Tracing the Story of a Drawing Attributed to Repin. A LITERARY-ARTISTIC LINK BETWEEN ILYA REPIN AND IVAN LEONTIEV (SHCHEGLOV) EXPLORED
In 2008, the Alexander Radishchev Art Museum in Saratov acquired a graphite pencil drawing, on a small sheet of yellowed paper (19 x 13.5 cm), that was catalogued as “I. Repin (?). Portrait of a Man”. It depicts a middle-aged man in pince-nez sitting at a table; he is holding a pencil, or perhaps a quill, in his right hand, and resting his chin on his left hand. The man’s head is turned to the left ever so slightly - deep in thought, he does not look at the viewer; his hair is a little dishevelled, and he seems ready to get back to his work. The artist’s signature and the date, “Ilya Repin. 90”, are in the lower right-hand corner, with “23 Apr.” inscribed below, in the centre of the sheet. An attribution of such significance clearly required confirmation by specialists: this article follows attempts to establish the provenance of the work.
There is no doubt that the drawing is a portrait of Ivan Leontiev (1856-1911), a writer and dramatist who was known around the end of the 19th century by his penname “Shcheglov". In 1875 Leontiev, then an artillery officer, published a small article about an earthquake in Sevastopol that he had witnessed in the “St. Petersburg Gazette". Encouraged by this success, he continued writing, and two years later published a one-act play “A Major in Love", which he had written while in encampment close to Kurekdere during military operations in the Caucasus in the course of the Russo-Turkish War. Leontiev's essays on that conflict appeared, written under the pseudonym Shcheglov, throughout 1881 in leading literary magazines such as “Otechestvenniye zapiski" (“Notes of the Fatherland") and “Vestnik Evropy" (Messenger of Europe).
Shcheglov's essays proved a great success, their author praised as a most promising writer, one who was continuing the traditions of Leo Tolstoy and Vsevolod Garshin (Tolstoy had written about his service in the Crimean War, Garshin in the Russo-Turkish War). In 1883 Leontiev, then with the rank of Captain, retired from military service and dedicated himself to writing. Through the second half of the 1880s he published various stories and plays (“The Gordian Knot", “In the Mountains of the Caucasus", “Miniona", “A Million Torments" and other works) that were so popular that, in the words of the literary critic and journalist Pyotr Pertsov, Leontiev became “the darling of literary St. Petersburg". On December 9 1887, at the Hotel Moscow in St. Petersburg, Leontiev (Shcheglov) met Anton Chekhov, who would become his friend and mentor, and a discerning critic of Shcheglov's writing. “Jeannot", “Cher Jean" and “Mon brave capitaine" were some of the terms of endearment with which Chekhov “the mentor" addressed his letters to Shcheglov, communicating his affection and concern for his fellow writer and a sincere interest in his life. Chekhov often praised Shcheglov's accomplishment, lauding him with phrases like “That's the way!", “Bravo! Encore! Shcheglov, you're definitely gifted!", “You're popular! Keep writing!" and “You're a winner." Chekhov believed that his friend's main talent lay in prose, so he tried to persuade Shcheglov to give up his quest for success in the theatre and dedicate himself to writing fiction. With incredible tact and kind humour, Chekhov pointed out “errors" in this or that one of Shcheglov's works, was apologetic when giving advice, and continued to caution the young writer against becoming enthralled with the stage.
In the late 1880s, Leontiev (Shcheglov) made several pilgrimages to holy sites in Russia to address a personal spiritual crisis. In June 1891, he visited the monastery of Optina Pustyn, then one of the most important spiritual centres of the Russian Orthodox Church, where he met the renowned philosopher, writer, journalist and critic Konstantin Leontiev (the two were not related), who took monastic vows a month after their encounter and died a few months later. Their conversations made a great impression on the emotionally troubled Shcheglov. In 1892 he published essays on two spiritual leaders, “Father Ambrose, the Elder of Optina Pustyn" and “Visiting Father John of Kronstadt: A Personal Account".
Over time, Shcheglov's potential as a creative writer dwindled, his poor health and family troubles contributing factors in that decline. He focused exclusively on writing short, funny stories and plays, still convinced that drama was his true calling. His fame gradually faded: his plays, once performed on the stages of Moscow and St. Petersburg, now became part of the amateur theatre repertoire, and as the author of tales of war he was forgotten.
