Pavel Tretyakov’s Last Will and Testament: THE STORY OF AN ERROR

Elena Terkel

Magazine issue: 
#4 2005 (09)

4 December 1898 was a sad day for the whole of Russia, not least for its cultural and intellectual circles: Pavel Tretyakov died at ten o'clock that morning. Reactions to the news brought grief not only from his family, but also from many Russian people. An endless flow of condolences, flowers and wreaths arrived at the Tretyakov house. When the funeral was over, the time came for the reading of the will of the deceased. But it turned out that brought up unexpected complications, as Yevdokia Konstantinovna Dmitrieva, Pavel Tretyakov's niece,[1] recalled: "First, it took a long time to find the will! And when it was found at last, stuck under one of the drawers in the writing desk, and handed over to a most respected Moscow solicitor, Mikhail Petrovich Minin, he, almost at once, found a major mistake in its text ... It made it not only impossible for the Moscow district court to legalize the document, but practically declared it invalid. The family were shocked!”[2]

What was the mistake? How could it have happened that the Moscow district court had declared Tretyakov's will invalid? What consequences might such a decision have, should the matter follow its natural legal course? According to law, if the deceased left no will or, as in this case, the will was declared invalid, the deceased's entire property would be inherited by Pavel Tretyakov's only son Mikhail, while his widow was entitled to only one seventh of the inheritance, and his daughters - to one fourteenth each. Unfortunately, Tretyakov's only son, then still alive[3], was mentally retarded. The family were, of course, unwilling to publicise the fact. Strictly speaking, Mikhail, who lived on his own, looked after by his minder Olga Nikolayevna Volkova, could be considered Tretyakov's rightful heir Thus, sadly, in keeping with the law, he would inherit almost everything that the Tretyakov family possessed. And it seemed that nothing could to be done to correct that. "Everything that could be done was done! They looked up everywhere; they consulted every legal book; they asked every top lawyer for advice. The answer was invariably the same: there had been a fatal mistake! Pavel Mikhailovich's will could not be executed. That meant that all the money he wanted to leave for the maintenance and enhancement of the gallery would never belong to the gallery.”[4]

Nevertheless, the testament, which was made by Pavel Tretyakov as early as in 1896, was carefully thought out. He worried more than anything else about the future of the art gallery that he had donated to the city of Moscow in 1892. Right up until his death Tretyakov, the Gallery's lifetime curator, took care of the expansion and enhancement of its collections, the enlargement of its venues, the restoration and repair of its buildings, and all other matters of maintenance. It was the future of the "child of his life's work” that Pavel Tretyakov had in mind when he willed 100,000 rubles to the Moscow Duma, or the city council, writing that "the interest from this sum be spent on repairing the gallery premises”, and another 125,000 rubles - "the interest from which to be spent on acquisition of paintings and sculptures to enhance the collections”. However, a later postscript dated May 1898 reads: "Finding it irrelevant and actually undesirable to let the gallery grow after my death, since the collection is very large as it is and can become even larger, which might make it too tiresome for the viewer to become acquainted with it, let alone a possible change of the original make-up of the collection, I, considering the aforesaid, will the sum of 1 25,000 rubles I previously intended for the Moscow Duma for the purchase of artworks with the interest concerned to be added to the other sum mentioned above and spent on maintenance and repair of the gallery.” Understanding that the money the Moscow Duma could afford to allocate for the needs of the gallery was not enough to ensure its proper existence - all the more so given that by that time it had become a large collection of Russian art - Tretyakov could expect that the money would contribute to the benefit of Russian culture. Besides money, the gallery was to inherit real estate: "The house on Lavrushinsky Pereulok next to the one belonging to the city, formerly known as the Stepanov house, is to be passed to the city to be combined with the one that now houses the art gallery.”

It seemed that everything had been considered and provided for. Particular mention went to the icons and paintings from the family collection, which were temporarily on display at other exhibitions: "The collection of the ancient Russian paintings (icons) and the publications on art that should be found in my apartment, as well as the paintings belonging to me which might be found either in my apartment or on display at some exhibitions are to become part of the Moscow Tretyakov brothers' art gallery.”

Nevertheless, the will which was certified privately, at home, on 6 September 1896 was not legally acceptable. Moreover, on 15 March 1 899 the Moscow district court passed a final resolution refusing to legalize the document.

