the last piece (the laundrywomen) has been held by you since the beginning of last year. In addition to this letter, I’m also writing about this matter to Konstantin Savitsky13 at the board of the partnership.

I’ve had so few opportunities to publicly present my works anywhere at all, much less in Russia, that if anything occurs that may thwart my plans I would be much chagrined. Confident that you will grant my wish, I heartily thank you for anything that you may choose to do for me on the present occasion.

It is a great regret, Pavel Mikhailovich, that last year we again did not have an opportunity to meet although you came to Paris twice. I already wrote that I want to discuss certain matters with you. But when one lives in a remote spot like I do14, one cannot always count on meetings and personal negotiations, so I will use a letter to this end. You may have heard that the late Emperor trusted me with the task of painting views of our old cities, monasteries and historical landmarks in general, leaving the choice of suitable subjects entirely at my discretion15. Accepting this engagement, I hoped to accomplish the works in such a manner that would satisfy me both historically and artistically, that is to produce not only faithful representations but pictures as well; then I decided that when I place human figures in them, I would select distinctive local types and local ethnic costumes - to make them to some extent interesting ethnographically as well16. I don’t know how well I would have coped with this triple assignment. The only thing I know is that I eagerly looked forward to the work ahead of me and was preparing to commit myself entirely to it; I was especially attracted by the opportunity to have an entire collection of my paintings held in one place, even more so in Russia. And I also believed that as an artist I had sufficient means necessary for satisfactorily accomplishing precisely this sort of pictures.

Regrettably, due to all manner of family troubles17 I am prevented from taking on this assignment, but the idea to try something like this has taken hold in my mind and appears so tempting that I don’t want to relinquish it without trying my luck in a different place. And there is no other person to try this luck with but you, Pavel Mikhailovich. If your gallery is any indication, putting the collection together you wanted not only to present examples of artwork of one or another artist of any worth but also to gather all objects of any interest produced by us and to ensure that the best among us are represented in your gallery with as many works fully and comprehensively characterising a particular artist as possible.

You know me well as a painter; certainly you know me, so I think, well enough to know for sure what and when I can do and under what circumstances. If you suppose that I am one of those lucky ones who not only merit a reference but also deserve a closer look, maybe you will come up with an idea that may comfort me.

Whatever you may think, I am a Russian artist above all and it makes me sad to think how small and barely noticeable is the mark I’ll leave behind in my homeland. Judge me as strictly as you wish, but I think that the game is worth more than the candle.

And apart from the wish to leave behind good memories, there are also purely financial matters to consider - that which can be called a weak spot in us, artists.

In the Tsar’s commission these matters were arranged admirably. Truth be told, the prices set were modest, at the so-called dealer’s level, that is 2,000 rubles for a small picture (the size of your laundrywomen) and 3,000 for a picture twice the size of a small one. Yet, this was a long-term, almost life-long, commitment, and say what you like but even after taking out the lion’s share to be paid to my dealer19 I would be left with enough money to live completely comfortably while working.

Now of course! cannot even dream about this sort of arrangement, I only wish to make ends meet. Besides, now I sell my pictures without the dealer’s involvement, thanks to which lean mark down prices for my pictures immensely since lam not obliged to cut out his share which could be as big as half the entire cost.

And speaking about money matters, it would be good if I improve my financial standing - this thought, by the way, has brought to my mind our past conversation about the sketches and drafts I have.

I already don’t remember why, but it happened so that we met only on the day you were leaving Paris and, for want of time, postponed the examination of the pieces until our next rendezvous; but since my present place of residence doesn’t leave me much hope for it, do you wish that! send them to you? In general, each of these drafts and sketches, if you want to know, is inferior to those of my pieces that can be called paintings, and yet, with regard to truth and mood, some of those works, I believe, deserve more attention.

