Arkhip Kuindzhi in St. Petersburg and Mariupol. HISTORICAL LOCATIONS RELATING TO THE ARTIST
The character of the Russian landscape painter Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi has been shrouded in legend for more than a century. The artist rose from poverty to become, in the second half of his life, a millionaire owner of apartment buildings in St. Petersburg, but was not accustomed to talking about himself, or his childhood or family. He left no diaries or notes after his death, and the artist’s private correspondence focused mainly on business matters and reveals little about him. Kuindzhi’s first biographers, gathering material for their 1913 monograph about the artist, were challenged by such a lack of basic information.
Kuindzhi was born in Mariupol (in today's Ukraine), a town on the coast of the Azov Sea; his parents lived in Karasevka, a small community situated somewhat away from its centre. Originally known as Pavlovsk, Mariupol was founded by Greeks of the Christian faith who had resettled there from Crimea. By the mid-1850s it was a place steeped in Greek traditions, with the languages spoken there including Crimean Tatar, Greek and, partially, Russian and Ukrainian: Kuindzhi was fluent in all of them. It had a population of some 5,000, with 768 houses, five churches, a pharmacy, as well as two educational institutions - a school of theology and a two-year parish school (where Kuindzhi studied) - as well as 46 shops and 14 wine cellars. The settlers founded several villages in the surrounding area, one of which, Karasu (later Russified as Karasevka), merged with the town in 1811. The home of Kuindzhi's father stood on Torgovaya (Trade) Street in Karasevka on the bank of the Kalmius (Kalchik) River, which was then navigable. The family house has not survived, but Spiridon, Arkhip's elder brother, built his own dwelling on the site, a photograph of which remains: next to it stands a watch tower, a landmark on the river.
At the end of Karasevka's Taganrogskaya Street, on Spaso-Demianovskaya Square, stood the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God; it was there that Kuindzhi was baptized, and where later, in 1875, he would marry Vera Kechedzhi-Shapovalova. The church, made of fired red brick and topped with a wooden cupola, was consecrated in 1780 (it was torn down in 1937). Kuindzhi's parents were Russianized Christian Orthodox Greeks; his father Ivan Khristoforovich, whose surname was Emendzhi, meaning “workman" in Turkish, was a Greek shoemaker. However, a census taker in 1857 recorded Arkhip's name as Kuindzhi (meaning “goldsmith" in Tatar: his grandfather was a jeweller), and this name stayed with the young man for good. At that time in the south of Russia the same surname could be spelt in three different ways, Turkish, Greek or Crimean Tatar. The Greeks of Mariupol usually translated their surnames into Russian; thus, Arkhip's brother Spiridon Russified his name to Zolotarev.
Orphaned at an early age, Kuindzhi was raised by his aunt and brother; they were very poor and could provide the boy with only a very basic education. Arkhip started to earn his living from an early age, working alternately as a shepherd, as a clerk checking brick deliveries at a Catholic church construction site that was run by the wealthy subcontractor and mayor of the town Chabanenko, and as a petty clerk with a grain merchant, Amoretti. Later, as a young man, he worked as a retoucher's assistant at photographic studios in Mariupol, Taganrog and Odessa, a period that remains a gap in the artist's biography of which very little is known. How long did he live in Odessa, and when did he decide to move to St. Petersburg? Kuindzhi showed a penchant for drawing at an early stage - as a child, he used to draw wherever he could, on whatever surfaces he could find. A wealthy tradesman from Feodosia, Yuly Gustavo- vich Duranty, who was a friend of Amoretti, advised the young man to apply to the Aivazovsky studio. Kuindzhi visited Feodosia, but whether he really studied with the celebrated artist remains uncertain.
