Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. "I YEARN FOR TENDERNESS, AND NOT THIS GREY AND RAW PROSE"[1]

Yelena Terkel

Magazine issue: 
#3 2020 (68)

“I'm tints of pearly watercolour through and through,
I'm the pale stalk of a lilly of the valley from the forest,
I'm the svelte lightness of a sagging soft fir-tree,
I'm the hoarfrost of dawn, the glimmer of the seabed.”

Maximilian Voloshin

One of Yakunchikova’s first biographers, the poet and artist Maximilian Voloshin, noted that her works had profoundly personal beginnings. The heroine of the etchings “is always herself, forever the same, svelte and sad, and you keep the vision of her arms, powerless and thin like the boughs of a birch swaying in the blue sky”[2]. Yakunchikova once created a composition entitled “Reflet intime” (Reflection of an Intimate World) and this intimate world can be felt in most of her works, but “the reflection is too real”, as Voloshin put it[3]. The personal and the creative are inseparable for the artist. Her works are made up of sensations and anxieties and everything is an emotional investment, everything is hard won.

Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. 1901
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. 1901
Photograph made by Leon Weber
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery

The early years of Masha and her siblings were not exactly happy, although their parents were wealthy and cultured. Their mother, Zinaida Nikolaevna Mamontova, was a beauty, an excellent pianist and an aesthete. Their father, Vasily Ivanovich, was full of contradictions. Educated, likeable and sociable, he was also tight- fisted, at times too outspoken and given to bouts of ill- temper. Even as the parents of nine children, the Yakun- chikovs were unable to create a warm and comfortable atmosphere in their home. The babies were not sufficiently loved, although they were taken care of, taught by the best tutors and taken on outdoor trips. Everyone in the family was especially fond of the summers on the Vvedenskoye estate near Moscow, where the windows of the country house offered marvellous views of the surroundings. The allees flanked with century-old trees stretched on and on and the children had little cabins built specially for them in a birch grove: “one for Zina and Vasya, another for Olya and Masha and the third one, for Vera and Kolya”[4]. The sale of the estate was a true tragedy. As the painter herself put it, it was “a childhood disrupted prematurely”[5].

The previously smooth course of Maria's life was upset when, at the age of 18, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In 1889, her father took her to Berlin for a medical examination, after which they made a detour to Paris, where Vasily's nephew, Vladimir Avgustovich Golshtein, lived with his family. Vladimir's second wife was the writer, translator and civic activist Alexandra Vasilievna Weber (nee Bauler). Both husband and wife, when they still lived in Russia, had become interested in the narodnichestvo movement, had to flee Russia to escape persecution and settled abroad, where they collaborated with Mikhail Bakunin and Pyotr Lavrov. An open-hearted and affectionate couple, they were raising Alexandra's youngest son from her first marriage, Leon Weber. In the 1880s, the couple gave up revolutionary activity and made their home in Paris. Vladimir earned his living as a doctor and Alexandra did literary work for magazines such as “Mir Bozhyi’’, “Russkaya mysl", and “Russkoe bogatstvo’’, translated the poems of Alexander Pushkin, Konstantin Balmont and Maximilian Voloshin into French, and published articles.

During her first visit to Paris in 1889, Maria Yakunchikova spent a lot of time with the Golshteins. She went on sightseeing tours and attended theatres and art shows in the company of her father and his relatives. Soon, Vasily returned to Moscow and sent his sick daughter to Biarritz for a course of treatment. The young girl did not like life at the resort, as she was essentially all by herself there and thoughts about the disease plunged her into depression.

While in Biarritz, she sent a letter to Leon wishing him luck in his medical exams, promising to regularly send him her photos and describing her walks in remote neighbourhoods: “I must confess that what attracts me there are kitchen gardens, narrow passages between fences with clothes drying on them, sunflowers, footpaths, wasteland, and the monotonous life of a rural town. This may be odd, this may be wrong, but my soul has quite fallen asleep here and I'm making do with fairly meaningless things. In the morning, when an open window lets in the warm smell of hay and the slanting rays of the sun, I dream about Vvedenskoye. In the afternoon... I loaf around the town, sketching, watching."6 This first known letter to her future husband attests to Masha's openness, fairly surprising in this reserved and somewhat reclusive girl.

