New Discoveries. ABOUT THE LIFE AND WORK OF ARKHIP KUINDZHI

Alina Yefimova

Article: 
INVESTIGATIONS AND DISCOVERIES
Magazine issue: 
#3 2018 (60)

During the preparation of the new Kuindzhi exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery research clarified certain circumstances and details relating to the painter and his art, including various episodes from the life both of Kuindzhi and those who were close to him, his artistic and public engagements, and the histories of some of his compositions. Although Kuindzhi was one of the most famous and sought-after painters of his day, many gaps in his biography remain. The paucity of archival material and scarcity of surviving letters make it almost impossible to determine what the artist himself thought about the role of painting, or to clarify the characteristic features of his artistic practice. Evidently Kuindzhi, “lazy” at writing letters,[1] preferred personal contact to such correspondence, and discussion, of the sort described in the memoirs of those who witnessed such moments, to philosophizing on the page. All this gives special value to these new pieces of information about Kuindzhi’s life and work that have been found.

The Artist’s Biography

Arkhip Kuindzhi as a young man. Photograph. 1870, St. Petersburg
Arkhip Kuindzhi as a young man. Photograph. 1870, St. Petersburg
Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 100. Op. 1. Item 40. Sheet 1

Kuindzhi's early years are the least-known period of his life, up until approximately 1868 when the first references relating to his stay in St. Petersburg appear. Even the precise year of the artist's birth remains unknown: the writer Mikhail Nevedomsky (whose real name was Mikla- shevsky), who wrote the first monograph (published in St. Petersburg in 1913) about the landscapist and knew him personally, claimed that he was born in 1840.[2] The documents that survive - his passports and record of service, and official enquiries sent by the Academy of Fine Arts - feature three presumed years of birth: 1841, 1842 and 1843.[3] The year most often mentioned in writings is 1842, but it seems that Kuindzhi himself was not altogether certain about his precise date of birth. It is known definitely that the artist celebrated his name day on February 19 (by the Old Style); thus, the gala opening of the Kuindzhi Society in 1909 was scheduled for that date.

As for his ethnic heritage, Kuindzhi's position was clear, as revealed in a short article published in “Noviye vremena’’ (The New Times) newspaper in 1904 that was reprinted in the third issue of “Mir iskusstva’’ (World of Art) magazine in the same year. The article was a response to a statement by a certain Menshikov that Kuindzhi was one of the prominent Jews of Russia. Kuindzhi published his response two days later: “I feel compelled to tell esteemed Mr. Menshikov that I am Russian. My forefathers were Greeks who came from Crimea's south coast during the reign of Empress Elizabeth and founded the town of Mariupol, as well as 24 villages. All that I have said can be confirmed for Mr. Menshikov by my fellow countryman El'Pe (L. Popov) - an employee of ‘The New Times' whom I have known since childhood."[4]

The interaction between Arkhip Kuindzhi and Ivan Aivazovsky is another area that requires further research: the influence of the celebrated marine painter on the art of the emerging landscapist is certain. The earliest of Kuindzhi's compositions to become famous - “A Tatar Village on Crimea's South Coast by Moonlight" (1868, present whereabouts unknown)* and “St. Isaac's Cathedral by Moonlight" (1869, Smolensk Open-Air Museum-Reserve)

-  are inspired by romanticism. Kuindzhi is believed to have initially encountered Aivazovsky's work in the mid- 1850s when, eager to study at the celebrated marine painter's workshop, Kuindzhi, then still a very young man, travelled from Mariupol to Feodosia on his own. It seems very likely that Kuindzhi later became a student at the “General Art Studio" that Aivazovsky opened in Feodosia in 1865 “for the purpose of training artists to paint sea views, landscapes, and folk scenes".[5] This hypothesis is supported by an 1866 letter written by Aivazovsky to the Board of the Academy of Arts: “... several young people under my guidance were first learning to draw from the original, from nature and, finally, to paint with oil paints. Now three of them - Fessler, Altundzhi and Kondopulo

-  have produced their coursework paintings en plein air: the first student depicted the Sudak Valley, the second, also a shore in Sudak, and the third, a view of the town of Feodosia. All three compositions were accomplished solely by them, from start to finish. Introducing my students' first works to the Academy, I humbly ask the Board for leniency in judging the endeavours of these novices."[6] It is significant that the similar-sounding surnames “Altundzhi" and “Kuindzhi" come from the same word in Tatar kuyumdzhi, meaning “goldsmith".[7] The passage from this letter explains why Kuindzhi, at his first annual Academic Exhibition in 1868, was introduced as professor Aivazovsky's student.[8] The Board awarded him the title of freelance artist that same year, again mentioning that he was “a student of professor Aivazovsky".[9] Later, when Kuindzhi developed his own original painting style and began to win acclaim as an artist, his name continued to be frequently mentioned in association with Aivazovsky. At Pavel Tretyakov's gallery the compositions of the two artists hung side by side in the same room, while the painters were also compared in terms of the number of visitors to their shows, as well as the impact made by their compositions. In particular, reviewing the “Ukrainian Night" (1876, Tretyakov Gallery), one critic noted that “in creating an illusion of moonlight, Kuindzhi outdid everyone, even Aivazovsky".[10] If there was any rivalry between the two painters, it did not prevent them from remaining in contact: at some point between 1896 and February 1897, Aivazovsky is known to have visited Kuindzhi's landscape workshop at the Higher School of Art run by the Academy of Fine Arts, where his grandson Mikhail Latri was then studying. The Academic Archive of the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg holds two unique photographs featuring the great artist at an easel, surrounded by Kuindzhi and his students. The memoirs of Arkady Rylov, another graduate of the Kuindzhi workshop, give a detailed account of that visit.[11]