Leontiev (Shcheglov) celebrated the 25th anniversary of his literary career with friends, associates and admirers of his talent in November 1902. Figures from the worlds of theatre and literature, actors and artists, and journalists and editors from many St. Petersburg, Kronstadt and Moscow publications came to congratulate him on the occasion, among them the actors Maria Savina and Modest Pisarev, the journalist Vasily Rozanov, the philanthropist Alexei Bakhrushin, the publisher and journalist Alexei Suvorin, the entrepreneur and playwright Fyodor Korsh, the artist Mikhail Clodt, and the artist brothers Viktor and Apollinary Vasnetsov; the celebrated English writer and playwright Jerome K. Jerome was also part of the company. Ilya Repin sent a telegram: “Sending love to the dear celebrant. May God grant you everything good." To mark the occasion, Alexei Alexeev published a collection of Shcheglov's articles “Naive Questions" (St. Petersburg, 1903), which included a portrait of Shcheglov by Repin. The same portrait was later reproduced in “Niva" (Grainfield) magazine in 1911, together with the writer's obituary.
Repin created a whole gallery of portraits of cultural figures, many of them drawings executed in different techniques, including charcoal, quill, and graphite pencil. Scattered through Russian and foreign museums and private collections, they are testament to Repin's virtuoso technique as a graphic artist: they combine a spontaneous approach to depicting the subject with genuine feeling and remarkable visual expressiveness. Repin's drawings were almost never posed - he simply “caught" his subjects while they were engaged with something else: this element can be seen in such works as “Vera Repina in Bed" (1872, Tretyakov Gallery), “Portrait of Emily Prakhova and Rafail Levitsky (1879, Tretyakov Gallery), “Portrait of Yefim Repin (the Artist's Father) with a Book" (1884, Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov), “Nadezhda Stasova Knitting" (1887, Russian Museum), “Pavel Tretyakov at a Meeting of the Academy of Arts" (1896, Tretyakov Gallery) and a series of portraits of Leo Tolstoy. Shcheglov's portrait shows him writing, as befits his profession. Looking at the drawing, it is clear why this was a man often described by his contemporaries as refined, sensitive and highly strung.
The date on the drawing is April 23 1890. When did the artist and his model meet, and how well did they know each other? Such questions prompt only speculation: no trace of any contacts that Shcheglov may have had with Repin at the time in which the portrait was created can be found in the writer's extensive archive, which is housed at the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) in St. Petersburg. The only exception is a note in Repin's diary about attending a New Year's Eve celebration in 1890 hosted by Alexei Suvorin, the satirical columnist, writer and playwright, who was also the editor of “Novoye vremya’’ (New Time) newspaper and the owner of one of the largest publishing houses in Russia.
Another testament to the long friendship between the two is the surviving typewritten copy of a letter from Shcheglov to Repin in Kuokkala, dated March 13 1909. Addressed to “Most esteemed and beloved Ilya Yefimovich", the letter refers to the publication of “Champion of the Word", Shcheglov's book about Nikolai Gogol, which was illustrated with two drawings by Repin, “Father Matthew Rebukes Gogol" and a scene that shows Gogol burning the second volume of his “Dead Souls". At the bottom of the second drawing, which is dated February 19 1909, the artist has left the inscription, “To Ivan Shcheglov". “I am touched beyond measure by the warm-hearted generosity of my dear friend Ilya Repin, who gave spiritual meaning to my modest work with his two brilliant sketches that point to the two most tragic moments in the life of the author of ‘Dead Souls'," Shcheglov wrote in the preface to his book, which, he claimed, gave a “systematic enough" picture of the core issues that led to “the great tragedy of Russia's great martyr". In a footnote, Shcheglov explained that these words were Repin's, from “Repin's letter to myself regarding Gogol".
Repin used every opportunity he had to draw, either in his album or simply on pieces of paper, which included when he was attending meetings or simply spending time with friends. Thus, Repin drew the architect Nikolai Sultanov and the collector Pavel Tretyakov at official meetings of the Academy of Arts. He drew a number of portraits at meetings of the Russian Literary Society, including images of Chekhov (January 30 1889), Fyodor Fiedler (April 19 1893), the translator, educator and founder of the Museum of Russian Writers in St. Petersburg, and others. Could it be that Repin had drawn Shcheglov at such an event? However, the glass (perhaps of tea) standing on its saucer on the table next to the sheet of paper makes it more likely that the writer was depicted in his study, in a setting that was familiar and comfortable for him.