For young men from the provinces who were eager to train as artists, St. Petersburg and the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts held enormous appeal. In all likelihood, Kuindzhi reached the capital in the late 1860s. “In my early days in St. Petersburg I was so needy that I couldn't even afford tea and drank only hot water without sugar, with stale bread," he would later tell Anna Mendeleeva (Popova). “After roughing it through the winter, in spring I decided to take the exam for the Academy of Fine Arts and... failed"
But Kuindzhi was industrious, single-minded and stubborn - full of determination to realise his most cherished dream. Earning some money as a retoucher, he continued painting. On August 21 1868, he submitted an application to the Council of the Academy of Fine Arts asking to grant him the title of artist for his painting “A Tatar Village in Crimea by Moonlight"*. The Council's decision was positive, and 1868 remains the only precisely known date of Kuindzhi's first visit to St. Petersburg, the city that would become his second home. Did Kuindzhi study at the Academy? In all probability, he received academic training as a non-matriculated student, and drawings of the pictures that he produced as course- work have survived in his albums. One of Kuindzhi's first biographers, Mikhail Nevedomsky, wrote of this period: “In 1868 Kuindzhi was finally at the Academy... The students working in the academic style formed a group at that time. It included Kuindzhi, Repin, V[iktor] Vasnetsov, Makarov, Burov... The young people gathered in the evenings at Mazanikha's dining parlour."
The address “Mazanova's Furnished Rooms", on the intersection of Bolshoi Prospect and the 5th Line, building 18 (now 16), on Vasilievsky Island - was the artist's first known residence in St. Petersburg. Located on the ground floor of a squat three-storey building, its dining parlour offered relatively cheap meals, costing 30 kopecks. Mazanova's rooms were considered among the cheapest in the city and were often rented by students of the Academy: rent included heating, lighting with kerosene lamps, cleaning, and water from a samovar in the mornings and evenings. It was at this time that Kuindzhi became especially close to Ilya Repin and Viktor Vasnetsov, friendships that would last for many years. They often came together to endlessly debate various issues of art and life, and Kuindzhi astonished his friends with the sharpness of his wit. “This sagacious Greek is an attractive man of great depth. an outstanding philosopher, he always cuts to the very core of things, infinitely," Repin characterized this new acquaintance who would become one of his closest friends. “I like his stocky figure, his Oriental-Persian mentality, his original view of things." In 1871, when the entire Mazanova house was converted into a private school run by a German lady E. Schaffe - the rooms were revamped but the exterior has survived until today largely untouched - Kuindzhi had to look for new lodgings.
In 1870 he rented apartment no. 1 in the Zhukov house, at the intersection of Sredny Prospect and the Malaya Neva Embankment (now Makarova Embankment, 18). There was nothing smart about the place then, and the Malaya Neva Embankment (from 1887, Tychkova Embankment; from 1952, Makarova Embankment) was used as a landing stage for merchant vessels. Some sections of the embankment were occupied by warehouses, others by commercial apartment buildings which usually had stores and offices on their ground floors, with apartments for rent on the mezzanine and upper floors.
A little further down the road, at the intersection of Tuchkova Embankment and Birzhevaya Line (building 18), stood the three-storey house that belonged to the merchant Menyaev. Built in 1842 to a design by the architect Alexander Poel, it occupies an important place in the history of Russian culture: its inhabitants have included the future composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who lived there in his early days, from 1848 to 1849, with his parents, while in 1870 the painter Mikhail Klodt became a resident. A little later, the house became home to the painters Alexander Beggrov, Yefim Volkov and Grigory Myasoyedov, and today some older inhabitants of St. Petersburg still refer to it as the “artists' house". In 1869-1887 the famous artist Ivan Kramskoi, leader of the “Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) Society lived there, with his family occupying a large apartment, no. 5 on the third floor (today it has been divided into three apartments, 8, 9 and 10). As a young artist, Kuindzhi lived for a brief while in the next-door apartment on the same landing, as Kramskoi mentioned to Repin in a letter dated December 6 1873: “I had a most interesting neighbour - Kuindzhi. He lived across the landing from me, and we had long talks together every now and then."
Kuindzhi would often stay at his neighbour's hospitable home late into the night. Kramskoi and his wife hosted parties and receptions that were attended by many people of note, and the senior artist became a trustworthy older friend and adviser for the ambitious young provincial, introducing him to the “Peredvizhniki" artists. Kramskoi noted with insight: “Kuindzhi is an immense, spontaneous talent... Kuindzhi is interesting, novel, original, but so original that while the landscapists don't understand him, the public has already taken note." Kuindzhi exhibited his paintings at the “Peredvizhniki" shows with success, joining the Society in 1875. The young artist was gaining fame and critics were taking notice, while Pavel Tretyakov began to purchase his landscapes. Kuindzhi had moved up the social ladder: he was now standing on his own feet, beginning to get a sense of his potential.