On the art market of the mid-1870s to the early 1880s, Kuindzhi's landscapes sold for surprisingly substantial sums; that was the period when the artist was exhibiting both at solo and group exhibitions, and most of his pieces were bought by Tretyakov, with the sums paid recorded in the his notes. The first work, “On the Island of Valaam", was purchased by the collector in 1873 for 375 rubles, while the next year Tretyakov paid 600 rubles for “A Forgotten Village"; in 1875, he acquired two pieces, “Traders' Road in Mariupol" and “The Steppe in Bloom" for 1,500 rubles, and in 1879, 6,600 rubles for three compositions, “The North", “A Birch Grove" and “After Rain". In 1882, Tretyakov paid 3,000 rubles - a colossal sum for the time - for “Morning on the Dnieper".[12]

It is well known that Kuindzhi was a generous patron. He contributed large sums for the development of Russian art: remembering his early, difficult years in St. Petersburg, Kuindzhi helped students of the Higher School of Art who were in need. In 1908, grateful students asked Vladimir Beklemishev, the dean of the Academy, to place a portrait of the artist in the building's refectory.[13] The Department of Manuscripts of the Russian State Library has a letter illustrating Kuindzhi's readiness to help his friends: thus, in the 1890s he wrote to the painter Alexander Kiselev, “I've heard that you are ill, and hard-up since the “Peredvizhniki" cannot provide you with assistance, so let me, as your respectful friend, offer you the sum you request (500 rubles). I enclose herewith 200 rubles and will send 300 rubles in a day or two."[14] The two landscape painters were on friendly terms: Kiselev took over from Kuindzhi as the head of the landscape workshop at the Higher School of Art in 1897, and five years later, in 1902, Kuindzhi once again supported Kiselev's candidacy for the post.[15] Together with Ilya Repin, Dmitry Mendeleev, Vladimir Makovsky, and leronim Yasinsky, Kiselev was one of the handful of close friends to whom, in 1901, Kuindzhi showed, for the last time in his life, four new compositions; the gesture startled them.[16] In his letter to the painter Konstantin Savitsky, Kiselev exclaimed: “Ah, Kuindzhi! Can you imagine that he showed us (the academicists) four new paintings, very good ones, after his 20-year hiatus. It's simply amazing! It turns out he has been working all this time, and quite productively."[17]

Little information about Kuindzhi's travels has survived. Records indicate that he travelled abroad on four occasions (in 1873, 1875, 1878 and 1898), visiting France, Austro-Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, England and Belgium. One of Kuindzhi's little-known letters to Repin shows that in the summer of 1878, before setting off for Europe, Kuindzhi travelled down the Dnieper: “I fell ill on the Dnieper - so, during my brief visit to Moscow (July 20), I couldn't drop by. As soon as I was back to normal, my wife and I went to the World Fair in Paris and, by the way, I took a look at galleries: in Berlin, Munich and Vienna."[18] In the mid-1880s Kuindzhi purchased a plot of land on the south coast of Crimea and became a frequent visitor to the peninsula. In 1888, on the invitation of the painter Nikolai Yaroshenko, he visited the Caucasus for the first time; the Caucasus trip could have taken place earlier, in the summer of 1886, but Kuindzhi turned down an invitation from Yaroshenko and Mendeleev to join them on a journey to Tiflis and Baku.[19]

Kuindzhi moved in academic circles, and was a particularly close acquaintance of the chemist Dmitry Mendeleev and the physicist Fyodor Petrushevksy, both of whom were professors at St. Petersburg University. One of the academic disciplines that interested Kuindzhi was astronomy, and the astronomer Nikolai Morozov informed him about scientific discoveries in the field. A propos, Morozov noted that Kuindzhi's “Ukrainian Night" (1876, Tretyakov Gallery) “captivated him not only with its moonlight... and the entire quiet beauty of the moonlit night - but also, as an astronomer, he was also impressed by the fact that the stars were all in their proper places, in the constellations where they belonged, and not scattered haphazardly, as often happens with other painters."[20]

In the 1890s and 1900s Kuindzhi was active as a public figure, particularly involved in the cultural life of St. Petersburg. In 1892-1893 he participated in the work of a Special Commission responsible for “thorough discussion of organizational changes for the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts and of a new Charter for it, reflecting these changes". Kuindzhi was closely involved in the preparation of the Charter, albeit behind the scenes: he was not a permanent member of the commission, instead providing his expert opinion on certain issues.[21] The artist commanded such respect that he was nominated as a candidate for the office of the dean of the Higher School of Art, although in 1906 he withdrew his candidacy. It is little known that in 1907 Kuindzhi came up with a proposal to convert the round courtyard at the Academy of Fine Arts into a permanent exhibition space for the instituti on, but his idea was criticized and rejected at a general meeting.[22] In 1895-1902, Kuindzhi sat on a commission selecting paintings for Emperor Alexander III's Russian Museum, while in 1907, as chairman of the Spring Exhibitions Committee, he personally handled organizational matters connected to the 1908 show, exchanging letters with Alexei Lvov in an attempt to secure space at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.[23] Kuindzhi was awarded the Order of St. Stanislaus, 1st class, in 1910 “for outstanding achievements in the field of art".

