From "Memoirs" by Maria Favorskaya (Derviz)

Publication by Ivan Shakhovskoy[1]

Magazine issue: 
#3 2015 (48)

The painter and graphic artist Maria Favorskaya (1887-1959) wrote her “Memoirs” in the 1950s. Her father Vladimir (von) Derviz (1859-1937), a watercolour artist, studied at the Academy of Arts together with Valentin Serov and Mikhail Vrubel, who became his lifelong friends. Vladimir Derviz also graduated from the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, and in 1885 he married Nadezhda Simonovich (1866-1908), Serov’s cousin. With his inheritance from his father, a St. Petersburg senator, Vladimir bought an estate close to Tver, Domotkanovo. Nadezhda had always wanted to live in the country, and her husband, while enjoying painting watercolours of the surrounding countryside, actively participated in the work of the “Zemstvo” (local council) and, until his wife’s death, in the improvement of his household and those of local peasants.

Their daughter Maria was born and raised at the Domotkanovo estate. Encouraged by Serov, her father's friend and her mother's cousin, she started painting from an early age. In 1907-1908 Maria lived with her Aunt Maria Lvova (Simonovich) in Paris; there she studied in Umbair-Martin's studio and attended lectures at the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1909 she studied in Yuon's and Dudin's studio in Moscow, and in 1910-1913 at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. In 1912 she married Vladimir Favorsky (1886-1964), who later became a famous book illustrator, an engraver, a teacher and an art theoretician.

A long-standing member of the local council, Vladimir Derviz actively participated in its work, dealing with educational, welfare and other matters. He was also elected chairman of the Tver district and province councils. The hospitable Domotkanovo estate, which always welcomed numerous relatives and friends of its owners, became a distinguished centre of local social life and one of the cultural oases in the Tver province for many years. After the October Revolution the family was expelled from the estate and moved to hunger-stricken Moscow, where Vladimir Derviz earned his living as a cobbler. From 1920 until 1928 he lived in Sergiev (later Zagorsk) and worked in the Commission on Preservation of Art and History Monuments of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. (Living and working there in terrible conditions, he and Yury Olsufiev managed to preserve the Lavra's invaluable treasures during the 1922 confiscation of the Russian Orthodox Church by handing over some of the less valuable items, including jewels and massive gold and silver pieces.) Later, before the Great Purge, he worked as the chief curator of the Lavra museum.

Maria, the couple's children (their third child was born in 1928) and Favorsky's parents also lived in Moscow, and then from 1919 in Sergiev-Posad. After serving in the army during World War One and the Russian Civil War, Favorsky became a teacher at, and from 1923 until 1926 principal of, the VHUTEMAS school (Higher Art and Technical Studios); he moved into a tiny room in a communal flat on Myasnitskaya Street, visiting his family only at weekends.

In 1939, shortly before World War Two, the family moved into another flat in Moscow. Both the Favorsky sons - Nikita, a talented painter (1915-1941), and the still young Ivan (1924-1945) - died during the war. After the war Maria Favorskaya endured a long and serious illness; however, she continued drawing and painting for as long as she could. Until her death she continued to write her "Memoirs" about her family and dead sons. Maria Favorskaya's (von Derviz's) "Memoirs" and a book of her artworks are today ready for publication (extracts have already been published).

The structure of the book is complicated, the narration interlaced with her remembrances and her relatives' stories retold by her, with documentary passages from letters and extracts from her diary. Her "Memoirs" remained unfinished, covering only the periods between 1909-1911 and 1915-1925. However, sometimes she refers to later or earlier periods at Domotkanovo and to visitors who came there. The later episodes relate, first of all, to Favorsky; the earlier ones to Serov, whose outstanding personality and acknowledged reputation were unarguable both for young Marusya and her parents.

The Simonovichs were Valentin Serov's intimate and much-loved friends. For long periods he lived in the house of his Aunt Adelaida Simonovich and throughout his life was on friendly terms with her daughters, particularly with the three eldest ones, his contemporaries: Masha, Nadya and Lyolya, who was adopted by the Simonovichs (later Lyolya - Olga Trubetskaya - became his wife). Once, in his student years, Serov came to them with his friend Vladimir von Derviz... When Vladimir and Nadya were looking for an estate, Serov accompanied them - they highly appreciated Serov's artistic taste, and it would prove crucial in making the final decision about Domotkanovo. From the very beginning of the couple's life at Domotkanovo the artist was a close friend of both the parents and their extended family, and remained so until his death.