A letter from Maria Yakunchikova to Leon Weber from Biarritz. 1889
A letter from Maria Yakunchikova to Leon Weber from Biarritz. 1889
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery

Early in the autumn, all of the Yakunchikov family assembled in Paris, where the World's Fair, showcasing the Eiffel Tower, was opening. The head of the family was soon packing up to go home, but he agreed to let Zinaida Nikolaevna, with daughters Olga, Maria and Vera, who dreamed about studying music and painting, stay in Paris for a while. Their apartment on Avenue d'Antin soon became a magnet for relatives and friends. Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov, who had came to Paris for treatment, was a frequent visitor. He gave the girls painting lessons. Vera took up music. Maria enrolled at a private art school: the Academie Julian. In her letters to her sister, Natalia Polenova, she wrote about Parisian studios, about her work and about Olya's and Vera's progress in music and she would never forget to mention Leon, fondly calling him by his nickname: “Maka spends all his time with us and he, too, has started painting under Vas[ily] Dmitr[ievich]'s guidance. It's good here, we couldn't ask for more."[7]

The atmosphere was carefree and romantic. In 1890, Olga married and Zinadia Nikolaevna repaired to Biarritz with Vera and Masha. Here, the young painter suddenly fell for a charming Englishman called Nigel. The entries in her journal attest to their intimacy: “He has never been so loving with me as today and yesterday. My sweety, my darling, I love you, I love you, love you simply with all my heart, with all my soul. I simply adore you. Tears in his eyes, his lips quivering and he puts my hand quietly between his, and kisses me and catches his breath in a barely perceptible way."[8] Maria wanted to respond to the warmth that was enveloping her, her soul craved love, but, deep inside, she sensed that something was wrong in this new relationship. She wrote in her diary: “When he couldn't hope for my love, he was submissive... and dependent (and this was how he lured me). But now, as he sees his success in the love affair, he wants to feel his power. Well, no. Good bye, Nigel."[9] At the end of the winter Maria returned to Paris and Nigel's letters disappointed her. This unfulfilled dream of love and her frustrated hopes caused her much suffering.

And now the heart was made of glass,
And the wound in it sang so delicately:
“Oh, pain, no matter when it comes,
It always comes too early"[10]

The family left the resort in a hurry because of a tragedy in the family: in Moscow, the husband of Zinaida Moritz, the oldest of the Yakunchikov sisters, had taken his own life. Their mother started packing to return to Russia and her daughter, who had been left alone with her toddlers. Maria and Vera, it was decided, would continue their studies in Paris and stay with the Golshteins on Avenue de Wagram. As Vera recalled: “There, in a family of emigre, I can see a kaleidoscope of people attracted by the powerful intellect and personal magnetism of the Golshteins. They smoke a lot, drink a lot of tea, quarrel, fall in love, fall out and make up with each other, and debate from dusk till dawn. ... Lots of quips from their witty cousin, lots of fun and games on Saturdays, when the young got together and we amused ourselves, young members of what we jocosely called a flirting club, charades, dancing and games."[11] Maria became a part of this slightly messy scene while persevering as a student of painting. She became especially close with her cousin's wife, Alexandra Vasilievna. We can learn about the Golshteins' life from the letters of Maria herself: “Something of a bohemian spirit, but without debauchery"[12]. All members of the family spent most of their time studying or at work, and in the evenings they engaged in endless conversati ons. Maria wrote home: “On recent Saturdays, we've been playing impromptu charades impromptu and having a whale of a time"[13].

Her illness prevented Maria from spending winters in Russia's harsh climate, and so stayed in her home country only during the summers and early parts of the autumn. In Russia, she never forgot the Golshteins, sharing her plans with Alexandra and asking after Leon: “Where is our dear Maka? It's been so long since I last received a letter from him."[14] She promised to bring to photographs of Moscow for him and a book of Lermontov's verses. She must have kept her word - Weber published his translations of Lermontov and Pushkin's poems[15] into French and these publications have survived.