It goes without saying, Pavel Mikhailovich, that my sending these pieces to you ought not to be interpreted as imposing any kind of obligation upon you -you would offend me thinking otherwise, for if you do, it means that you see my move as an act of imposing myself upon you. Treat everything in the same fashion as you would in my studio. This is how it should be: lacking the opportunity to meet with you, I write to you, and lacking opportunity to show you my studio, I am sending you what’s in it; thankfully, all of my [pictures - E.P] are so small that sending them is nearly as convenient in every respect as sending a letter.

I’ve been told that during your visit to Paris you didn’t feel very well. How do you feel now and do you have any plans to visit our western land? If so, you’ll oblige me if you let me know, and meanwhile please give my kindest regards to Vera Nikolaevna; I shake your hand - and remain most respectfully yours, Ivan Pokhitonov.

P.S. I am sending this letter as a registered mail, anxious that it may become lost, I’ve had bad luck in these matters; even money becomes lost sometimes.

Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 2745.

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov
Trou-Louette. 10 March 1896

Dearest Pavel Mikhailovich!

Yesterday I received your letter where you asked about the year of my birth. I was born on 27 January 1850.

I didn’t reply to the previous letter delaying the reply until the mailing of my sketches and drafts, which task required some cutting, cleaning, touching up and generally putting things in good order19. As ill luck would have it, I was unwell all this time, stayed at home and nearly didn’t work at all - this is why I’m being late.

Now I’ll set about my work and as soon as I’ve finished 1’ll mail it, and meanwhile I send you many thanks for your letters, apologise for my remissness - and remain most respectfully yours,

Ivan Pokhitonov.

Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 2746.

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov
30 August 1896.

Dearest Pavel Mikhailovich,

On 1 September (new style) I sent to your address in Moscow five boxes with twenty small murals I made; now I’m sending you the summaries and a listing with names and serial numbers matching those on the murals and frames and with a price for each.

For the sake of convenience, I set the price in rubles and, as you see, they are very moderate - less than half of what I’ve been selling my works for until recently. I am doing this because I want your gallery to have as many of my pictures as possible. And because buyers consider not only artistic merits of a piece but also its cost, I priced the pieces as cheaply as possible. Since the pieces must be sold anyway, I would rather sell it to the gallery and at a price that would not hurt the prices on the Parisian market.

I haven’t yet formed contacts with art dealers in Paris - I’m holding out and won’t give up unless as a last resort.

Needless to say, I’d be most gratified if you like and keep the mailed pieces, but may I repeat once again, Pavel Mikhailovich, that I beg you to feel free to tell me if for some reason you feel disinclined to buy one or another piece and even if you want none of them.

You’d much oblige me if you write to me if mailing arrived safely and how you like my works, and meanwhile please give my kindest regards to your family - and I remain most respectfully yours,

Ivan Pokhitonov.

P.S. My postal address is the same: 220, Rue Trou-Louette prés Liège, but presently I am staying at the seaside - Hôtel Pelican à La Panne prés d’Adinkerk (Belgique).