Passages from the “Memoirs” about Domotkanovo

Father was not the only one to enjoy painting Domotkanovo's landscapes. Other artists also worked here. Serov painted many landscapes in Domotkanovo; he also painted portraits - my mother, my father, my mother's sisters.

[From Maria Favorskaya's comments: Serov painted my mother with a child (with me, later he painted Lyolya instead) on an iron sheet (for the roof). This portrait is now in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery.]2

One summer, every sunny morning, a portly girl with big naive eyes sat down on a bench in the main alley and remained motionless for hours, posing for her cousin Tosha3.

The title of the painting, now at the Tretyakov Gallery, "Girl in the Sunlight", hardly suits it; "Girl in the Shade of Limes" would be better.

Serov painted Aunt Masha for the second time a few years later, again in Domotkanovo. When he painted the first portrait, I do not remember: I was six months old at that time4; I have some recollections about the second portrait.

Tosha was trying to find a pose for his model for a long time; after long searches, he made her sit at a writing-desk in my grandmother's5 room so that she would sit by the pier between two windows; the light from both sides gilded her lustrous hair. Her peach pink cheeks and big naive green eyes are in a light transparent summer shade, which was one of Serov's strong points. The first portrait shows an austere mouth with the corners turning down; the second portrait portrays a refined one, ready to smile in a minute. The collar of the white blouse hides her young neck from behind and opens from the front. Big classic Russian hands (like our mother's) are quietly folded on a thin, plush French skirt.

The clear simplicity and cordiality of a Russian woman in the prime of beauty and youth supplemented by a sense of French ease and the taste of an artist - all this can be seen in this touching portrait, the best one painted by Serov6, to my mind.

My grandmother's bookshelf stands on the wall behind; a tiny bouquet of pink-and-lilac sweet-peas lies on the black table cover. Every morning we gathered these flowers. Unfortunately Tosha did not allow us to watch him paint: as soon as he took up his brushes, he ruthlessly turned us out. My grandmother's room was small, filled with bulky furniture; Tosha had to paint at close range.

During one of the days when the Serovs stayed in our summer house near Kolachyovskaya7 school, Tosha painted his wife, Olga. A small old house that had belonged to the landowner Kolychyova, hidden in the shadows of ancient birches, just a few meters away from the school. Father bought this property along with Domotkanovo (the lands were adjacent). The house became lop-sided, the roof was grown with moss, and the balcony partly ruined; it was there that Serov depicted his wife, who was expecting their third child. Against the background of the grey walls of the old house Serov's two children (Olya and Sasha) are playing among the blooming flowers of the Kolychyovo garden. I remember Tosha telling jokes to make Olga smile; and she complained that her mouth got too tired to pose.

Serov received a commission - to paint Pushkin in an alley. I remember how I was surprised: my father and one of the workers are carrying a green garden bench from the lower balcony of our house and putting it in a lime side-alley. What for? Tosha settles with an easel and a palette; my father sits down on the bench with his legs crossed and laughs; he knows well that he has nothing in common with Pushkin, except perhaps for height; he is broad-shouldered and stocky, with a red beard and wide strong hands like pincers or pliers. Serov painted a small sketch thoroughly - my father on the green bench in the alley, and then he turned him into a graceful thin Pushkin with narrow delicate hands on the Domotkanovo bench in the Domotkanovo lime alley.

Later Serov painted a horse easily drawing a wooden sleigh on a winter road on the outskirts of Obukhovo village. The horse is coming out from behind a shed.

When Serov decided to portray a beautiful Russian peasant - we put out the rumour in all the neighbouring villages that we were looking for a beautiful girl. Then we had to face fat, lusty, vigorous babas [peasant women], overdressed, their hair covered in oil, with red cheeks and huge hands - those who were considered beautiful in a Russian village. However, Serov wanted a more delicate beauty. He usually took a look, thanked them, gave some money and said: "Sorry, we need someone different." We laughed: "As if it's an ancient Russian bride-presentation - the Tsar chooses a bride".

We knew a very beautiful and pleasant aged woman, Agafya, in Obukhovo. My father remembered that she had a sister and said: "She is a real Russian beauty." She was married and lived in a distant village. She was sent for, and Serov decided to paint this young woman. He depicted a young laughing baba in a sheepskin coat, holding a red horse by the bridle. Serov painted the picture in winter, behind our stable-yard.