Back in Paris, Masha stayed with the Golshteins as before, often spending evenings with Leon, who had a habit of poring over his textbooks late into the night, and sometimes Masha and Leon would study anatomy together. Perhaps it was then that the idea of the composition “By the Window" (1892, lost), about which Maria wrote to Yelena Polenova, was conceived: “Evening, past midnight. An open window, near it - the edge of a table. On the table, a lamp with a simple lamp shade, slightly scorched on one side. Books, papers, a simple wicker chair. There's a male figure, leaning his elbow against the window, hit by the reflection of the brightly lit table. And behind the man, a dark sky . below, all over the Parisian residential buildings, there are lights - windows, each affording glimpses of a separate life behind them. Oh, I can't express myself properly, but you see what I mean. Nothing in particular, but lots of bits and pieces. Just a student who has been studying late into the night and become bored - he looks into the window and pauses to think. You have to understand that there isn't much to inspire me in the studio. In fact, the studio isn't what I live for - I live for Paris and our close-knit family circle."[16]

Maria often went to Versailles and Meudon in Weber's company to sketch and wrote about it to her sister Natalia: “Maka is still busy attending lectures at the hospital and he still provides active assistance with my painting. Every Sunday, he and I go out of town, I paint and he makes suggestions and gives me sometimes excellent advice."[17] The early 1890s saw the creation of such pieces as “Meudon in Spring. Spring Landscape" (Museum of Western Art), “A Cemetery in Meudon Near Paris" (Tretyakov Gallery) and “Versailles" (Museum of Western Art). One entry in Maria's journal reads: “I can't get Versailles out of my mind. Yesterday Maka and I headed there after breakfast. It was raining and damp all morning; from the window of the train carriage, you could see a cemetery on a hill and the uninterrupted march of ominously black iron wagons. In Versailles, in this enormous courtyard, there was suddenly a whiff of boundless spring air. The sun peeped out, there was almost no one in the garden. We found a spot and I did some painting - pure joy. Maka stayed on his feet, holding my palette. The sun was gone, it was getting dark, the park was completely empty. We took a walk, to warm ourselves, along the dark damp alleys."[18] This experience of the old park and the historic palace, so subdued and nearly abandoned at this time of year, reminded Maria of her beloved old Russian mansions, the life gone out of them.

Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Versailles. 1892
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Versailles. 1892
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard. 28.9 × 30.4 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve

These outings in each other's company increased their intimacy. In January 1892, Maria wrote in her diary: “Have been sitting with Maka in the drawing room; had a long frank conversation and the novel experience of the friendship formed between us made me feel warmer.

From now on, we are going to share all our sorrows with each other."[19] Maria believed Leon was her friend, although his feelings towards her were much deeper. When she told him about her romance with Nigel, he was very depressed, whereas she wrote in her diary: “I wished so much that he would respond to my urging, so I impulsively threw my arms round his neck and gave him a kiss, and Maka gave in and suddenly said: ‘Masha, you know, don't you think that we're too intimate?' No, Maka, it hasn't occurred to me that there is something in it, why doubt and analyse. ... Ah, Maka, why think all these thoughts? I want to throw my arms around you, but I hold back. We rose to our feet, kissed again. He blew out the candle and left. And now I'm agonising over the question: is it objectionable when you want to be loved and caressed by Maka or not? Is there something larger to it than the strong sense of friendship and if there is, then what is it precisely? ... No, no, no - I love Maka, I opened up my soul to him completely and with such abandon, I feel him and know him so well, all of my soul is tied to him so strongly, that like it or not it shows."[20]

We're lost in this light.
We're in dark caves.
Awkwardly, like children
We huddle close in the abyss of darkness[21].

Maria dreamed of marriage and children, she wanted to be loved and feel happy. Once, she wrote in her diary: “Ah, yes, on Avenue Marceau, in a wonderful hotel, a window was open, offering a glimpse of a white canopy over a child's bed. I'm envious. I recalled my dream: lilacs in open streaks of light on the floor, and across the room from the window a woman with a sleeping child on a bed. Will this really never come true?"[22]

There were many questions to which the young artist could not find an answer. According to her sister Natalia, “1894-1896 was a very difficult period in M.V.'s personal life - a period of emotional upheaval, moral quandaries, the forging of new relationships"23. During that period, she created etchings filled with sadness and a sense of despair: “L'Irreparable", “L'Inaccessible" (“Unattainable"), “L'Effroi" (“Fear"). She was looking for a solution and travelled extensively. In the summer of 1895, she went to London, then to the Swiss mountains. Leon followed her - his feelings had not changed, but, as a person of integrity and honour, he could not allow himself to entertain thoughts about marrying a rich heiress.