The reclusive life that Kuindzhi and his wife, Vera Leontievna, led has given rise to legends about the latter: she preferred to keep a low profile in her husband's mighty shadow. As the landscape painter Nikolai Kiselev, the son of Alexander Kiselev, remembered in his memoirs, “His [Arkhip Kuindzhi's] family consisted only of himself and his wife, whom none of his next-door neighbours had the chance to see, let alone talk to. Who set these rules is anybody's guess. Did she herself chose a life of seclusion or was it imposed on her by her husband - nobody could tell for sure. Nobody from our company ever saw Kuindzhi's wife. Arkhip Ivanovich never appeared in public with his wife, nor did he ever invite anyone to his home."[24] Indeed, Vera Leontievna did not have a social life - she was mostly preoccupied with house-keeping, since the couple did not employ domestic help, while she also handled her husband's paperwork and correspondence, it seems. However, even such small scraps of information about her life that can, with considerable effort, be collected suggest that Kiselev's claim about her “hermit-like existence" was an exaggeration.

Vera Kuindzhi was born in 1854 or 1855, in Mariupol into a Russified Greek family, her parents Leonty (Elevfery, Klevtery) Spiridonovich and Yevdokia Panteleevna Shapovalov-Kechedzhi.[25] Her father was a wealthy merchant who, like his forebears, earned his living as a maker of felt hats (in Tatar, ketcherdzhi means “felters"). Unlike her husband, Vera received a good education, and was a graduate of the Kushnikov Institute for Daughters of the Nobility in Kerch.[26] Strange as it may seem, testimony to her erudition comes from a complete listing of the works of the great chemist Dmitry Mendeleev that he compiled in 1899-1903 - or rather, not so much the compilation itself as the scientist's comments, according to which in 1896 Vera[27] had translated two of his articles into French (one was about smokeless powder, then in secret development, the other on fluctuations of scales). Similarly well-educated, Vera's brothers made significant contributions to the development of the performing arts in Mariupol. Her elder brother, Vasily Leontievich, was considered the founder of Mariupol's first theatre company, and from 1878 had led the town's first professional theatre. Her second brother, Ivan, became an actor and founded a “Partnership of Stage Actors". Vera's nephew, Mikhail Vasilievich, became an economist who wrote scholarly articles and delivered a series of public lectures, as well as being an actor, director and playwright. His son, Valery Mikhailovich, chose the same path and worked as an actor in Kiev and at the Pushkin Russian Theatre in Kharkov.[28]

We do not know whether there was a place for theatre in Vera's life, but she was fond of playing music and encouraged her husband in the same pursuit: they used to spend their free time at home performing together, Vera at the piano, Arkhip on the violin.

Kuindzhi was about 13 years older than his wife. It had taken him some time to secure the consent of his fiancee's parents to their marriage: the main obstacle was the young man's poverty, as well as his calling, which did not bode well for future prosperity. But the year of 1875 would change all that, particularly when, at the 4th “Peredvizhniki" exhibition, Pavel Tretyakov bought two paintings by Kuindzhi - “Traders' Road in Mariupol" (Tretyakov Gallery) and “The Steppe in Bloom" (present whereabouts unknown) - for 1,500 rubles. That sum sufficed for Kuindzhi's second foreign trip, as well as his long-awaited visit to Mariupol, where the couple were married in July 1875. Shortly after that, Kuindzhi created a pencil portrait of his wife that is full of fondness and affection.

Vera settled in St. Petersburg with her husband in the same year and would witness his meteoric rise to fame there. Kuindzhi embarked on his next trip abroad in 1878, this time accompanied by his wife. The couple used to visit Mendeleev in the apartment granted him by St. Petersburg University, and the Mendeleev Museum and Archive has a memorial tablecloth embroidered with the signatures of the scientist's guests. The Kuindzhi name appears twice: one signature, virtually in the centre, is that of Arkhip, another, more modest and positioned towards the bottom, Vera's.[29] The artist's students, most of whom were members of the Kuindzhi Society, knew his wife: she helped to sort out and systematize the artist's legacy of nearly 500 works that he bequeathed to the Society. Vera Kuindzhi must have died in Petrograd in the 1920s.

Arkhip KUINDZHI. Ai-Petri. Crimea. 1890s
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Ai-Petri. Crimea. 1890s
Oil on paper mounted on canvas. 39 × 53 cm. Russian Museum

Artistic Work

Kuindzhi held a series of solo shows between Autumn 1880 and the end of 1882. He set about organizing the first after leaving the “Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) Society in the winter of 1880. It proved an opportune moment for the artist to start exhibiting his works separately from the “Peredvizhniki": Kuindzhi's compositions displayed at the Society's 7th exhibition in 1879 had received a very enthusiastic response. One reviewer wrote: “There is no doubt that all the pieces at the exhib ition have an appeal for the public, but there is so much brouhaha over Kuindzhi - he is, so to speak, the object of everyone's curiosity."[30] There were six Kuindzhi solo shows in all during the artist's lifetime, with Kuindzhi playing a key role in organizing four of them (1880, 1881 and 1882, in St. Petersburg; 1882, in Moscow). At these shows he exhibited three compositions: “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" (1880, Russian Museum), “A Birch Grove" (1881, present whereabouts unknown), and “Morning on the Dnieper" (1881, Tretyakov Gallery). In January 1881, with an assistance of Ivan Turgenev, secretary of the Soc i ety of Russian Artists in Paris, “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" was displayed for ten days at the gallery of the Parisian art dealer Charles Sedelmeyer.[31] At some point before March 1883 a Kuindzhi exhibition was also held in Kiev. “The famous collector Fyodor Tereshchenko, who had bought from Kuindzhi ‘Night on the Don' and ‘A Birch Forest',[32] made a splash in Kiev with Kuindzhi's paintings," wrote a correspondent from “Khudozhestvenny zhurnal" (Arts Magazine). “Nearly all of Kiev society visited Mr. Tereshchenko's gallery and Kiev's residents spent nearly a month enthusiastically debating Kuindzhi's artistic virtues."[33] Further evidence that Kuindzhi's artwork was on public display after 1882, when the artist stopped exhibiting, was the permanent exhibition at the Moscow Society of Art Lovers that opened in 1887.[34]