The way in which this portrait of Leontiev (Shcheglov) ended up in the Radishchev Art Museum collection was itself certainly unusual: it was neither an acquisition nor a donation - rather, a discovery. During major reconstruction work on the museum's historical building in 2000, a door was discovered behind a layer of old plaster, complete with shelves that contained a quantity of portfolios, bundles of documents and books: these were mainly the archives of the brothers Alexander and Viktor Leontiev, nephews of Ivan Leontiev (Shcheglov). One of the folios contained two strikingly similar portraits, both graphite pencil drawings signed with the name “Ilya Repin". After conducting a thorough visual analysis, members of the museum's Procurement and Conservation Committee assigned one of the drawings to the newly established section of the museum archive dedicated to the Leontiev brothers. That decision was motivated by the committee's assumption that the second drawing was a copy executed in the 1930s-1950s by Viktor Leontiev, who was himself a trained artist. The first drawing was listed in the inventory as “I.Y Repin (?). Portrait of a Man".
The archive of Alexander and Viktor Leontiev gives a comprehensive picture of their work on the conservation of the historical and cultural heritage of the Saratov Governorate (the brothers were on the staff of the Regional Museum, the Museum Section at the Governorate Public Education Department, and the Radishchev Art Museum). Their private documents helped to confirm further information and identify new facts in the story.
After the death of their father Vladimir Leontiev in July 1921, the brothers came into possession of materials that had belonged to their uncle, which Vladimir had received in the autumn of 1911 in St. Petersburg following the death of his brother Ivan (Shcheglov). The latter's estate was divided between his siblings: his sisters Natalya (whose relationship with Ivan had been the closest, since she also lived in St. Petersburg) and Vera, and his brother Vladimir. In his will, Leontiev (Shcheglov) left his library and archive to the Pushkin House. The text of a letter written by the brothers Leontiev, dated June 11 1939, makes it clear that they had transferred almost all documentation from their uncle's archive to the museum via Theodore Levitt, the poet, translator, critic and literary scholar who served as representative of the Literary Museum. This letter stated that their father Vladimir had retained some items that had belonged to Leontiev (Shcheglov), as well as approximately 150 documents: some of those the brothers had kept in their possession. There is surely no doubt that the drawing of Shcheglov attributed to Repin, as well a rare photograph of the Clodt family (possibly taken in 1862) in an oval wood frame, which were both discovered in 2000 in the museum's “hidden storage" as part of the Leontiev brothers' archive, had originally belonged to Shcheglov. The photograph depicts three representatives of the Clodt von Jurgensburg dynasty of Russo-German barons surrounded by members of their family: Vladimir Clodt, professor of mathematics and an army general, sits in the centre dressed in his military uniform; Peter Clodt, the famous sculptor, is in the lower row, and the artist Mikhail Clodt in the top row, on the right.
What was the connection between this photograph and Leontiev (Shcheglov)? Biographies of Shcheglov explain that his parents were so poor that he was sent, at the age of three, to live with the family of his grandfather, Artillery General Baron Vladimir Clodt von Jurgensburg. Ivan Leontiev was not in fact really Vladimir Clodt's grandson; the artist wrote about the question in his autobiography, calling himself the baron's “accidental ward". However, he was no outsider in the Clodt family: supposedly, Ivan and his siblings were either first or second nephews and nieces of Vladimir Clodt's wife Maria (nee Zabrodina). The Clodt family took the boy in because they had no children of their own, and they had the means to raise him. One obituary of Vladimir Clodt specifically mentioned: “All the tenderness of his loving heart he focused on one of his wards (Ivan Shcheglov)." In his autobiography Shcheglov wrote with exceptional warmth and respect about his adoptive grandfather, to whom he “owed the best days of [my] life". Shcheglov also dedicated a poignant short story titled “My Grandfather. A Grandson Remembers" (1909) to his “precious grandpa" and his boyhood experiences in his grandfather's home. The extensive surviving correspondence between Shcheglov's birth family and both Vladimir Clodt and his wife Maria, whom everybody in the family called Grandmaman, is kept in the Pushkin House archive.
Thus, a degree of summary is possible: Vladimir Leontiev came into possession of the Repin drawing together with a number of documents, photographs and other items from the estate of his late brother, Ivan Leontiev (Shcheglov). After Vladimir's death, his sons Viktor and Alexander inherited various documents and other items from his archives that had previously belonged to their uncle. In turn, the Radishchev Art Museum received the drawing in question as a part of their archive: Viktor and Alexander Leontiev worked at the museum, and even lodged there, for several years.
In the process of researching the drawing, analogous drawings of Shcheglov were discovered in the collections of the Sergiev Posad History and Art Museum-Reserve and the Viktor Vasnetsov Museum in Moscow. The first piece reached the Sergiev Posad Museum in 1930, as part of an impressive, extensive collection of porcelain, paintings, bronze and decorative wooden objects, books on art, and manuscripts that had belonged to Anatoly Alexandrov (1861-1930). A writer, poet, editor and publisher, Alexandrov enjoyed the patronage of the influential journalist and political thinker Mikhail Katkov, and knew Fyodor Dostoevsky and many other literary figures, including Shcheglov, who was Alexandrov's friend and correspondent for many years. It is quite possible that Shcheglov gave his portrait to Alexandrov as a gift for his friend's collection.