Leon's letters show the growing emotional bonds between them. Here is his description of an evening spent far from home: “I'm writing in bed - I lay down - I'm tired - the moon over the lake - cold – somewhere Italians are singing, a trio - now it's quieter ... Now I'm on my soft bed, looking at my reflection in the mirror in the wardrobe (like an arrow) - I see from behind the blanket your strong shoulder in the grey flannel nightgown that you wore."[24]. The following day, he added: “Rain! The lake is drowning in water and mist."[25] Maria, too, was not indifferent to such weather: “It has been raining since the morning; mist, water, smoke from the chimneys - all has blended into one wonderful grey wetness. ... Very far away, there are a forest and hills. It creates such overwhelming, disturbing emotion, the need (not just the possibility) to paint - you simply cannot put it into words."[26] There survives a comic poem that Weber wrote in French and dedicated to Maria (in the corner of the sheet, he pictured a candle familiar to us from the artist's works).

Poem by Leon Weber dedicated to Maria Yakunchikova. Mid 1890s.
Poem by Leon Weber dedicated to Maria Yakunchikova. Mid 1890s.
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery

The young people were thinking about each other more and more often. Maria made up her mind to tell her parents about her plans to marry Weber, but they met the news without enthusiasm, her father being especially sceptical. His daughter's beloved was a poor medical student. That was not the kind of husband the Yakunchikovs envisioned for their daughter and Leon's parents also felt their son did not have the right to marry a rich girl. Even so, Masha's mother and brothers prevailed on her father to accept the unequal match. The wedding took place on August 20, 1897, in the Borisoglebskaya Church near the Arbat Gate, not far from the Yakunchikovs' Moscow home. After the wedding, the newlyweds repaired to Maria's favourite place. They spent a week at the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery and kept the bill from the inn as a talisman. The monastery was not far from Maria's favourite locale, Vvedenskoye - Leon took a picture of his wife on the porch of the house. She stands leaning against a column, peering into the boundless expanse in front of her.

In late September, the Webers left Russia and, while on the road, received a farewell letter from Zinaida Nikolaevna: “You left your engagement ring with us, don't worry ... don't work yourself to death cleaning the house, save your strength and freshness. Nothing matters as much as your health."[27]

The couple set up house in an apartment on Avenue Niel and Maria was content. Her dreams were coming true. In preparation for motherhood, she started an album, in which she wrote: “7 November 1898. Yesterday at half past four, Stepan was born. 21 November. Sunday. My little boy, my joy, you're three weeks old today! You've changed so much, you've become so much bigger!"28 In addition to entries devoted to her son's health and progress, the album contains drawings. The photographs glued to the sheets record the baby's life: here he is about to go for his first walk, here he is held by his parents in front of the Christmas tree, his first steps. The young mother recounted the details in her letters: “I didn't think having a baby would entail such awful anxiety. He cost me so much when he came into this world and brought so much anguish later. Without any reason, there is just one thought all the time - making sure we don't lose him. And Maka fusses over him even more than I do. I didn't think that the bonds of fatherhood could become so strong right from the start. Maka is simply crazy about him: he carries him around all the time, inventing tender pet names for him, and god forbid I suggest that anything about him is not beautiful or perfect.

For now, he's quite cute, round, with the average child's soft features. Everyone says he looks like Maka, but he has my mouth."[29]

The arrival of her firstborn son changed the artist's life. She became consumed by the demands of motherhood, although she responded to them with a touch of artistry. Maria decorated her baby's bed with panels featuring rural motifs and painted her son's portrait on his little dresser. The theme of childhood became ever more prominent in her artwork. She started working on an alphabet book in the first months after Stepan's birth. We can see evidence of this in an image of a spruce (yolka in Russian) for the letter Ё. The same Christmas tree, decorated with white flowers, is featured in the photograph showing Maria holding her two-month-old son. Mindful of his progress, Maria showed him pictures and read aloud to him, writing about it to her sister: “Many thanks for the Serov books, the crow is very cute. Stepan has learned to caw."[30] And yet, in her letters, there is a shadow of regret about the temporary disruption, the impossibility of realising her creative ideas: “I wish so much I'd been working, but it's utterly impossible for a mother to carve out an hour for herself"[31]. She made a toy town resembling the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. According to V.P. Shneider's memoirs, she concocted it from “all sorts of small pots, matchboxes, etc."[32], so the result was essentially a construction set. Voloshin wrote: “Wooden toy towns become for her symbols of the old-time Rus of the people. She sets them against the background of a Russian landscape, she cuts them out and paints them by herself."[33]