Kuindzhi proved himself a capable organizer in putting together such solo shows. Long before the first exhibition's opening, scheduled for October 30 1880, leading periodicals were already running announcements of the forthcoming event. Inviting his acquaintances - prominent writers, artists and academics - to his studio, Kuindzhi promoted the spread of complimentary comments about his painting “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper", as a result of which magazines and newspapers published articles about the new landscape. Full of effusive praise for its astonishing artistic merits, they also announced that the piece had been acquired, for the colossal sum of 5,000 rubles, by Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, news that further fuelled public excitement.

Kuindzhi's efforts were rewarded with unprecedented success: the exhibition enjoyed record-breaking attendance, attested to in numerous memoirs and letters of his contemporaries, as well as the recorded results of the show. According to the annual report of the Society for Encouragement of the Arts, the Kuindzhi show attracted 12,929 visitors between November 30 and December 14 1880.[35] In 1882,9,057 people came to the Society to look at “Morning on the Dnieper", “A Birch Grove" and “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" between January 15 and February 21.[36] Such results far exceeded attendance at exhibitions of other landscape artists such as Ivan Aivazovsky, Yuly Klever or Rufin Sudkovsky.[37] Only Vasily Vereshchagin was able to break Kuindzhi's attendance records: the illustrious military painter's exhibition held at the Soci ety for Encouragement of the Arts from November 19 1883 to January 15 1884 was attended by 31,691 visitors.[38]

In the minds of their contemporaries, Kuindzhi and Vereshchagin were figures of similar stature. Both were innovative artists who aroused conflicting reactions from the public; while some critics gave them glowing reviews, others lashed out at them with equal intensity. It was no coincidence that Vereshchagin was the artist with whom Kuindzhi chose to cooperate in 1882, when they opened two exhibitions simultaneously in different rooms of the Society for Encouragement of the Arts. Kuindzhi displayed the three paintings cited above, Vereshchagin a small-scale piece titled “Dervishes", which depicted two dervishes, dressed in brightly coloured Oriental gowns, in conversation. (Vereshchagin donated the funds received from the sale of the piece to victims of a fire in a theatre in Vienna.)[39]

Both artists pioneered new trends in the use of artificial lighting in exhibition spaces, something that was necessary for Vereshchagin principally for keeping exhibitions open to visitors over longer hours; he also acknowledged that his paintings looked more impressive by lamplight. Kuindzhi used the effect of darkening galleries and the light of lamps to create a special atmosphere, one that was favourable for contemplation of the pictures and also undoubtedly enhanced the characteristics of his oil paintings.

The architect Konstantin Bykovsky visited Kuindzhi's first two solo shows and noted that the exhibition spaces were similarly designed at both.[40] He left a detailed account of what he saw: “You walk into a spacious room; the dim light at the entrance barely cuts through the darkness which envelops the inner recesses of the room completely. In these distant recesses, behind the contours of the visitors' heads, a bright colourful rectangle glows like a placard... Bumping into other visitors in the darkness, you move forward to a barrier, which stops you, and explore a high balustrade by touch. As your eyes adapt to the darkness, they also discern the black frame of the painting, which is lighter than the pitch dark behind it, as well as a streak of light, in front of the picture that originates from the left-hand side. Between the balustrade that has stopped you and the painting itself, you can already clearly see the black screen with the rectangular opening that reveals the painting behind it. There is no doubt that ahead of you is the painting, illuminated from the front by the reflected light of a lamp that is hidden behind the screen. When you look from one side, you don't see the lamp, although behind the screen you can see the opening from which the beam of light emanates... A closer look reveals that the painting is not placed in parallel to the balustrade and the screen and is thus not perpendicular to your line of sight. The painting is placed at an angle; moreover its side that is opposite to the direction of light is further from the viewer. The beams of light thus to some extent glide over the painting, the shining spots of which seem to glint."[41]

Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, who owned “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" (it has been in the collection of the Russian Museum since 1928), also later used electric light to illuminate the canvas, as can be seen in a rare photograph of the interior of the Walnut Drawing Room in the Marble Palace (held today at the Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences).

It remains a matter of speculation exactly what kind of lamps Kuindzhi used at his exhibitions; he has been linked to the electrical engineer Pavel Yablochkov, inventor of an advanced version of electric lamp. In 1879, as a reaction to the success enjoyed by “A Birch Grove" (1879, Tretyakov Gallery), an image “shot through" with sunlight, the magazine “Strekoza" (Dragonfly) devoted its cover to a humorous sketch, “Arkhip Kuindzhi. Yablochkov's Light", by Alexander Lebedev. Some months earlier, the cover of this humorous magazine had featured a cartoon image of Yablochkov himself.[42] However, it is doubtful that Kuindzhi used “Yablochkov candles", as they were known, which had significant defects: the light they produced was an uneven pale-blue and the carbon rods, when they burned, made a distracting sound.[43] It can be assumed that, in order to maintain both the visual purity of his hues and “a prayerful quietness", Kuindzhi would have used a more sophisticated illumination device. That might have been the “sunlight" arc lamp of Clerc and Bureau, the illumination of which was “the nearest possible. to sunlight. It doesn't wear down the sight and is most agreeable for the eyes; it preserves, in images and colours in general, all the shades and hues that they possess in daylight."[44]