1895 No. 1. La Panne. Draft. Sunset on Sand Hills - 125 rubles
1895 No. 2. La Panne. Draft. On the Edge of a Beach (2 figures and barge in the background) - 100 rubles
№3. La Panne. Draft. Before Sunset (a small house among sand hills) - 100 rubles
No. 4. A Basque Woman at the Border of France and Spain (2 studies) - 75 rubles
1895. No 5. Trou-Louette. Early Spring (A pear, unfinished female figure andsummercottage in the background) - 175 rubles No. 6. Trou-Louette. Evening in Autumn (laundry, a tree and a house in the background) -175 rubles
1895 No. 7. La Panne. After a High Tide (artist and barges) - 200 rubles
1894 No. 8. Trou-Louette. Winter Day (a manured field under snow) - 200 rubles
1890 No. 9. Pau. After Sunset (a bank of the Gave de Pau, two figures and small houses in the background) - 300 rubles
1885 No. 10. Pau. Early Spring (laundrywomen on a bank of the Gave de Pau)20 - 350 rubles
No. 1bisIn the South of Russia. Sheep in a Cattle Camp (moon on the wane) - 350 rubles
1891 No. 2bis Biarritz. Before a Thunderstorm (a lake on a sand coast, a pine forest after a fire) - 400 rubles
No. 3bis Evening After a Thunderstorm (a bank ofthe Gave de Pau, nanny-goats) - 200 rubles
No. 4bis A Draft, 1880. Barbizon - 100 rubles
No. 5bis Trou-Louette. A Snowy Morning (Argenteuil in thebackground) - 250 rubles.
1889 No. 6bis Barbizon. After Sunset (an overgrown bog and 2 hunters in the foreground) - 300 rubles
1895 No. 7bis La Panne. Beach with Walkers (a barge in the background) - 300 rubles
No. 8bis Trou-Louette. Winter (views from my window) - 300 rubles
1890 No. 9bis Pau. A Hunter. Winter (a study) - 75 rubles
No. 10bis Ukraine. Nightfall in Winter - 500 rubles
1896 A Railway in Trou-Louette. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 2747.

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov
29 September 1896.

Dearest Pavel Mikhailovich,

Several days ago I received your letter where you offered me to sell the pictures I sent you for 4,000 rubles and to give away, or to gift, those among them (up to four pieces) which, due to uniformity of their subject matter, may prove redundant.

I agree to these terms and am very gratified that the entire set of my pictures has found a place in your gallery. The prospect of meeting with you is no less gratifying. I plan to leave for Trou-Louette late next month, so please write to my Trou-Louette address from Paris or Antwerp about the date of your arrival in Liège.

If you deem it convenient to send the money now, please use the following address: Hôtel Pelican à La Panne prés d’Adinkerk; the same address is good for letters until the end of October. You would greatly oblige me if you send me a brief note after receiving this letter - I’m concerned that it may miss you in Munich, and for this reason I’ve written on the envelope ‘faire suivre’.

Meanwhile, I shakeyour hand
- and I remain most respectfully yours,
Ivan Pokhitonov

Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 2748.

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Ilya Ostroukhov,
18 March 1906. Jupille.

Dear Ilya Semyonovich, I received only today your letter of 6 March that was forwarded to me from Russia by my manager and, as you see, I am responding instantly. Before everything else I’ll answer all of your questions one by one: 1) I live now in Belgium and my address for letters is Belgique, Jupille-lez-Liège - Pokitonow; for cables - simply Jupille, Pokitonow. 2) I plan to stay here until 1 August this year, then, 3) from here, I intend to return to my regular place of residence, that is Zhabovshchizna estate in Minsk Province, Minsk District. In Zhabovshchizna, my address for letters and cables is simple: Radashkovichi21, for Pokhitonov. I have no idea how long I’ll stay there.

And now on to other matters. The address I gave you in Moscow when I was there is the correct one: and this is not altogether true that I wasn’t found, and as proof I’m going to relate to you in detail a certain story, in order to relieve myself of the blame. And this story is worth telling in its own right, as it is very typical and instructive.

Early in September last year a local junior police officer stopped by my home to say that the village policeman requested that I visit him in his estate (next door to ours). Although at that period this frightful spectre of puissance provoked fear and despair in laymen, it didn’t do so to the right degree, and I told the junior officer, thoughtlessly and with a truly aristocratic arrogance, that should the village policeman need me he can visit me on my estate!.. Just think how quickly everything changes in the world! Now even the memory of the incident makes my flesh creep and gives me shivers, but then I simply didn’t care... I said what I said and quietly waited how things would turn out. Perhaps village policemen then didn’t quite feel themselves as governor generals, because less than an hour later our local representative of this institution much beloved by the folks indeed showed up at my door (drunken, of course) and handed me a subpoena from a member of the county court, stating that I was obligated to come to some small town in the neighbouring Vilenskaya province. Should I fail to appear on the designated date and time or to provide legitimate reasons for my absence at a hearing devoted to the will of the late B.22, I will be held accountable pursuant to article such and such. Although the location where I was to present myself was outside my province. Remembering about my promise to you, I was but too glad to finish this affair the soonest possible, and so I signed in full obedience the receipt for the summons, and in order to rid myself of the high-ranking guest as soon as possible I asked the manager of my estate to reward him with one ruble and a sealed bottle of state-produced vodka, confident that since the man was fairly loaded he wouldn’t partake of this fruit on the spot but would take the gift with him to add it to his domestic supplies. But this potentate could not wait - he unsealed the bottle with gusto, gulped down all that was in it and having graciously saying farewell to everyone finally took himself off (leaving the empty bottle behind).