Such is the image of Kuindzhi that Kramskoi created in his portrait from the late 1870s: a figure set against an unusual bright red background, one that highlighted the southerner's characteristic appearance with his mop of dark curls and black beard, and a searing, inquisitive look in his eyes (“Absalom's mane and charming bovine eyes. Like Ashur, god of the Assyrians"). He seemed to radiate strength and bold hopes, robust health and energy, clearly seeing the path ahead for him in both life and art. Kuindzhi was very fond of this portrait and kept it for a long time in his possession, before transferring it to the academic library of the Academy of Arts that had been established with his financial support.
The same period also saw changes in the artist's private life. In Mariupol on July 23 (August 5, by the New Style) 1875, Kuindzhi married Vera Elevferievna Kechedzhi-Shapovalova, the 20-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her double-barrelled surname originated from the local Tatar nickname kechedzhi (makers of felt hats), which indicated the occupation of her Greek ancestors, who were hat makers and fur traders. In St. Petersburg, people close to the Kuindzhis called her Vera Leontievna, and two extra letters, “t" and “r", appeared in her maiden name: it now became Ketcherdzhi-Shapovalova. The couple had a traditional Greek wedding, clamorous and festive, with town dwellers of note among the groomsmen.
In St. Petersburg, the young couple rented an apartment on Vasilievsky Island. Their relationship was one of mutual understanding and harmony: Vera, a typical Greek woman of Mariupol, was the perfect home-maker - calm and undemanding, but also cultured and well educated. Throughout their life the couple lived modestly, just the two of them: they had no children, and did not employ servants. The apartment was furnished sparsely, without finery, drapes, curtains or trinkets. The only thing that could be called valuable was the piano, which had been Arkhip's gift to his wife on their wedding, on which she would play. She was a good pianist, while her husband learned to play the violin quite well. The couple would often play duets together, performing favourite pieces by Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky. Several times a year they went to the theatre, mostly to the opera; they travelled to the island of Valaam, and visited Europe briefly on a number of occasions. They saw their relatives in Mariupol regularly, and would travel every year to Crimea, where they had an estate in the small village of Kekeneiz, on the south coast of the peninsula between Alupka and Simeiz.
For nearly a decade from 1876 onwards, Kuindzhi rented an apartment with a studio attached at Maly Prospect 16, at the avenue's intersection with the 6th Line. It was there that the artist produced major compositions such as “A Birch Grove" (1879, Tretyakov Gallery) and “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" (1880, Russian Museum), which won him the reputation of a “magician of light". “Kuindzhi, a name that is now famous," critics wrote about the Society for Encouragement of the Arts show, held on Bolshaya Morskaya Street, where the painting was shown. The piece was purchased, directly from the easel in the artist's studio, by Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov; a poet, translator and connoisseur of art, he paid 5,000 rubles for the work, a sum that seemed enormous at that time. The Grand Duke noted in his diary: “Yesterday (that is March 13 1880) we went to search for Kuindzhi's studio... we found it only with difficulty after half an hour of scouring the backstreets; the studio is beneath the roof of the building itself and perhaps was previously used as a photographic parlour."
Little is known about the history of the building, which still stands today, that housed this studio. The plot of land had been acquired in 1866 by the architect Nikolai Grebyonka (who also taught architecture at the Academy). Grebyonka initially built a small brick two- storey house with five windows in the front on the site; two years later, he added a third floor and, above that, an artist's studio with a large window, which was complemented by a small apartment (no. 4). The building's quarters were rented out. Regrettably, the house was considerably rebuilt later, and the studio does not survive in its original form.
By the early 1890s Kuindzhi had moved several times, renting apartments in different buildings on Vasilievsky Island. At one time, between 1891 and 1897, he himself owned three residential buildings, at numbers 39, 41 and 43 on the 10th Line. In actuality, he took a fancy to only one house, the one at number 43: a tall five-storey building whose roof afforded views of Vasilievsky Island, as well as the embankment and the Neva. “The entire city is spread out before you... and to the right you can even see the sea. Here you can make all sorts of sketches," he told his wife. The house, however, went on sale bundled together with its two neighbouring buildings (all three had belonged to the same owner and were mortgaged to a land bank as a single item). Paying the sum of 35,000 rubles, Kuindzhi had to take the mortgage on to himself, as well as repair the interior of the houses and take charge of renting the apartments. Although he realized his idea, occupying an apartment on the top floor and arranging his studio in an adjoining flat - as well as laying out a garden on the roof that became the talk of the city - he soon wearied of a landlord's responsibilities; when a suitable buyer appeared, he sold the houses, very profitably, for 385,000 rubles. It was the first in a series of deals through which Kuindzhi amassed considerable wealth: the artist's detractors would often call him, behind his back, “an enterprising guy".