The great success enjoyed by “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" caused Kuindzhi to print a considerable quantity of oleographic copies, or chromolithographs printed in oil colours to imitate the appearance of an oil painting, of the work. The idea first came to the artist in 1879, when he informed Tretyakov in a letter: “I have an idea to put together a book of oleographic prints of my paintings, but since this task requires copying, I humbly ask you to send me the following pictures (without frames): ‘A Birch Grove', ‘After Rain' and ‘The North'."[45] This project, it seems, was not realized then, but from February 1881 onwards Kuindzhi began placing subscription advertisements in “Arts Magazine" and “The New Times" for oleographic prints of his paintings “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" and “A Birch Grove" (1881): they stated that each oleograph (one meter in length, priced at 35 rubles) was produced with the artist's direct involvement and under his supervision, with the original created by him personally and not offered up for sale.[46] A similar subscription campaign was launched in 1882 through the “Moscow Gazette".

Kuindzhi was the first prominent artist to investigate such methods of reproducing and printing painted images. The artist became deeply involved in this venture, the basics of which were hardly familiar to him, and spent about a year producing oleographs at one of St. Petersburg's workshops.[47] There was considerable demand for his oleographs: as a correspondent of the “Russian Review" magazine wrote, “It seems that Kuindzhi's popularity, thanks to oleography, is greater than that of any other artist."[48]

 

The fate of the paintings

The process of preparation of the new Kuindzhi exhibition brought certain revelations about what happened to several of the artist's works held by the Tretyakov Gallery, including those that were subsequently passed on to other institutions. It is known that in 1875, at the 4th “Peredvizhniki’’ exhibition, alongside his “Traders' Road in Mariupol" the artist presented two steppe landscapes, “The Steppe in Bloom" and “Steppe". The two first compositions were purchased by Tretyakov, the third by the Kiev industrialist Fyodor Tereshchenko. The present whereabouts of both “Steppe" pictures is unknown, with “The Steppe in Bloom" relinquished by the Tretyakov Gallery in 1932. The other steppe landscape, retitled “A Burial Mound in the Steppe. Sunset", moved to the collection of Kiev's Museum of Russian Art, but was lost during World War II.[49] However, some conception of the composition of the two paintings can be reached thanks to the descriptions of Adrian Prak- hov,[50] as well as surviving photographs, including one of a display in Hall 4 of the Tretyakov Gallery in 1898; there is also a photograph of “The Steppe in Bloom" taken in 1932, shortly before the museum relinquished it, as well as one of “Steppe" (held at the National Museum “Kiev Picture Gallery").[51]

Ivan VLADIMIROV. On the Rooftop. Arkhip Kuindzhi Feeding Pigeons. 1910
Ivan VLADIMIROV. On the Rooftop. Arkhip Kuindzhi Feeding Pigeons. 1910
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard. 35 × 47 cm. Russian Museum

“Night on the Dnieper", an artist's copy created by Kuindzhi in 1882, was known to have been purchased from Yelena Lyapunova, the widow of the Moscow collector Andrei Lyapunov, in 1930. Contemporaneous accounts reveal that the Kuindzhi landscape graced the dining-room of the apartment in the “House of Atlas Giants" (Solyanka Street 7, 5) where the Lyapunov family lived.[52] The archive of the Kuindzhi Society, now in the Department of Manuscripts of the Russian Museum, includes records that show that Lyapunov purchased the work from the Society on November 20 1917.[53] From the time of its completion up until Kuindzhi's death the composition had remained in the artist's studio on Vasilievsky Island; it was exhibited after his death at his first two posthumous shows, in 1913 in St. Petersburg and in 1914 in Moscow.

Kuindzhi produced five copies of “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper" in all.[54] As can be inferred from the letters and memoirs of his contemporaries, one was commissioned by the collector Dmitry Botkin, who paid 5,000 rubles for it[55] (the Research Department of Manuscripts of the Russian State Library has a letter that confirms this). Thus, in March 1880, the artist Alexander Rizzoni wrote to Botkin from Rome: “I was visited twice by our Grand Dukes - Sergei Alex[androvich], Pavel Alex[androvich], and Konstantin Konst[antinovich], owner of Kuindzhi's moonlit night [as quoted in the text - A.Ye.]... We also talked about you, about your collection - Konst[antin] Konstantinovich is not very happy about the fact that Kuindzhi makes copies of the moonlit night."[56]

Kuindzhi was first commissioned to make a copy of the work when “Ukrainian Night" (1876, Tretyakov Gallery) was shown at the 5th “Peredvizhniki" exhibition, arousing much public interest.[57] That copy was kept in his studio throughout the painter's lifetime, and after his death was displayed at his two posthumous exhibitions; it was then purchased by K. Dembovsky in 1918, but its present whereabouts are unknown (a phototype included in Nevedomsky's 1913 book gives an indication of how the painting looked).[58]

“Kuindzhi's name has always had many mysteries associated with it. You believed in his special strength. Entire legends arose about him," wrote Nicholas Roerich, one of the painter's most devoted students.[59] Even today the artist's biography remains full of such mysteries: it makes the search for answers to such questions a difficult, but also fascinating task for researchers.