At last came the eve of that ill-starred day! I don’t remember now the exact date, I only remember that the weather was very nasty and the roads were even worse. After a torture the length of twenty versts and a sleepless night with bedbugs and representatives of other kinds of weapons, I arrived at the court precisely four hours ahead of time. I make inquiries - the judge hasn’t arrived yet. An hour goes by, then another... I inquire again. Either a scribe or a different type of clerk - anyhow a person in a position of power (bespoken by his inebriated condition and the servile humility towards him on the part of quite sober laymen) - when I ask him when the member of the court will arrive, answers with a faltering tongue: we have not been informed thereof. Could it be, I’m asking him, that today’s date on the subpoena was a mistake? No, they too have the subpoenas, says he pointing at a bunch of weary-looking sullen peasants and little Jews scurrying around, and they are waiting; please would you. interrupted by a hiccup, he makes himself scarce at these words. I spend some more time waiting, only to see, to my disgust, that the horrendous roads compel me to spend another night in this Jewish fleabag. Next morning I come again... The same crowd, the same drunken clerk and the same reply: we have not been informed thereof. Rather than waiting and querying the minion, I think, I will be better off going to the police station to see, so to say, the lord of the land himself- the county police inspector, considering that if anything crops up he can bear witness to anything, prevent anything, remove the blame, etc. I’m welcomed quite well. I tell about my case and ask for advice. The county police inspector informs me that he just received a note from the member of the court, from a neighbouring region - he is not very well and so adjourns all his cases until some time in the future. You will be notified about the resumption on time, but anyway don’t expect anything sooner than three or four months from now; I would be a poor advisor in this situation, the best thing to do is to consult - he names a local lawyer. So I’m off to the lawyer. He greets me heartily and introduces me to his other guest, a local landlord. After the usual greetings I tell him about my case, up to the finale including the member of the court’s sickness. The landlord good-naturedly laughs and exclaims: Ah, he’s a rascal! Yesterday I spent the entire day playing whist with him, and he ordered a mailing from Leiba by today’s morning. The host too smiles and says: I don’t know how I can help you, the point of the matter is you don’t see him often even in the district because he travels absolutely all the time; your best bet is to wait for a second subpoena. What did I have to do? Wait, of course! And I waited! I waited all the way until I left for Belgium before Christmas. I came here and got stuck for an indefinite period. I got stuck and, frankly, have no regrets about it. True, we all are in God’s hands, and yet here you’re less likely to become a killer, to be killed yourself, to be maimed or beaten or to find yourself in a place you don’t fancy. As for overseers’ whips, here you simply have no chance to come in touch with this instrument - even local museums don’t have any, which is no small achievement as things go nowadays. True, this place too has its authorities, there’s no way you can live without higher- ups, “a pike lives in the lake to keep all the fish awake”. But here the authorities apply pressure evenly - without outbursts - within a certain system. You start to feel at home, become used to this and, as mean as it may seem, you stop noticing this. In any case, for the time being the authorities here, as well as the police and gendarmerie, are not experiencing an upsurge of noble feelings, so as compared with Russia, here living is more carefree. Of course, there still remain moral tortures - they are the same for us here and in the homeland - there is no escaping them. Otherwise, though, Belgium is the nicest country! Since it was long ago that I studied geography I completely forgot what makes this country noteworthy from an academic standpoint, so to say; in my unsophisticated opinion, it’s remarkable for rains - the large amount of liquids falling out, complete absence of fleas and bedbugs, and excellent vodka. This last circumstance reconciles us, Russians, with the first two drawbacks. Yet, it seems strange somehow - no fleas, no bedbugs... This is nearly the same as when you imagine a country without gendarmes or police! The last one is of course entirely impossible! I became fully convinced of it after the most radical among our useless day-dreamers limited their demands to having policemen and gendarmes equipped with a less aggressive-looking weapon, believing for some reason that neither of the two had anything in common with soldiers. This is sheer rubbish for sure! Well, Cossacks and the Semyonovsky regiment are braver! Yet, the types of weapons I mentioned above ought not to be maligned: especially if you take into account that their obligations included functioning like army commanders. I’ve heard that ours are on vacation now and have been enjoying a well-deserved rest after the war with Japan. Oh, but I’ve wandered off the topic! And returning to the point that there are neither fleas nor bedbugs in Belgium; they say that this has been achieved because floors, sidewalks, streets and even home walls are washed daily with as much water or soap as needed. Any muck they had was scrubbed away! And there are new hires in the police and gendarmerie every year: because it’s necessary. From my Russian point of view, I certainly approve of it, and as for the rest, I find that getting rid of fleas and bedbugs doesn’t justify the spreading of such wetness and, as the result, the increase of all sorts of fall-out in a country which is prone to rain as it is.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we plan to stay in Belgium until the beginning of the school holiday, when my son will be allowed to travel with us (he’s been going to school here for the second year in a row). Maybe we’ll spend more time here, but whatever the case, I’ll be at your service here until 1 August (new style). If need be, I’ll be only too pleased to go to Brussels. This journey is certain to be more comfortable and agreeable than the one I had to undertake, attending to the same business, to come to that hinterland near Vilna. I owe you only one apology, for not having informed you on time, as promised, when I relocated here.