This was a period of happy motherhood and artistic ambition. In the summer of 1899, Maria travelled to Russia with her husband and son and stayed with her brother Vladimir at his Nara country estate near Moscow. She set about producing works for the forthcoming Exposition Universelle in Paris, completing designs of a three-dimensional toy model entitled “Town", a little cabinet for toys and an embroidered applique cutout entitled “The Girl and the Wood Spirit".

The artist had lots of plans, however, in February 1900, Stepan was diagnosed with tuberculosis and saving the baby became her first and only priority. She wrote to her sister: “It seems to me that fate wants to teach me a lesson, that I haven't completely sacrificed myself to motherhood, that I'm selfishly occupying myself with work while neglecting Stepan. This never-ending challenge of dividing myself between my work and my son is nerve-racking. The dose of vengeance this time is big and so sudden. He's so touching, this poor kiddie..."[34]

Maria spent all of the summer with her son in Switzerland. In the autumn, back in Paris, she visited the Exposition Universelle, after which she was taken ill. Weber took his pregnant wife to a resort in Menton. This is how she described the progress of her illness: “. began to feel unwell in Switzerland. Then Paris, housekeeping hassle, the enjoyable all-consuming Parisian hustle and bustle, the start of a project, then falling thoroughly ill, and now the south and complete incapacity. My illness is a complete surprise for me. It came when everything began to calm down: the joy of having a second child, Stepan's gradual recovery, the dreams about a summer in Russia and the realisation of projects I've envisioned - all this began to heal my aching soul and reawakened my joy in life with a vengeance. Then, suddenly, a shock like this."[35]

Initially, the artist herself and her family underestimated the dangerousness of her situation. Only a special course of treatment could lead to recovery, but the young family did not have enough money for that. They rented a villa in Menton, although what they needed was treatment at a resort. Weber wrote to Natalia Polenova in December 1900: “I cannot totally despair, one has to be strong to face the awful future - besides, you somehow start to hope, despite everything, when you see her in a buoyant mood and strong, at the peak of her intellectual capacity and talent. My God, how cruel fate is: she was just beginning to live life to the full, and there was so much, so much ahead. But here we have the sun and the spring - and she's alive, and there's a glimmer of hope."[36]

In February 1901, Maria's condition deteriorated. She was feverish, her cough became worse and she lost her appetite. She was seven months pregnant and there were fears of a miscarriage. Her husband never left her side. On April 15, 1901, Maria gave birth to her son Yakov. This buoyed her mood: “Now at last this blissful moment. I'm so happy, so relieved and so delighted to have this new living creature. I'm feeling revitalized and refreshed enough to take on my wretched illness."[37] She would not have a lot of time to admire her babies, however. The illness was progressing. At the end of May, Leon took Maria to the Swiss commune of Leysin, where they checked in to the Mont Blanc alpine sanatorium. On most days, the weather was sunny there and the clean alpine air literally worked miracles. There were hopes that experienced doctors, good care and the excellent climate would bring about the desired effect. Leon wrote to his parents: “Masha is accommodated most comfortably, spending her days from dawn to dusk on a large terrace on the fifth floor of the house, right above a valley, so the slope is right in front of your eyes, and you have the feeling that you're sitting on thin air. Generally, she's perking up gradually, at least for several hours every day, considering that for nearly two months she was in a fever... in total spiritual and physical apathy. Here is how Masha spends her days: she gets up at seven and drinks coffee in bed. After her coffee, I wash her, also in bed, comb and plait her hair (it was difficult for me to master the skill, I used to infuriate her by pulling out her hair. Now I'm a past master, I even know how to ply a small-tooth comb with cotton wool.) At half past nine, the doctor comes and, after him, the kind heart who gives Masha a wash from head to toe with cold water and vinegar and then rubs spirit into her skin with a glove until Masha turns red. After this therapy, Masha is put into bed on the terrace and remains there until the end of the day. After breakfast, she sleeps, then I read to her a little, then she snoozes again several times before the dinner. In the evening, Masha is again given a wash with cold water and vinegar to bring down the fever."[38] There is a photograph from the time taken by Weber: Maria lying under a blanket on the terrace and, next to her, a little table with an iron cup on it.