 

  1. Ilya Repin letter to Ivan Kramskoi, 1874. In: “The Correspondence of Ivan Kramskoi”. 2 volumes. Vol. 2. Moscow, 1954. P. 312.
  2. Nevedomsky, M.P.; Repin, I.E. “Arkhip Kuindzhi”. Moscow, 1997. P. 14. Nevedomsky is believed to have seen Kuindzhi’s birth certificate.
  3. The Russian State Historical Archive contains a file devoted to Kuindzhi (fund 789, catalogue 6, item 175).
  4. ‘Laughter and Tears’ // “Mir iskus- stva” (World of Art) Magazine, 1904. Vol. 11, No. 3. P. 73.
  5. “Aivazovsky: Documents and Records”. Yerevan, 1967. P. 110.
  6. Ibid. P. 148-149.
  7. Kuindzhi’s grandfather had been a jeweller. His older brother, Spiridon, had a hyphenated surname, Kuindzhi-Zolotarev.
  8. “A Catalogue of Artwork Displayed at the Academy of Fine Arts Annual Exhibition for 1867/1868 Academic Year”. St. Petersburg, 1868. P. 17.
  9. Russian State Historical Archive, fund 789, catalogue 6, item 175, sheet 2. Kuindzhi received the diploma of an unclassed (freelance) artist in 1870, after passing the necessary oral examinations.
  10. Quoted from: Manin, V.S. “Kuindzhi”. Moscow, 1976. P. 40.
  11. Rylov, A.A. “Memoirs”. Leningrad, 1960. Pp. 63-64.
  12. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 4724, sheets 1 and 1 (reverse).
  13. Russian State Historical Archive. Fund 789, catalogue 6, item 175, sheets 85, 85 (reverse), 86.
  14. Research Department of Manuscripts, Russian State Library. Fund 127, catalogue 2, item 60.
  15. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 14, item 130, sheet 10.
  16. He created three new compositions in 1901 - “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” (Alupka Palace and Park Open-Air Museum- Reserve), the new version of “A Birch Grove” (National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, Minsk) and “The Dnieper” (Pskov Open-Air Museum-Reserve) - while also partly reworking “An Evening in Ukraine” (1878, Russian Museum).
  17. Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 14, item 130, sheet 22 (reverse). After a series of successful solo shows, the last of which took place at the end of 1882, Kuindzhi stopped exhibiting. He never told anyone that he continued painting.
  18. Quoted from: Korotkina, L.V. “Alexei Bogolyubov as Organizer of the Russian Section at the 1878 World Fair in Paris. An Unknown 1878 Letter of Arkhip Kuindzhi to Ilya Repin”. In: “The Art Museum and the Culture of the Saratov Region: Summary of a Paper Presented at the Academic Conference”. Saratov, 1994. P. 44.
  19. Nikolai Yaroshenko letter to Dmitry Mendeleev, July 9 1886. In: Pole- nova, I.V. “Nikolai Alexandrovich Yaroshenko. Letters. Documents. Memoirs of His Contemporaries”. Moscow, 2018. P. 87.
  20. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, fund 842, catalogue 1, item 62, sheet 7 (reverse).
  21. “At the Helm of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Count I.I. Tolstoy and His Correspondents. 1889-1898”. Moscow, 2009. P. 21.
  22. “Years Long Gone”. 1907, November. Pp. 579-580. December. P. 628.
  23. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, fund 680, catalogue 1, item 618, sheets 42-45, 48.
  24. Kiselev, N.A. “Among the ‘Pered- vizhniki’ Artists: Memoirs of the Artist’s Son”. Leningrad, 1976. P. 116.
  25. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 4, item 1479, sheet 3. A record in the register of the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Mariupol indicates that Vera was aged 20 in July 1875.
  26. Yarutsky, L.D. “Mariupol’s Old Days”. Mariupol, 1991. Pp. 246, 247. Hereinafter - Yarutsky.
  27. “The Archive of Dmitry Mendeleev. A Collection of Records Pertaining to His Autobiography”. Leningrad, 1951. Vol. 1. Pp. 107, 157.
  28. Yarutsky. Pp. 182-218.
  29. I am grateful to Tatyana Korableva, deputy director of the Dmitry Mendeleev Museum and Archive, for the information provided.
  30. ‘A Chronicle of Art, Theatre, and Painting’ // “Vsemirnaya illustratsi- ya” (World Illustration), 1879, no. 531. P. 215.