Now that I’ve answered all of your questions as well as talked a lot of nonsense, I’m getting down to brass tacks. Early last year, when I was in Moscow, I showed you some of my works; one of them, by the way, featured a rural home with light carriages around it. In the foreground, a bevy of children stand waiting for the gentlemen to come out to take their seats in the carriages. I remember that you spoke approvingly of it, saying that if you were on the board of the Tretyakov Gallery then, you’d have proposed to buy it to add to my collection at the gallery. Valentin Alexandrovich saw it then and approved as well. And now I’ve found myself in a very difficult situation with relation to this painting. The matter is that it was commissioned by one Muscovite who already held several of my paintings and wanted to add to his collection another piece of mine, only bigger and more serious than the pictures he already had. Partly influenced by the advice of some of my friends and partly because my small [compositions] were sold at the last exhibition in St. Petersburg at a fantastically high price, I set an exorbitant price for that piece. He didn’t agree and I put up the piece for sale at the previous itinerant exhibition23, where, against my will, I had to quote the same price - 1,500 rubles. Even in the best of times this price would be too much, and in present circumstances, it is even more so. Quite naturally, the picture returned home untouched after the journey24. Now, after I’ve asked 1,500 rubles for it at an exhibition, it would be awkward, even shameful, to sell it for peanuts to a private individual. But selling it to a museum, especially through a friend, is a totally different affair. Therefore, if now, at the helm of the Tretyakov Gallery, you haven’t changed your mind, you’ll greatly oblige me if you set this matter moving, for I not only wish to sell this piece, and sell it to the Tretyakov Gallery, which doesn’t hold a single Russian piece of mine, but I also almost need it for financial considerations. As for the price, I completely rely on you and beg you not to stand on ceremony. Whatever you decide, I won’t argue or dispute with you, and please believe me that it’s not just words. The painting in question is held by Vasily Vasilievich Mateh25, and you can address him citing my request, and please apprise me about the resolution - you’ll greatly oblige me, especially if the resolution is positive. And meanwhile I shake your hand and ask to give my kindest regards to Nadezhda Petrovna.