Once the painter had sold the houses on the 10th Line, the Kuindzhis remained for a while without a place to live; since Arkhip was teaching at the Academy of Arts, they moved into one of the apartment-cum-studio units granted by the school to its professors that were located at the Academy's Foundry, in building no. 3 on the 4th Line (the address has not changed since). The Academy's apartments with studios were situated in the school's main building and residential wings, overlooking the 3rd and 4th Lines and the Academic Garden. Making use only of the studio and one half of the apartment, Kuindzhi proposed to spend the sums earmarked for maintenance of the professors' huge apartments on student allowances, while making the professors themselves responsible for the upkeep of their dwellings. Finally, the Kuindzhis decided to find themselves a new apartment, not least since Kuindzhi left his teaching job at the Academy in February 1897.
Kuindzhi's choice fell on the house where his favourite friend and teacher Ivan Kramskoi had once lived, and where he himself had spent some weeks (its present address is Birzhevoi Lane 1/10). In the 1870s the businessman Grigory Yeliseev became the owner of the building, and at his initiative a fourth, residential storey, designed by the architect Ludwig Spoerer, was added to the house in 1879; a huge loft - intended as a studio for an artist, with windows overlooking Birzhevaya Line - followed in 1887, built above the edifice to a very original design created by the civil engineer Gavriil Baranovsky. This addition, unique in terms of its architecture and engineering, is the only example of a city studio specially designed for an artist and built as a separate space (it survives today). Kuindzhi worked in this studio from 1897 up to his death in 1910. Granted the status of a national landmark, it is now a protected building.
The choice of location was no accident: Kuindzhi had always been fond of high vantage points, and the windows of the loft of the Yeliseev House at that time afforded a panoramic view of the city. On one side Vasilievsky Island could be seen in its entirety, as far as the seashore, on the other, the watery surface of the Neva, the Peter and Paul Cathedral, and the embankments faced with granite.
Fond of observing the scenery of the city, Kuindzhi “would spend hours looking out of the studio's windows, or he would climb to the roof and, from there, from a great height, stare at the vast expanses...’’ At noon he fed his feathered friends, the pigeons, crows and sparrows which came flying to the house following the midday firing of cannon at the Peter and Paul Fortress.
The couple lived an unhurried, quiet life at the Yeliseev House, inviting only their closest friends to their home, among whom were artists, journalists and professors of St. Petersburg University; the painter Ilya Repin and the celebrated chemist Dmitry Mendeleev were always especially welcome. Sometimes Kuindzhi's students from the Academy's landscape workshop would pay a visit: the artist remained involved in their lives, even though in 1897, on account of the student protests that year, he was relieved of his teaching duties (he remained a member of the Academy's Council). “In the old, modest apartment in house no. 16 on Maly Prospect," Nevedomsky wrote, “where the pictures that won him fame were created, there was still a bohemian feeling: crowds of friends would noisily flit from one apartment to another at any hour of day or night. But by the mid-Eighties this juvenile ‘bohemianism' had started to evaporate. Stillness settled over his dwelling. When he moved into his own house, and then to the Yeliseev House on Tuchkova Embankment, the quiet of his apartment was interrupted mostly by all sorts of petitioners. And in the 1890s one or another of his young students would come by occasionally."
The Kuindzhis continued to live rather modestly; although they were sufficiently wealthy to afford a cook and chamber maid, the couple chose not to engage any, leaving Vera as the housekeeper. The interior of the apartment itself was strikingly ascetic - there were no curtains on the windows, and it was clean and spacious, with flowers and ivy that crept along the frame of the window. The furniture in the apartment was of the simplest kind: the couple had acquired it at auction immediately after their marriage and kept it as they moved from one apartment to another. “All his sketches, drafts and finished pictures either hung there, or were kept in folders (or in special rotating albums composed of frames pivoted around a pole), hidden from strangers in the studio," Nevedomsky reminisced. “Arkhip Ivanovich's ‘student-like' tastes, his partiality for bare walls, never changed." Although continuing to work in his studio, Kuindzhi never showed his new works to anyone; he stopped exhibiting in 1882, with this period in his creative life known as his “period of silence".