Once in autumn we (Tosha, Ninochka8, I and the coachman) took a cart and went to see the hay barns. The day was gloomy and unpleasant: the end of October, no snow, nature standing still in anticipation of snow; the colours were flat. But Serov said this was what he wanted. He liked the barns near Zakheevo village, so we went to the so-called "Zakheevo's ends". We came to the barns on a hillock ground covered with faded dry grass. They were in a small wood, far from the village. Serov started painting, and Ninochka went home for hot food for Serov.

Some other time, when the winter dusk was falling, somebody shouted: "Look, Serov is dressed as a bear!" And it was true: Tosha comes out of my father's room where he usually stayed in our house - dressed in fur trousers (the fur on the outside) and a fur short coat, takes pastels and other accessories, walks through the yard and sits down on a folding chair close to the trough where the herdsmen bring horses for watering. Night falls early in winter; the sun has set, and the yellow short winter glow is disappearing in the green, cold western sky. The frost is hardening. Young horses run up to the watering-pond, drink and leave. Their manes are waving downwind; they feel like jumping and playing; their winter manes are thick and velvety.

One winter midday Serov painted the roofs of the stable-yard, the corner - a place where the roofs meet, and where a long icicle hangs down. The roofs are covered with a thick, even layer of light-blue snow. An old birch spread its branches over the roof, against the background of the blue sky. Serov was painting the picture, sitting in a sleigh.

A thick fir-tree at a road ditch stretched its strong branches out wide. Our worker Vasily put up a ladder to the fir-tree; Serov climbed up over the ground and painted the fir branches, from a bird's-eye perspective. He was painting the picture for "The Crow and the Fox", the Krylov fable. (When he painted in the frost and climbed up the fir-tree, he was over 40 years old.)

One day Levitan came to Domotkanovo. Serov took him to the local woods and fields, showing beautiful places. But Levitan was ill; when they came back, he sat down in a big armchair and stayed still; he talked quietly and sluggishly, and seemed to be tired. I remember his jet-black hair, dark circles under the black, almost impenetrable eyes, and nervous hands with long beautiful fingers. He liked Domotkanovo, but did not happen to paint landscapes here: his illness progressed and took him to the grave.

The youngest of my mother's sisters, Nina Simonovich, called "Ninochka" in the family, was an artist: she painted landscapes, portraits and animals in Domotkanovo.

Tosha was inclined towards humour. When feeling at ease, among close relatives and friends, he was unrivalled in making people laugh with a single word or a gesture, or expressing the comic moment of a situation. For example, my father supplied the Chichkin9 company with milk. Tosha liked to tease my father and used to intone with feigned regret: "Now you are really stuck in Chichkin..." Father chuckled and grumbled: "Give me a break!"

Heated arguments were typical for the Russian intelligentsia of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. They would not respect themselves if they failed to struggle "to the death" over an exciting topic. The arguments, mostly about art, ran high over after-dinner tea. I remember one that lasted for several evenings: it was about perspective. The most passionate is Ninochka - her voice rises as her spirits run higher. My father also gets excited and speaks with conviction. Valerian von Derviz steadily repeats the same words many times in a low voice. Boris10 talks as usual: makes caustic and unorthodox remarks. Tosha usually listens and then states his weighty utterance; the others stop talking for some time.

As far as I remember, the argument on perspective was about the following: whether the usual perspective is right or wrong, and whether a picture should be painted according to it. Serov was standing up for the usual perspective. Valerian was proving that a "perspective" painting could only be looked at from the point of view of the artist who painted it, i.e. from up at close range; otherwise, if you step back, the image will be distorted and seem distant. Valerian gave the example of the pond in Domotkanovo painted by Serov: the pond in the painting seems very big, because
of the impression that it is far away. In fact, the pond is small, and Valentin Serov looked at it while sitting right next to the water. Or - another Val. Serov painting: two limes a few sazhens [feet] from the house in the painting based on a regular perspective view, seem to be very far away.

In 1912 a new painter appeared at Domotkanovo - my husband, Vladimir Favorsky. He did not live at Domotkanovo for long periods, however he painted a few pictures there all the same: a bouquet of lime branches; one in which I am brushing my hair in front of a mirror; and a double portrait - him and me - the one I stupidly destroyed: I said I did not like it; he started to improve it and spoiled it, when it had been good. He never reproached me: it is I who reproach myself.