Yours, I. Pokhitonov

P.S. I am sending the letter by registered mail: as things go today, it’s the best arrangement.

Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 10, item 5246. Sheets 1 and 2.

 

Ivan Pokhitonov to Ilya Ostroukhov
Yekaterinodar, 3 Kotlyarevskaya Str., apt. 4 November 15 1917

Dear Ilya Semenovich, the bearer of this letter is my son; going to Belgium, he’s stopped in Moscow to take a look at its art assets, so I would greatly appreciate it if you let him see your collection and give him good advice as to what he should do to gain a similar opportunity with regard to the holdings of Shchukin and other collectors that you may deem appropriate to recommend to him.

True, now is not an opportune time for such a peaceful pursuit, but as a Belgian citizen he can take a more detached stance vis-a-vis our national foulness. As a Russian by blood, he’s certainly pained by everything that we’re experiencing, but as a Belgian, he doesn’t feel shame, and that alone is much.

I would be very pleased to receive news about you personally and about other things - things that may be very important but not written up in newspapers. You’re positioned very close to the events - in the very heart of Moscow’s artistic and political life, so all that you may tell me would be of great interest to me. I know that you’re up to your eyes in work, that’s why I don’t quite count on the pleasure of receiving a written reply; but I hope you’ll tell news to Boris so that he can pass it on to me.

What should I tell you about myself? I spent the whole of last summer idly and only now I’m beginning to work. Here in Yekaterinodar26, where I came yet in May, there are many beautiful things, and with determination, you can do something. I’m thinking... But what sort of plans can you think up now? I’ve never been into making plans, least of all now! I’ll stay here while I can, and later I’ll see what God brings! If I hatch anything, good; if I don’t, good as well! If I may, I wish to end up this letter with yet another request. We don’t have tea here, which is the same for us as being without bread, so I loudly appeal to your generosity: would you be so kind, to use the language of official applications, as to order the staff of your stockroom or store to give to my son, Boris Ivanovich Pokhitonov, for a certain payment, a jolly good black tea in quantity such as Your Excellency thinks proper.

Whereat, expressing in advance my heartfelt gratitude for all that you’ve done, please convey my warmest regards to Nadezhda Petrovna and accept the assurances of my perennial willingness to serve you.

Most respectfully yours,
Your Ivan Pokhitonov

Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 10, item 5247.

 