And so it was as if the links in the chain of life
Were broken already. a deep sense
Of closure. and a slowly ebbing tide
Every thought, every bit of strength.
And only the breath of grasses
and scaldweed reminded me I was alive[39].

With the chances of recovery increasingly slim, the situation was made worse by anxiety over the health of the children, who it was feared would inherent her weak health. Weber rented a home in Chene-Bougeries, a suburb of Geneva, moved his sons there and then returned to Maria in the sanatorium. Now, he had to take care of everything. Maria appreciated her husband's solicitude, as her touching letters show: “Makushechka, my friend, I'm missing you so much, being alone is so difficult for you. It seems to me it's been so long since I've given you something - just be patient, my darling, I'm going to get better, you'll see. And our Little Bug is perfection itself."[40] By then, Maria had already been living in the sanatorium for six months. She was suffering physically and also because of the separation from her beloved sons. Weber called on the best doctors, but none of their efforts succeeded: “The most difficult part is regular disappointment. You start to think that, today, there'll be no fit and we'll be breathing freely at least for a day - but then the time comes and again Masha suffers these awful chills. . We are like inmates here at the end of the Earth."[41] Maria's condition was deteriorating every day: her temperature never fell below 40° and new foci of infection were forming in her lungs. Weber was afraid to leave her side: “Of course, it is very difficult to take care of Masha alone, almost never stepping away even for a minute, especially when she's feeling very sick and there is no shoulder to cry on. But I feel even worse when I'm far from her, knowing that she's suffering and I'm not there to help her. ... For I love Masha and after the many years of living together, I feel her; I'm also calm and sluggish and Masha says this has a soothing effect on her. ... I'm still not in despair, no matter how bad things are now."[42] In April, it became clear that there was no hope of recovery and it was decided to move her to Chene-Bougeries. Seeing her children was a great joy for Maria. She was becoming aware of the graveness of her situation. Not thinking of death, she was, however, preparing to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair: “Lately, I've become utterly convinced that I will never fully recover. Not long ago, I started to have fits of despair and irritation so strong that I thought I would go mad."[43]

At that time, the Webers' relatively stable household was put at risk. The house they were renting was put up for sale, together with the plot of land. Leon began to negotiate with the landowner. Maria wrote to her sister: “My dream is crumbling: to procure for myself a piece of land in Russia and move there. So I'm ready to use the money saved for the purpose to buy something that is the next best thing - having a permanent home."[44] Ailing Maria was becoming accustomed to the new home. Leon would drive her in the wheelchair from one room to another and she was planning refurbishment, but, in the winter, the situation deteriorated. On December 26, Weber wrote to Russia: “Masha is noticeably worse: she is losing strength very quickly, and we're very concerned. Not long ago, she was enjoying the preparations for Christmas, purchasing various small household items, etc. She was happy, saying she was content with the way things were going. Now, we've entered a painful period when the body's equilibrium is disrupted and everything, on every side, is getting worse. Good that, even now, she's not yet aware of her situation."[45] That was the last letter to record the state of the artist's health. The following day, Weber communicated the news: “Today, at a quarter past two in the afternoon, our Masha passed away. Until her very last days, as she herself used to say, she was enjoying the sublime serenity of the soul she had achieved through her illness."[46]

The family was orphaned. Weber was now kept afloat only by the memories of his wife, by the desire to immortalise her and by his sons, whom he raised in the belief that they were Masha's continuation. They knew from infancy that their mother was a great artist. Walls in the house in Chene-Bougeries were decorated with her works. Stepan was keen on painting and remembered his mother - how she taught him the alphabet, how she showed him pictures.

During World War I, Leon worked as a doctor at a Russian hospital in France. In a letter to Natalia Polenova, he wrote that “Stepan scaled up Masha's crows, you must remember them, and made a stencil and painted a frieze in the library for my wounded patients"[47]. The elder son, who was keen on painting and architecture, ultimately became an architect. He built sanatori- ums in the mountains. His daughter Denise became a watercolour painter and illustrated many books on zoology. The family cherished not only Maria's artwork, but everything related to her memory. For her family, she would forever remain a symbol of unmatched talent and unparalleled beauty.