I need to mention one more painter, a "very Domotkanovo" one - myself, though this topic stirs up my heart.


From the diary notes of 1909, Moscow...

December 13

Tosha came yesterday. We spent the evening at their house. Tomorrow he will come to take a look at my drawings. What shall I tell him to justify myself?! My drawings are not like I want them to be: bold, free, powerful; no, they are monotonous, passive and boring. My paintings are particularly bad: I want every single tone to be bright, exact, beautiful, and the canvas shows them monotonous and grey.

I felt exhilarated in Paris. Students' drawings are horrid at Yuon's; only two or three draw better. At the first meeting you like Yuon; when he talks, you listen openmouthed; then you realize that he wants some spotless and immaculate drawings and neglects the form.

December 14

Tosha came today. He said: "You should draw. The body's proportions come easily to you; you can see the entire body, but you miss the form, the sculptural image, you don't know anatomy; the bodies are better than the faces; the faces are bad. I did not think you would be able to cope with the body; I thought landscape would tempt you more.

"Take different papers and paint Domotkanovo: use pastels, tempera, and watercolours. Avoid using oils in winter. Do plaster painting every evening, two hours a day. The drawings I made here, they are my latest; one would say that they had been made earlier: monotonous, boring.

"Well, it is tougher here than in Paris; but I have to cheer up, and I should not lose time waiting for inspiration".


A note from ‘‘Memoirs’’ (from a notebook about the events of 1911)

Future painters, sculptors and architects drew, painted, and sculpted in a low-rise building of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture on Myasnitskaya Street. The October morning, damp and cold, was suitable for work.

A model in a blue Russian sarafan and a kokoshnik was posing for the "life class". The yellow light of a lamp lit her from one side, from the other the cold daylight [came] through a huge floor-to-ceiling window. Another model, a naked boy, was lying on a podium at the opposite side of the large classroom.

I was painting the boy in oils. All of a sudden the wind brought the news: Valentin Serov had died.

The students surrounded me, his relative, asking if it was true. I was stunned: "Impossible! I saw him a couple of days ago, he looked absolutely healthy." Immediately I went to the Serovs.

I passed by the front stairs and came in through the kitchen. The cook said:

"How awful! Our barn [master] died this morning," and burst into tears. I went upstairs. Olga, Serov's wife, was active as ever. She was telling relatives and friends: "Yesterday he was healthy and cheerful, and today he woke up and said only that he did not feel well, and died. I was alone and could not send for the doctor at once."

Her constant care about the large family, the habit of receiving Counts and Countesses as well as the common people, the concern to observe decencies, as her husband required, helped her to go through her grief with reserve, without tears and complaints.

Serov's mother - Valentina Semyonovna - was already there, in the boys' room upstairs. Relatives and friends surrounded her, and everybody worried about her: she was old. She was in a state of heightened dismay and kept saying that she could not understand that her son - her Tonya - had died.

The coffin was carried along the endless Donskaya Street, then placed on a bier, though the artist had forbidden this: he hated biers.

Many relatives, friends, artists, art students walked, Serov's admirers - noble patrons (often merchants) - came in carriages.

It was cold and gloomy. The artist was buried at the Donskoye cemetery, next to the grave of Gogol.

People made speeches. Katsman, a student from our school, made a stupid speech: he said that we, Serov's students, were also guilty: we had worked poorly... But Serov had not taught in our art school at that time, so obviously we had nothing to do with it.

At that time Yura, Serov's son, was courting his classmate, the daughter of a rich merchant. The young couple was walking in the cemetery side by side, sad but hopeful in their love.

I do not want to accuse, but then Yura refused to marry the girl because of her insufficient dowry - a dishonourable reason for the Serovs!

Later Yura became a famous actor at the Comedie Frangaise in Paris. Serov's other five children did not show their worth in life and died (except the eldest son who is still alive11) all of a sudden like their father.