  1. Translation of selected passages from an article in Russian, signed by a "Sad Jardin", 1918. A catalogue of Pokhitonov's posthumous exhibition in 1925. In: "Pokhitonov, Ivan. The Artist-Sorcerer. On the 160th Anniversary of Ivan Pokhitonov's birth. 1850-1923". Moscow, 2010. P. 159.
  2. Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov. 20 January 1896. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1. Item 2745. Sheet 1.
  3. Baksheev, Vasily. "A Memoir". Moscow, 1963. P. 71.
  4. "Catalogue of Objects of Art from the Municipal Art Gallery of Brothers Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov". Moscow, 1893. Nos. 771-773. The picture "Early Snow" was not included in the gallery's last catalogue published, in 1898, before Pavel Tretyakov's death and compiled by him.
  5. Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov. 26/14 March 1895. Liege. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1. Item 2744. Sheet 1.
  6. Petrov, V.A. "Ivan Pokhitonov". Moscow, 2003. P. 33.
  7. Ivan Pokhitonov to Pavel Tretyakov. September 29 1896. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1. Item 2748.Sheet 1.
  8. "A Chronicle of Pavel Tretyakov's Life". In: "Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov. The Life. The Collection. The Museum". Moscow, 2006. P. 386.
  9. Ivan Pokhitonov to Ilya Ostroukhov. March 18, 1906. Jupille. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 10. Item 5246. Sheet 2.
  10. Markevitch, Igor. "Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov (18501923)". In: "Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov. 1850-1923. A Catalogue". Moscow, 1963. P. 10.
  11. Nikolai Nikolaevich Gritsenko (1856-1900), an artist and Pavel Tretyakov's son-in-law.
  12. The picture in question is "Early Spring. Pau. Laundrywomen on a Bank of the Gave" (1885).
  13. Pokhitonov's letter to K. Savitsky. January 20 1896. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 10, item 5245.Sheet 1
  14. At that time the artist lived in a suburb of Liege, Bressoux (Belgium).
  15. The engagement in question was Alexander Ill's commission to Pokhitonov to paint a major series of old Russian cities and monasteries. According to Valentin Grebeniuk, the artist received the assignment in 1882 (Grebeniuk, Valentin. "Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov''. Leningrad, 1973. P. 20).
  16. We believe that this category includes Pokhitonov's work "Road Above the Sea Coast" (1890s, Otar Margania's collection, Moscow). See this issue, pp. 18 - 23.
  17. Speaking about family troubles the artist probably referred to his uncertain marital status. In 1882 he married Matilda Konstantinovna Wulffert, a Russian completing her degree in medicine in Paris who went on to become a renowned clinician and prolific scholar. In 1892 the couple broke up due to differences of character. Pokhitonov fell in love with Matilda's younger sister Yevgenia, who was his common- law wife for 34 years, giving birth to a son Boris (1893-1963). Despite the artist's efforts, the marriage was never registered because Matilda refused to grant a divorce. The formal side of Pokhitonov's marital arrangements made his life in Russia extremely difficult.
  18. The art dealer in question was Georges Petit - a patron of the arts and the founder of the international Society of Painting. In 1882, Pokhitonov made a deal with Petit whereby the artist was to receive 1,000 francs every month no matter what he did until he turn 100, as well as 65% of the selling price of any picture, with an obligation to sell his pictures only through Petit's gallery. This agreement was cancelled ten years later, on account of Georges Petit's financial troubles. See: Markevitch, Igor. "Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov". In: "Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov. 1850-1923. Catalogue". Moscow, 1963. P. 8.
  19. This phrase sheds light on the mystery of two sketches from the Tretyakov Gallery's collection called "Basque Women at the Border of France and Spain" (circa 1895) and painted on two separate small wood panels. Now we know that initially the two images were painted on one panel which the artist cut into two before sending the work to Tretyakov. At the gallery, these two sketches were inventoried under one name and one ID.
  20. Tretyakov had been holding this piece since early 1895, and it remains a complete mystery why the artist included it in the listing.
  21. Radashkovichi, in Minsk Province, was where the estate of the Wulfferts, Matilda's and Yevgenia's parents, was located.
  22. The reference to Fyodor Botkin, who died on February 19 / March 4, 1905, in a villa in Le Vesinet, a Parisian suburb. In accordance with the will, whose signing was witnessed by Pokhitonov, Ilya Ostroukhov was appointed as one of Botkin's executors. After the complicated formalities were settled, the will was approved for execution on December 25, 1906. (See: Davydova, Olga. " Fyodor Botkin. An Apology of Imagination". In: Sobranie (magazine). 2011. No. 2. P. 35.)
  23. The exhibition travelled to St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kharkov, Yekaterinoslav, Odessa from 28 February through 27 December 1905.
  24. The picture in question is "Now They'll Be Leaving" (16 x 34 cm, present whereabouts unknown), on display at the 23rd show of the Society of Itinerant Exhibitions (the "Peredvizhniki"), in 1905. Ref.: Catalogue of the exhibition
  25. Vasily Vasilievich Mateh (1856-1917) was an artist - engraver and etcher.
  26. The city is now Krasnodar.

Back

Tags:
Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play
title ?>" data-url="<?php print $node_url ?>" data-url_text="<?php print $content ?>">