Kuindzhi's nature and world view did indeed mark him out. A wealthy man, he made it a rule for himself to make do with less, with nothing more than the basic necessities, but he was very ready to spend considerable sums of money to benefit the arts and to support young artists. Kuindzhi proposed organizing annual Spring Exhibitions at the Imperial Academy of Arts, donating 100,000 rubles for a prize fund; that competitive element was meant to stir up interest in the event and encourage healthy competition among young artists. However, Kuindzhi did not stop there, deciding to bequeath nearly all of his possessions to a society of artists founded on his initiative in 1909 that was named after him: in all this amounted to more than half a million rubles, as well as 225 desyatinas (almost 2,500 square kilometers) of land in Crimea, and all his works that remained in his home, including the intellectual property rights associated with them. The Kuindzhi Society did a great deal to immortalize the memory of the great artist and philanthropist.
Kuindzhi died on July 11 (July 24, by the New Style) 1910: he passed away in the doorway of his last apartment in the Yeliseev House. Earlier in the spring he had been afflicted with a serious heart condition, and his friends and students took turns to be by his bedside as his health declined. Learning that his end was near, his students - Konstantin Bogaevsky, Viktor Zarubin, Nicholas Roerich, Arkady Rylov and Nikolaos Himonas - gathered in St. Petersburg. “On July 13, in the evening, the coffin with the body was placed in the Academy's church; next day, after the funeral service, it was taken from there to the Smolensky cemetery for burial... Arkhip Ivanovich's students and friends carried the coffin all the way. A chariot followed behind, covered completely in wreaths, with masses of fresh flowers," Nevedomsky's account reads. One of the wreaths, brought by Ilya Repin, had the inscription, “To an Artist of Unparallelled Originality". In 1978, a memorial plaque (created by the architect Vladimir Vasilkovsky) was mounted on the front of the house on Birzhevoi Lane where Kuindzhi had lived and worked during the last years of his life. In 1993, the artist's historical studio became the Kuindzhi Museum, or the Arkhip Kuindzhi Apartment-Museum, a branch of the Research Museum under the aegis of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts.
- The book in question is Mikhail Nevedomsky and Ilya Repin’s “Arkhip Kuindzhi", published in St. Petersburg in 1913. Nevedomsky and other members of the Kuindzhi Society were able to collect a considerable number of accounts from contemporaries of the artist about his life and the historical places in Mariupol and St. Petersburg that were associated with him. Hereinafter - Nevedomsky.
- Mendeleeva, A.I. “Recollections of Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi". In: “Noviye vremena" (The New Times), St. Petersburg, 1913, April 23. P. 98.
- Nevedomsky. P. 11.
- Ilya Repin letter to Ivan Kramskoi, August 29 1875, Paris. In: “The Correspondence of Ivan Kramskoi". 2 volumes. Moscow, 1954. Vol. 2. P. 343.
- Ivan Kramskoi letter to Ilya Repin, December 6 1873, St. Petersburg. In: “The Correspondence of Ivan Kramskoi". P. 270.
- Ivan Kramskoi letter to Ilya Repin, February 23 1874, St. Petersburg. In: “The Correspondence of Ivan Kramskoi". P. 296.
- Repin, Ilya. “Far Away, Close Up". Leningrad, 1982. P. 345.
- Andreev, V.E. ‘“Moonlit Night on the Dnieper" in the Collection of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich' // “Collections and Collectors: Compendium of Articles Based on Presentations at the Academic Conference at the Russian Museum". St. Petersburg, 2008. XVI. Pp. 107-108.
- Nevedomsky. P. 107.
- Ibid. P. 98
- Ibid. P. 96
- Ibid. P. 158
- Ibid. P. 107.
Photograph by A.N. Pavlovic
Oil on canvas. Academic Research Museum of the Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg
Postcard. Published by the St. Eugenia Community