 

  1. ‘The Diary of Maria Yakunchikova. 1890-1892.’ “Cultural Landmarks. New Discoveries. Texts, Art, Archaeology.” Moscow. 1998. p. 493. Hereinafter referred to as “Diary”.
  2. Voloshin, M.A. ‘The Art of Yakunchikova’. “Vesy” (magazine). 1905. No. 1. p. 38.
  3. Ibid., p. 32.
  4. Ziloti, V.P. “In Pavel Tretyakov’s House”. Moscow. 2016. p. 195.
  5. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 31. Sheet 1 reverse.
  6. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 32. Sheet 1.
  7. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12217. Sheet 6.
  8. Diary... p. 475.
  9. Ibid., p. 472.
  10. Voloshin, M.A. “Collected Works”. Vol. 1. Moscow. 2003. p. 42.
  11. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12553. Sheets 12 reverse and 13.
  12. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12224. Sheet 4.
  13. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12225. Sheet 4.
  14. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 19. Sheet 2 reverse.
  15. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 574.
  16. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 9690. Sheets 3 reverse and 4.
  17. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12223. Sheet 2.
  18. Diar y. p. 486.
  19. Ibid., p. 489.
  20. Ibid., p. 491.
  21. Voloshin, M.A. “Collected Works”. Vol. 1. Moscow. 2003. p. 61.
  22. Diar y. p. 493.
  23. Polenova, N.V. “Maria Vasilievna Yakunchikova. 1870-1902: Her Life and Her Work.” Moscow. 1905. p. 35.
  24. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 38. Sheets 1 and 1 reverse.
  25. Ibid., sheet 2 reverse.
  26. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 9687. Sheets 2 and 2 reverse.
  27. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 270. Sheet 1.
  28. Ibid., file 602, sheet 5.
  29. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12232. Sheet 4.
  30. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12239. Sheet 6.
  31. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12235. Sheet 2 reverse.
  32. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 394. Sheet 9.
  33. Voloshin, M.A. ‘The Art of Yakunchikova’. “Vesy” (magazine). 1905. No. 1. p. 37.
  34. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12240. Sheet 2 reverse.
  35. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12245. Sheet 1 and 1 reverse.
  36. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10112. Sheets 3-5.
  37. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 18. Sheet 1.
  38. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10127. Sheets 1-3.
  39. Voloshin, M.A. “Collected Works”. Vol. 1. Moscow. 2003. p. 144.
  40. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 205. File 7. Sheets 1 and 2.
  41. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10137. Sheets 2 reverse and 3.
  42. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10140. Sheets 2 reverse and 3 reverse.
  43. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12258. Sheet 1.
  44. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 12258. Sheet 2 reverse.
  45. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10161. Sheets 1 and 1 reverse.
  46. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10161. Sheet 1.
  47. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 54. File 10205. Sheet 2 reverse.

Illustrations

Dandelions. 1890s
Dandelions. 1890s
Panel. Oil on board; pyrography. 65 × 20.2 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Sitting: Natalia Golshtein, Vera Yakunchikova, Vladimir and Alexandra Golshtein. Photograph. First half of 1890s
Sitting: Natalia Golshtein, Vera Yakunchikova, Vladimir and Alexandra Golshtein. Photograph. First half of 1890s
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. First publication
Maria Yakunchikova. 1890s
Maria Yakunchikova. 1890s
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Vera Wulff. Photograph. 1890s
Vera Wulff. Photograph. 1890s
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. First publication
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA. Biarritz. Sketch in a letter from Maria Yakunchikova to Elena Polenova. 1889
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA. Biarritz. Sketch in a letter from Maria Yakunchikova to Elena Polenova. 1889
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Yakunchikova. Moscow. Photograph. Early 1890s
Maria Yakunchikova. Moscow. Photograph. Early 1890s
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Zinaida Yakunchikova with her daughters. From left to right: Maria, Zinaida, Vera, Olga, Zinaida Nikolaevna. Photograph. Mid 1880s
Zinaida Yakunchikova with her daughters. From left to right: Maria, Zinaida, Vera, Olga, Zinaida Nikolaevna. Photograph. Mid 1880s
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. At the Piano. 1880s
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. At the Piano. 1880s
Watercolour on paper. 45.5 × 47 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery Featuring Vera Yakunchikova-Wulff
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Paris in Winter. 1893
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Paris in Winter. 1893
Pastel, charcoal on paper. 53.4 × 43.9 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber [1897]
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber [1897]
Photograph made by Leon Weber
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. The Moon Rising over a Lake. 1890s
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. The Moon Rising over a Lake. 1890s
Oil on canvas. 90 × 70 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Meudon in Spring. Spring Landscape. 1890s
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Meudon in Spring. Spring Landscape. 1890s
Pastel on paper. 33.3 × 41.2 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Leon Weber and Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. Paris. Photograph. 1898
Leon Weber and Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. Paris. Photograph. 1898
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. Moscow region (Vvedenskoye?). 1897
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. Moscow region (Vvedenskoye?). 1897
Photograph made by Leon Weber
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. Haute-Savoie, Chamonix. 1898
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. Haute-Savoie, Chamonix. 1898
Photograph made by Leon Weber and pasted in the album dedicated to Stepan Weber
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Text and sketch by Maria Yakunchikova in the album dedicated to Stepan Weber. November 1898
Text and sketch by Maria Yakunchikova in the album dedicated to Stepan Weber. November 1898
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. First publication
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Stepan Weber. December 18, 1898
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Stepan Weber. December 18, 1898
Sheet from an album. Lead pencil on paper. 17.1 × 21.7 cm
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. First publication
Leon Weber with his son Stepan in their Paris apartment. On his right is a child's bed decorated with a panel painted by Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. February 10, 1899
Leon Weber with his son Stepan in their Paris apartment. On his right is a child's bed decorated with a panel painted by Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. February 10, 1899
Photograph made by Maria Yakunchikova-Weber
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Cabinet decorated with a panel by Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. 1899
Cabinet decorated with a panel by Maria Yakunchikova-Weber. 1899
Oil on board, pyrography. 51 × 35.5 × 11 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Sketch for the letters Е and Ё of the alphabet. 1899
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Sketch for the letters Е and Ё of the alphabet. 1899
Lead pencil, watercolour, ink, whitewash on paper. 31.5 × 26.4 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber with her son Stepan by a Christmas tree
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber with her son Stepan by a Christmas tree
Photograph made by Leon Weber. 1898
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Wooden Toy Town exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. 1900
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Wooden Toy Town exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. 1900
Photograph
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Toy Landscape (Town). 1899
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. Toy Landscape (Town). 1899
Panel. Oil on board; pyrography. 31.5 × 40 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber among her relatives. 1900
Maria Yakunchikova-Weber among her relatives
Sitting: Maria Yakunchikova-Weber, Zinaida Yakunchikova, V.Wulff, Vera Wulff and B.Wulff.
Standing: in the front row - Stepan Weber;
at the back - Alexandra Golshtein, Yuri Wulff, Leon Weber. Photograph. 1900
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
View from a balcony at the health resort in Leysin, where Maria Yakunchikova-Weber was undergoing treatment. Postcard with notes made by Leon Weber. 1901
View from a balcony at the health resort in Leysin, where Maria Yakunchikova-Weber was undergoing treatment. Postcard with notes made by Leon Weber. 1901
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Yakunchikova in a health resort. Leysin (Switzerland) Photograph made by Leon Weber. 1901
Maria Yakunchikova in a health resort. Leysin (Switzerland) Photograph made by Leon Weber. 1901
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Stepan and Yakov Weber. 1903
Stepan and Yakov Weber. Photograph. 1903
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. First publication
Zinaida Yakunchikova. 1905
Zinaida Yakunchikova. Photograph. 1905
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. First publication
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. A Magpie. 1890s
Maria YAKUNCHIKOVA-WEBER. A Magpie. 1890s
Watercolour on paper. 14.3 × 31.2 cm
© Vasily Polenov Museum-Reserve
Grave of Maria Yakunchikova-Weber and Leon, Stepan and Yakov Weber in Chêne-Bougeries. 2000s
Grave of Maria Yakunchikova-Weber and Leon, Stepan and Yakov Weber in Chêne-Bougeries. Photograph. 2000s
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery

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