Shcheglov was also close to the artist Viktor Vasnetsov; they wrote to each other regularly for more than a decade, and it is entirely plausible that Shcheglov gave an original Repin drawing to his artist friend as a gift. Vasnetsov's daughter Tatyana gave the drawing to the Viktor Vasnetsov Museum in 1961.
Visual comparison of considerably enlarged digital copies of the four portraits, as well as cross-referencing them with the drawing published in “Niva" magazine in 1911, has uncovered various small differences between the works, but more significant is the very dissimilar emotional effect that they make on the viewer. Clearly, this state of affairs calls for a comprehensive analysis of the portraits' style and technique, which would include the drawings from the Radishchev Museum, the Sergiev Posad Museum-Reserve and the Viktor Vasnetsov Museum. Such a process would no doubt establish which of these institutions owns the original drawing by Repin.
- At the time of this acquisition, the collection of drawings at the Radishchev Art Museum included seven works by Repin, among them a portrait of the artist’s father with a book (1884), a portrait of Ivan Turgenev (1884?), and “They Did Not Expect Him" (1884).
- Leontiev (Shcheglov) recorded this date in his 1886-1889 diary “of daily autobiographical notes"; he also gave a detailed account of this important event in his memoir of Anton Chekhov.
- The story of the friendship between the two writers can be reconstructed from Shcheglov's memoir of Chekhov (first published in 1905), their correspondence over many years, and Shcheglov's diaries, which are kept in the Department of Manuscripts at the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House). Extracts from Shcheglov's diaries were published in “Literaturnoye nasledstvo" (Literary Heritage, a literary non-periodical publication), Vol. 68. Moscow, 1960. Pp. 479-492.
- See: Novikova, A.A. ‘The Literary Oeuvre of I.L. Leontiev (Shcheglov) as Evaluated by A.P. Chekhov' // St. Petersburg State University Vestnik (Herald): https://www.vestnik-mgou.ru/Articles/Doc/3153
- Fetisenko, O.L. “Konstantin Leontiev, His Confidants and Followers". Thesis Synopsis for D.Phil. Degree. St. Petersburg, 2012.
- Shakh-Paronyantz, L.M. “On the 25th Anniversary of Ivan Leontievich Shcheglov's Literary Career". Kronstadt, 1902.
- “Niva" (Grainfield) Magazine. 1911, No. 28.
- Department of Manuscripts, Pushkin House. F. 150. Item 1416. P. 145 (reverse).
- Department of Manuscripts, Pushkin House. F. 150. Item 1221.
- Shcheglov, I.L. “Champion of the Word. New Materials on N.V. Gogol". St. Petersburg, 1909.
- The current location of this drawing is unknown. The initials “ФК" are inscribed on the lower left margin; these could be a reference to the drawing's owner, past or present.
- The current location of this letter is unknown.
- Among obvious differences between the two drawings is the disparity in their size: 19 * 13.5 cm against 20.5 * 13.8 cm.
- Archive Department, Academic and Historical Section, Radishchev Art Museum. F. 14. Inventory 1. Items 1252, 1253.
- This letter by Alexander and Viktor Leontiev provided a detailed list of documents that they handed over to the museum, including dates, dimensions and inscriptions.
- This photograph was published in “The Story of My Ancestors" by Georgy Clodt (Moscow, 1997); the names of the people in the photograph were not specified.
- Department of Manuscripts, Pushkin House. F. 150. Inventory 1. Items 1252, 1253.
- The sheet at the Radishchev Art Museum is 3 mm taller than the one at Sergiev Posad: this discrepancy may be due to an error of measurement.
Lead pencil on paper. 19 × 13.5 cm
© Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov. First publication
Lead pencil on paper. 20.5 × 13.8 cm
© Archive Department, Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov. First publication
Lead pencil, pastel, chalk on paper mounted on cardboard. 18.8 × 11 cm
© Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov. First publication
Lead pencil on paper. 20.8 × 13.8 cm
© Sergiev Posad History and Art Museum-Reserve
Ink, pen, brush on paper mounted on cardboard. 16.8 × 13.1 cm
© Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov
Zincography, pen on Angerer paper. 17.3 × 13.5 cm
© Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov. First publication
Published in the writer’s obituary, “Niva” (Grainfield) magazine, 1911, no. 28
© Archive Department, Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov