The Descendants: Destinies and Memory
One of the most significant events during the recent celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery was the arrival in Moscow of Pavel Tretyakov's descendants living in the United States. Thanks to the efforts of the gallery's employees and officials, who had found the Ziloti family and made their visit to Russia possible, for the first time in history the gallery became a meeting place for those who belong to the once numerous family that used to reside in the Tretyakov house in Tolmachi.
The Tretyakov family.
From left to right: Vera, Ivan, Vera Nikolayevna, Maria and Mikhail, Maria Ivanovna, Pavel Mikhailovich, Alexandra and Lyubov. Moscow, 1884
"If a childhood can be really happy, that's what my childhood was like. Trust and harmony between the two people who loved each other and each of us, and took care of us all, made our life so joyful and precious,” wrote Vera Ziloti, the elder daughter of Pavel and Vera Tretyakov, in her memoirs, recalling the atmosphere of the house. This atmosphere of love, mutual respect and consent was the cornerstone of the family's life for more than one generation. Everybody who knew Pavel Mikhailovich mentioned his cordial relations with his "mamen'ka”, as he used to call his mother Alexandra Danilovna until her last days, his friendship with his brother Sergei Mikhailovich, and his care and consideration for his numerous close and distant relatives.
In 1865 Pavel Tretyakov married Vera Mamontova, who came from a large merchant family. The marriage was not just a happy one - it was made in heaven. Vera Nikolayevna shared all of her husband's ideas and beliefs, primarily those which concerned the main goal of his life - establishing a museum of national fine art. A mother of six children in charge of a large house always full of guests, Vera Nikolayevna found time and energy for charity work - in October 1867 on the proposal of the City Duma, she became a trustee of a new Pyatnitsky municipal primary women's college, and later a member of the Board of Trustees at the Arnoldovsky college for deaf and dumb children. She took an active part in the life of the colleges and involved her daughters in this activity, which was later recorded by Vera Ziloti: "We attended all the exams, every year took part in Christmas celebrations, played games with the children. We all knew them by their names, were familiar with the background of every girl. They treated us as kindred. That was my life before I married and moved abroad. My sisters who stayed in Moscow retained close ties with the college long afterwards."
Another passion which drew the Tretyakov family closer together was their love for art. Frequenting theatre performances, especially operas, going to concerts and visiting museums in Moscow and during their travels in Russia and Europe constituted an integral part of their life. With exquisite taste and an indubitable talent for music, Vera Nikolayevna, tried to pass her attitude to art on to her children. "Vera Nikolayevna would play at home every morning. I remember one beautiful morning: I was sitting in the living room on the parquet floor warmed by rays of the sun and playing at puppet theatre. And in the adjacent hall connected with the living room by an arch, my mother was playing the piano. What music she played - that I learned much later, but I had known the pieces as long as I remembered myself. She played nocturnes by Field, etudes by Genselt and Chopin. It was always Chopin.
"The same with the paintings on the walls - they have always been there, as long as I can remember,” wrote Alexandra Botkina in her book "Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov in Life and Art”.
With her children in mind, Vera Nikolayevna kept a diary where she recorded not only some funny episodes from their lives but also her reflections about their growth and education. In the introduction addressed to her daughter Alexandra she wrote: "Wishing to extend the pleasure of living through every hour of your life with you, I decided to write down the most exciting moments, some manifestations of your particular affection for something, as well as the gradual development of your spiritual life; I thought it would bring you joy and you will remember me and your father as someone concerned with bringing you up as people of merit. Our aspiration was so sincere and strong that one could hardly have any doubts about the positive impact of all our efforts.”
Addressing Vera, the elder daughter, Vera Nikolayevna wrote: "Feeling that music ennobles a person, makes him happy, which I and Aunt Zina (Zinaida Yakunchikova, Vera Tretyakova's elder sister. - Ye.K.) are a living proof of, I decided to pass on these skills to you as much as possible.
Your father enjoyed and appreciated music as well, however, he was more attached to painting and gave all of himself to this form of art, acquiring the best works of the old and the newest schools ... My friends told me that our house was the best environment for the first stage of a child's life one could ever dream of. Your eyes caught the images on the walls which provoked your thinking process, and music developed other sides of your personality - more spiritual and sensitive.”
In such an atmosphere the Tretyakov children grew up - Vera (born 1866), Alexandra (born 1867), Lyubov (born 1870), Mikhail (born 1871), Maria (born 1875), and Ivan (born 1878). It was this special spiritual atmosphere that always helped the family to overcome the severe hardships that befell them.
Pavel Mikhailovich and Vera Nikolayevna endured the most tragic blows that can befall any parents - the incurable illness of their son Mikhail, who was born mentally handicapped, and the sudden death from scarlet fever of eight-year-old Vanya, everyone's favourite, an extremely sensitive and talented boy.
Soon after Vanya's death the Tretyakov's elder daughter Vera married the musician Alexander Ziloti, who played an important role in the history of Russian culture. An outstanding pianist, a favourite student of Nikolai Rubinstein and Franz Liszt, a cousin and teacher of Sergei Rakhmaninov, a close friend of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ziloti was a professor of the Moscow Conservatory in the piano class, and then the chief conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Society - but above all he was known as the organiser and participant of the famous "Concerts of Alexander Ziloti”.
These concerts which until 1917 were held in St. Petersburg, where the Zilotis had lived since 1903, featured major world-renowned musicians.
Vera Pavlovna to some extent took after her mother in character and fate - she was also a person with a wide range of cultural interests, a talented musician, her marriage was also happy and long-lasting, she had six children, and she had to live through the illness and death of her seven-year-old son. But she and the other two Tretyakov daughters - Lyubov and Maria - had to go through something that their parents couldn't even think of - the loss of their native country and parting with their relatives. In 1919 when there was a real threat for the life of Alexander Ziloti, the family had to move abroad - first to Finland, then Germany, and in 1922 to the United States.
"A hundred percent 'Moskovka' (Muscovite)”, as Vera Pavlovna used to call herself, died in 1940 in New York, where shortly before her death she wrote a wonderful book of memoirs "In the Tretyakov House” which was published in the U.S. in 1954 and in Russia only in 1998.
The next to leave Russia in 1920 was Maria Pavlovna with her family. Her husband Alexander Botkin, from a family of physicians, a navy officer, a participant in many expeditions, who had occupied an important post as a Military Agent in Finland during the First World War, took the side of the White Army in the Civil War. From the Crimea the Botkins went to Italy, and in 1923 settled in San Remo, where they were later joined by Lyubov Pavlovna.
The family life of Lyubov Pavlovna was not so cloudless as her sisters'. Her first husband, the seascape painter Nikolai Gritsenko, a student of Alexei Bogolyubov, died from tuberculosis six years after their marriage. Her second marriage with the painter Leo Bakst was very brief. In 1910 Bakst moved to Paris, but it was he who initiated and organized the departure from Russia in 1922 of Lyubov Pavlovna and their son Andrei, who later became a painter too.
Thus, the only member of the Tretyakov family who stayed in Russia after the revolution was Alexandra Pavlovna. This decision probably was rooted in her character: she took a lot after her father, with the same outward reserve which was later described by Alexander Benois as "silent monumentally”, judiciousness and at the same time some peculiar sensitivity "to everything that is good and great", as her mother noted. That explains why in one of his letters Pavel Tretyakov called her "my favourite girl".
Her father's collection was for Alexandra Pavlovna an integral part of her life. When the first brick in the construction of a new building for the gallery was laid in the Tretyakov's courtyard, she was five years old. She witnessed the construction of the gallery, the placement of paintings, and the opening of free admission for visitors.
Pavel Mikhailovich's decision to grant his collection to the city of Moscow in 1892 came as no surprise either for Alexandra Pavlovna, or the rest of the family. Nor did she have any regret - a true daughter of her father, she was convinced that this collection was a national asset. The gallery remained a home for Alexandra Pavlovna, though by that time she had already married Sergei Botkin and lived in St. Petersburg.
When after the death of Pavel Tretyakov in 1898 there was a discussion about who should join the Gallery Council in accordance with the will of the deceased, Ilya Ostroukhov wrote to Ilya Repin: "We all hope that the family will choose either Alexandra Pavlovna, or Sergei Sergeyevich, which is the same.” Repin replied: "She can't be left behind. The closest successor of Pavel Mikhailovich, who knows the preferences and plans of her deceased father better than anybody else ... Though she is too young, but she is an intelligent and energetic lady with a great passion and comprehension of art, as she was brought up in the gallery."
Alexandra Pavlovna worked on the Gallery Council for 12 years after which she was replaced by Vera Pavlovna. Among the tasks set by the Council were the establishment of a memorial room and creation of a detailed biography of Pavel Tretyakov. Alexandra Pavlovna took an active part in the collection of an archive for that purpose. She was also involved in selection of artistic works for the gallery at different exhibitions and artists' studios.
More than the other Tretyakov daughters Alexandra Pavlovna inherited her father's devotion to collecting works of art, and her marriage to Sergei Botkin stimulated development of this passion. Botkin followed in the footsteps of his father Sergei Petrovich Botkin and became a famous physician, a professor of the Military Medical Academy. In the Botkin family love for art and passion for collecting were a family distinction. Sergei Sergeyevich's uncle, Mikhail Botkin, was a well-known painter, and his other uncle Dmitry Botkin possessed one of the best collections of Western paintings in Russia; his cousins Pyotr and Sergei Schukin were major collectors, too.
Sergei Sergeyevich put together a collection of Russian art, comprised primarily of drawings of Russian artists. In 1901 the magazine "Novoye Vremya” (New Time) described his collection as rich and unique, "which can be an object of envy even for the Tretyakov Gallery”. Obviously, Alexandra Pavlovna actively participated in the replenishment of this collection.
The Botkins' house in St. Petersburg was as warm and welcoming as the Tretyakovs' house in Moscow. And like the Tretyakovs', their house was always full of guests - artists, musicians, and actors. Following their family traditions, Sergei Sergeyevich and Alexandra Pavlovna always supported artists financially. When the magazine "Mir Iskusstva” (World of Art) was on the edge of shutting down due to a lack of funds, the Botkins provided assistance, and according to Dmitry Filosofov, it was done "without any publicity, quietly and decently”.
The sudden death of Sergei Botkin in January 1910 was a severe blow not only for the family but for all their friends as well. After her husband's death the future of the collection became a matter of special concern for Alexandra Pavlovna. In 1912 she started preparing an illustrated catalogue for publication, but the soon-to-come world war followed by the revolution interfered with her plans. A week before the October revolution Alexandra Pavlovna, on the advice of Pyotr Neradovsky, passed the collection for temporary storage to the Russian Museum, where it is still kept.
The Botkin house in St. Petersburg was also nationalized and turned into communal apartments. Alexandra Pavlovna returned to Moscow, where her elder daughter Shura lived with her husband, an actor of the Moscow Arts Theatre Konstantin Khokhlov. With a strange whim of fate, Konstantin's father, Pavel Khokhlov had been a clerk in Pavel Tretyakov's shop, and Vera Ziloti mentioned him in her book.
In the early 1920s Alexandra Pavlovna, like most people of her circle, had to endure many hardships typical for that period in Russia - the deprivation of rights, reduced housing conditions, lack of money, and a half-starved existence in an overpopulated communal flat. Worst of all was parting with relatives and loved ones, who left the country, were arrested, shot or disappeared forever.
But in spite of all such troubles, Alexandra Pavlovna never complained. She helped her daughters - Alexandra, who became a cinema actress, and Anastasia, who worked in the museum of theatre in Leningrad. She was busy raising her grandson, and later returned to the gallery where she was a member of the academic council for many years, and in 1937 she began writing a book about the history of the Tretyakov Gallery. Alexandra Pavlovna dedicated this book, which was first published in 1951 and soon will run into its sixth edition, to the memory of her father, Pavel Tretyakov.