  1. Ivan Shakhovskoy, artist, son of Maria Favorskaya-Shakhovskaya, grandson of Maria Favorskaya and Vladimir Favorsky.
  2. This refers to the "Portrait of Nadezhda Derviz with Her Child" (1888-1889, Tretyakov Gallery) by Serov. Painted on an iron roofing-sheet, presumably purchased for the replacement of the old wooden lath roof of the Domotkanovo house with a new one. According to this comment, Serov initially started painting this portrait in 1887 when Maria (Marusya) was a breastfed baby and continued a year later when she had become "too big"; and her sister Lyolya (Yelena Derviz, 1889-1975) was already born. Presumably the portrait remained at Domotkanovo until 1908; later it was moved to Moscow.
  3. Tosha ("Valentosha") was Valentin Serov's nickname in the family. The model was Maria Simonovich (1864-1955), the author's aunt.
  4. Maria was born on December 26 1886 (January 8 1887, by the New Calendar). The painting had always been dated 1888; according to this record, it should have been dated 1887, otherwise Maria is wrong, and she was already one-and-a-half years old.
  5. Adelaida Simonovich, born Bergman (1844-1933), the sister of Serov's mother. A teacher; she and her husband Yakov Simonovich (1840-1883) were the founders of the Theory and the Practice of Russian Pre-School Education. They both were so-called "shestidesyatniki", people of the Sixties, followers of Herzen; it was he who encouraged them to do practical voluntary work in Russia. Adelaida Simonovich and Yakov Mironovich (a doctor and a teacher) organized a Russian kindergarten, the first one in St. Petersburg (1866); published the "Kindergarten" magazine with articles they wrote themselves or translated from other languages. Adelaida taught children at the "elementary school" - for several years in Tiflis, then again in St. Petersburg; and brought up a galaxy of her followers. Along with their six children, the Simonovichs brought up Valentin Serov (Adelaida Simonovich's cousin) and Olga Trubnikova (Serov's future wife), an orphan whom they had adopted. Olga and all her step-sisters frequently modelled for Serov, posing for portraits from life, and for narrative and other paintings, including "Girl in the Sunlight" (1888, Tretyakov Gallery), "Portrait of Maria Lvova" (1895, Musee d'Orsay, Paris), "Portrait of Nadezhda Derviz with Her Child" (1888-1889, Tretyakov Gallery) and other works. After her daughter Nadya married, and her husband Vladimir Derviz had purchased Domotkanovo (in 1886), Adelaida Simonovich lived there with her younger children. For many years she was the head of the school constructed by Derviz where she taught peasant children (many of whom later became country teachers). After the Civil War She lived, almost blind, in Sergiev (now Sergiev Posad) and helped to bring up her great-grandchildren.
  6. This refers to the portrait of Maria Lvova (1895, Musee d'Orsay, Paris). Maria Simonovich (1864-1955) studied sculpture; married a pre-revolutionary political emigrant, the psychiatrist Solomon Lvov (18591939); and spent the remainder of her life in France.
  7. The district school was built by Vladimir Derviz. In Maria Vladimirovna's diary the name of the school is Kalachyovskaya, however the name evidently comes from the Kolychevs, the landlords.
  8. Nina Simonovich-Yefimova (1877-1948), the youngest of the Simonovich sisters, a painter and graphic artist, writer and teacher. She and her husband Ivan Yefimov (1878-1959), a sculptor, founded their own puppet- and shadow-theatre, "The Theatre of the Artists Yefimovs". Encouraged by Valentin Serov, her eldest cousin, she painted from an early age; later she studied under him in Zvyagintseva's workshop, and worked alongside him in Paris. Throughout her life she was a passionate and consistent follower of Serov's artistic style in Russian painting. A talented writer, Nina Simonovich left a considerable literary heritage, including "Petrushechnik's Notes" (1925) and "Memoirs about Valentin Serov" (1964).
  9. Alexander Chichkin (1862-1949), a merchant, milk manufacturer; a millionaire, the founder of "Chichkin's milk empire".
  10. Boris (1860-1921), the eldest of Vladimir Derviz's five younger brothers; Valerian (1869-1917), the youngest von Derviz brother. Boris graduated from the Moscow School of Jurisprudence, but did not seem to practice law; was a bachelor and "odd fish". Valerian was a mathematician, and pedant. In 1896 he married the third of the Simonovich sisters, Lyalya (Adelaida Derviz, 1872-1945: her portrait as a girl painted by Valentin Serov in 1889 is in the Russian Museum); he designed and built his own house in Domotkanovo next to his brother's house, and lived there with his family following his regular principles. It is there that the Serov Museum, the only such existing today, is situated, a branch of the Tver Art Gallery. The Domotkanovo mansion is almost completely reconstructed to house the museum.
  11. Alexander Serov (Sasha, 1892-1959).





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