  31. Ivan Turgenev letter to Dmitry Grig- orovich, 1881. In: Turgenev, Ivan. “Complete Collection of Works and Letters”. 28 volumes. Vol. 13, book 1. Leningrad, 1968. P. 48.
  32. The pictures in question are a composition produced in 1882 and now kept at the National Museum “Kiev Picture Gallery” and the second variant of “A Birch Grove” (1881, present whereabouts unknown).
  33. ‘Miscellany. Exhibitions. The Kuindzhi Exhibition in Kiev’ // “Khudozhestvenny zhurnal” (Arts Magazine), 1883, vol. 5, no. 3. P. 217.
  34. “The Moscow Society of Admirers of Art and the Cultural Life of Moscow”. Moscow, 2017. P. 140.
  35. “Report on Activities Undertaken by the Committee of the Society for Encouragement of the Arts in 1880”. St. Petersburg, 1881. P. 64.
  36. “Report on Activities Undertaken by the Committee of the Imperial Society for Encouragement of the Arts in 1882”. St. Petersburg, 1883. P. 60.
  37. The Aivazovsky show that opened in 1883 at the Society for Encouragement of the Arts attracted 5,128 visitors (see: “Report on Activities Undertaken by the Committee of the Imperial Society for Encouragement of the Arts in 1883”. St. Petersburg, 1884. P. 30).
  38. “Report on Activities Undertaken by the Imperial Society for Encouragement of the Arts in 1884”. St. Petersburg, 1885. P. 44.
  39. N.N. ‘Paintings of Kuindzhi and Vereshchagin’ // “Noviye vremena” (The New Times). 1882, no. 2114. P. 2.
  40. Bykovsky, K. ‘A propos Kuindzhi’s Last Painting’ // “Vestnik Yevropy” (Messenger of Europe), 1881, book 5. P. 396.
  41. Ibid. Pp. 390-391.
  42. “Strekoza” (Dragonfly), 1879. Nos. 1, 11.
  43. In 1879, Vereshchagin had begun to use “Yablochkov candles” at his shows and discovered their defects (see: Alter, I.L. ‘The Secret of Success. Vasily Vereshchagin’s Artwork on Display and the Foreign Press’ // “Vasily Vereshchagin: Exhibition Catalogue”. Moscow, 2018. P. 43).
  44. ‘Essays on the International Electrical Exhibition in Paris’ // “Zhivopisnoye obozrenie” (Pictorial Review), 1881. No. 43. P. 325.
  45. Arkhip Kuindzhi letter to Pavel Tretyakov, May 10 1879. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 1, item 2009, sheet 1.
  46. “Noviye vremena” (The New Times), 1881. No. 1771 (February 1). P. 1; “Khudozhestvenny zhurnal” (Arts Magazine). 1881. No. 2 (February).
  47. ‘Oleographs of Messrs. Kuindzhi and Aivazovsky’ // “Khudozhestven- ny zhurnal” (Arts Magazine). 1882. No. 3. Pp. 187-188.
  48. ‘Pavel Tretyakov’s Gallery’ // “Russ- koye obozrenie” (Russian Review), 1893. Vol. 24. P. 823.
  49. “Catalogue of Artwork from the Kiev Museum of Russian Art Lost During the Great Patriotic War, 19411945 (Paintings and Drawings)”. Kiev, 1994. P. 70.
  50. Prakhov, A.V. ‘The 4th “Peredvizh- niki” Show’ // “Pchela” (The Bee), 1875. Vol. 1, no. 10. P. 125.
  51. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 8/11, item 64; Photography Library, Tretyakov Gallery. “Steppe”, ID 9181. 21.VII. [19]32; National Museum “Kiev Picture Gallery”. “A Burial Mound in the Steppe. Sunset”, ID Н-494.
  52. Vorontsov, N.N. “Alexei Andreyevich Lyapunov. An Account of His Life and Artwork. His Entourage and Personality”. Moscow, 2011. P. 77.
  53. Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 100, item 137, sheets 1, 37.
  54. The works are held at the Tretyakov Gallery, the Dogadin Picture Gallery in Astrakhan, Simferopol Art Museum, National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk, and the Vrubel Regional Fine Arts Museum in Omsk.
  55. Pavel Chistyakov letter to Kozma Soldatenkov, 1880. In: “Pavel Chistyakov. Letters, Notes, Memoirs. 1832-1919”. Moscow, 1953. P. 109.
  56. Research Department of Manuscripts, Russian State Library. Fund 258, catalogue 1, item 59, sheet 4.
  57. ‘The 5th “Peredvizhniki” Show’ // “Vsemirnaya illustratsiya” (World Illustration), March 20 1876. No. 377. Vol. 15. P. 246.
  58. Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 100, item 137, sheet 1.
  59. Roerich, N.K. “Collected Works”. Moscow, 1914. Book 1. P. 238.

Illustrations

Arkhip Kuindzhi. Photograph. 1897 (?). St. Petersburg
Arkhip Kuindzhi. Photograph. 1897 (?). St. Petersburg
Department of Manuscripts, Russian Museum. Fund 100. Op. 1. Item 40. Sheet 3
“A Tatar Village on Crimea’s South Coast by Moonlight” (1868, present whereabouts unknown)
“A Tatar Village on Crimea’s South Coast by Moonlight” (1868, present whereabouts unknown)
Photocopy (copied from the book: M. Nevedomsky, I. Repin. “Kuindzhi”. St. Petersburg, 1913). Photography Library, Tretyakov Gallery
View of the Karasevka suburb of Mariupol. Photograph. 1910 (?)
View of the Karasevka suburb of Mariupol. Photograph. 1910 (?)
Photography Library, Tretyakov Gallery
Ivan Aivazovsky visiting landscape workshop students from the Higher School of Art of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Arkhip Kuindzhi on the far right. Photograph. St. Petersburg, between 1896 and February 1897
Ivan Aivazovsky visiting landscape workshop students from the Higher School of Art of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Arkhip Kuindzhi on the far right. Photograph. St. Petersburg, between 1896 and February 1897
Research Archive of the Russian Academy of Arts. Fund 33. Op. 1. Item 40. Sheet 5
Display in the Tretyakov Gallery. Hall 4 with paintings by Arkhip Kuindzhi, Grigory Myasoyedov and others. (left longitudinal wall). Photograph. 1898
Display in the Tretyakov Gallery. Hall 4 with paintings by Arkhip Kuindzhi, Grigory Myasoyedov and others. (left longitudinal wall). Photograph. 1898
Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 8.XI. Item 66
Display in the Tretyakov Gallery. Hall 4 with paintings by Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Aivazovsky, Vasily Maximov and others (right longitudinal wall). Photograph. 1898
Display in the Tretyakov Gallery. Hall 4 with paintings by Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Aivazovsky, Vasily Maximov and others (right longitudinal wall). Photograph. 1898
Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 8.XI. Item 64
Alexander Kiselev
Alexander Kiselev
Photograph. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 90. Item 101
Arkhip Kuindzhi with his students at Grodno railway station during a trip abroad. Photograph. 1898
Arkhip Kuindzhi with his students at Grodno railway station during a trip abroad. Photograph. 1898
Photography Library, Tretyakov Gallery
Arkhip Kuindzhi at the landscape workshop of the Higher School of Art of the Imperial Academy of Arts Photograph. Between 1894 and 1897, St. Petersburg
Arkhip Kuindzhi at the landscape workshop of the Higher School of Art of the Imperial Academy of Arts Photograph. Between 1894 and 1897, St. Petersburg
Photography Library, Tretyakov Gallery
Arkhip Kuindzhi with the students of his landscape workshop at the Higher School of Art of the Imperial Academy of Arts in a balloon in the vicinity of Paris. Photograph. 1898
Arkhip Kuindzhi with the students of his landscape workshop at the Higher School of Art of the Imperial Academy of Arts in a balloon in the vicinity of Paris. Photograph. 1898
Academic Archive of the Academy of Arts. Fund 33. Op. 1. Item 40. Sheet 19
Arkhip Kuindzhi with students of his landscape workshop at the Higher School of Art of the Academy of Arts on a trip abroad. Photograph. 1898
Arkhip Kuindzhi with students of his landscape workshop at the Higher School of Art of the Academy of Arts on a trip abroad. Photograph. 1898
Academic Archive of the Academy of Arts. Fund 33. Op. 1. Item 40. Sheet 16
Alexei KIVSHENKO. Arkhip Kuindzhi Working on His Painting View of Valaam Island. 1873
Alexei KIVSHENKO. Arkhip Kuindzhi Working on His Painting View of Valaam Island. 1873
Lead pencil on thin grey cardboard. 31.6 × 22.6 cm. Russian Museum. The current title of the painting depicted in the image is “On the Island of Valaam” (1873, Tretyakov Gallery)
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Vera Kuindzhi. 1875
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Vera Kuindzhi. 1875
Sketch. Lead pencil on paper. 20.9 × 13.1 cm (paper size). Russian Museum
Alupka. Ai-Petri. Postcard
Alupka. Ai-Petri. Postcard
Research Library, Tretyakov Gallery
Georgian Military Highway. Mount Elbrus. Postcard
Georgian Military Highway. Mount Elbrus. Postcard
Research Library, Tretyakov Gallery
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Elbrus. 1900s
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Elbrus. 1900s
Oil on grey paper. 20 × 27.2 cm. Russian Museum
“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” from the collection of the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (since 1928 in the Russian Museum)
“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” from the collection of the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (since 1928 in the Russian Museum)
Phototype (copied from: A. Rostislavov. “Kuindzhi”. St. Petersburg, 1914). Research Library, Tretyakov Gallery
“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” in the Walnut Drawing Room in the Marble Palace which served as a reception room of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. Photograph. 1910s
“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” in the Walnut Drawing Room in the Marble Palace which served as a reception room of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. Photograph. 1910s
Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Night on the Dnieper. 1890s
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Night on the Dnieper. 1890s
Oil on paper mounted on canvas. 40 × 54 cm. Russian Museum
Ilya REPIN. Portrain of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. 1891
Ilya REPIN. Portrain of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. 1891
Oil on canvas. 93 × 76 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
“A Birch Grove” (1881, present whereabouts unknown)
“A Birch Grove” (1881, present whereabouts unknown)
Phototype (copied from: A. Rostislavov. “Kuindzhi”. St. Petersburg, 1914). Research Library, Tretyakov Gallery
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Sunny Day in the Forest. 1910s (?)
Arkhip KUINDZHI. Sunny Day in the Forest. 1910s (?)
Oil on paper mounted on cardboard. 34.8 × 25.8 cm. Kovalenko Regional Art Museum, Krasnodar
Cartoon image by Alexander Lebedev “Arkhip Kuindzhi. Yablochkov’s Light”. Cover page of humorous art magazine “Strekoza” (1879, No. 11, March 18)
Cartoon image by Alexander Lebedev “Arkhip Kuindzhi. Yablochkov’s Light”. Cover page of humorous art magazine “Strekoza” (1879, No. 11, March 18)
State Public Historical Library of Russia, Moscow
Alexei Lyapunov. Photograph. (1910s, Moscow?)
Alexei Lyapunov. Photograph. (1910s, Moscow?)
Private collection, Moscow
Yelena Lyapunova with her children. Photograph. (1910s, Moscow?)
Yelena Lyapunova with her children. Photograph. (1910s, Moscow?)
Private collection, Moscow
“The Steppe in Bloom” (1875, present whereabouts unknown). Photograph. 1932
“The Steppe in Bloom” (1875, present whereabouts unknown). Photograph. 1932
Photography Library, Tretyakov Gallery
“A Burial Mound in the Steppe. Sunset” (1875, present whereabouts unknown)
“A Burial Mound in the Steppe. Sunset” (1875, present whereabouts unknown)
National Museum “Kiev Picture Gallery”. Photograph taken before World War II
Dmitry Mendeleev and Arkhip Kuindzhi playing chess. Photograph. 1890s-1900s, St. Petersburg
Dmitry Mendeleev and Arkhip Kuindzhi playing chess. Photograph. 1890s-1900s, St. Petersburg
Museum Archive of Dmitry Mendeleev, St. Petersburg State University
Arkhip Kuindzhi at the “Mendeleev Wednesdays” (third from left, sitting). Photograph. 1880s, St. Petersburg
Arkhip Kuindzhi at the “Mendeleev Wednesdays” (third from left, sitting). Photograph. 1880s, St. Petersburg
Museum Archive of Dmitry Mendeleev, St. Petersburg State University

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