Among those bodies which would suffer from such a development were not only Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov's city gallery, but many charities that the former had supported in his lifetime. Thus, in his will he intended to leave 200.000  roubles to the Moscow Duma to provide the interest from that sum for the Arnold deaf-and-dumb school in Moscow[5]: every worker in the school, without exception, was left some money; 150.000 roubles were meant for the arrangement and maintenance of free apartments for the widows and orphans of Russian artists in the former Krylov house on Lavrushinsky Pereulok (the house was gifted to the Moscow city council for that purpose). In addition, the Moscow Society of Merchants was to be bequeathed money to set up two hospices, one for men and one for women. Special nominal stipends were to be set up for students of Moscow University, the Moscow Conservatory and Schools of Commerce in Moscow and Alexandrov, as well as for students of Moscow merchant colleges.

There is no use in citing the entire text of Pavel Tretyakov's will, so meticulously was it written. Tretyakov did not fail to mention every relative or friend, as well as every co-worker or servant who had worked at or lived in his house or gallery. He was grateful to all of them, and was eager to be of assistance even after his death ... It was that charitable feeling that nearly brought disastrous results. Yevdokia Dmitrieva wrote in her memoirs about the mistake: "It happened only because the will was written at home (as a home-created last will and testament) by people who were not well- versed in legal matters. Not in a notary's office, where such an error would have been impossible! The law ordains: 'Only such a person can witness that at the time of writing the will the testator is found to be in his right senses and good memory who is absolutely unprejudiced and disinterested!' Pavel Mikhailovich might have preferred, as it was said, to keep the matter private, so no notary was invited. The fatal mistake happened for the lack of legal knowledge!”[6] The requirement was that the will be accompanied by three witness signatures. Such signatures did indeed conclude the 1896 will: "The fact that this will has been made and signed by Council of Commerce Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov compos mentis is witnessed and signed by Vasily Trifonov-Gunyaev, merchant of the second guild of the Oryol Gubernia from Vyatka. The same was also attested and signed by Roman Vasiliev-Kormilit- syn, a citizen of Moscow. The will was also witnessed by Mikhail Konstantinov-Shnygin, a citizen of Tula.” The testament seems to have been formally correct: the names of those who witnessed Tretyakov's signature were not mentioned in the text of the will. What then was the essence of the problem? The fact was that Pavel Tretyakov was always kind and fair with the workers of his company, encouraging the most capable among them both financially and in other ways. The following remark can be found in the memoirs of Alexandra Botkina, Pavel Tretyakov's daughter: "He had a meticulously observed incentive system. Every year he increased their pay. The increase was not the same every year, it seems. It depended on the result of the year's work. Sometimes he added just a little, and at other times the rise was up to an annual 300 or 400 rubles. Those increases in pay were usually due at the end of the year when the annual reports were submitted. The bonuses were awaited with interest and even excitement. The sum received was considered a kind of individual saving invested in a business which would bear interest. Those who were with the business for many years could expect to save up quite a considerable sum and often, still working for the company, started their own businesses.”[7] In contemporary terminology it could be said that the workers of the trading company which belonged to the brothers Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov and Vladimir Konshin became shareholders in the firm, with an incentive for the company's future prosperity: effectively, while working for the trading company, they were also working for themselves. Pavel Tretyakov's business was based on advanced ideas that, he hoped, would also be used in the future. That was why his will included a clause that caused controversy with Vladimir Konshin and some other senior executives. Pavel Tretyakov actually suggested the introduction of collective ownership and management of the company. "The capital that our trading house, existing under the name of Brothers Pavel and Sergei Tretyakovs & Vladimir Konshin, will own, unless the business is not liquidated in my lifetime, is to be endowed to the workers both of the shop and the trading house administration, dividing it in proportion to the salary of each of them so that the workers who have been with the firm for less than five years would receive a share matching one quarter of their salary; those for less than ten years - a share matching half their salary; and those more than ten years - a share matching their full salary, multiplied so that all match the size of my own remaining capital.”[8] Such a revolutionary idea became the fruit of discord, as well as a context for the acceptance of the entire will, since one of the witness signatories turned out to be a worker in the trading firms concerned: Roman Vasilievich Kormilitsyn who was in charge of selling spun-cotton and cotton thread, and used to come to Pavel Tretyakov's office every morning with a report. Nobody could have imagined that such a thing might happen, but Kormilitsyn's signature on Pavel Tretyakov's will became a compelling obstacle in the whole document's validation.

On 15 March 1899 the Moscow district court refused to authorize the will, and on the 26th of the same month March 1899 Tretyakov's widow, Vera Nikolayevna, who had been seriously ill for a long time, also died. Formally, the heirs to the estate remained Tretyakov's only son, the retarded Mikhail, and the four daughters who were then already married.[9] According to the will, all of them were to be left their share of the estate. The part of the will that concerns Mikhail's share demands attention: "To my son Mikhail 200,000 roubles are to be given to enjoy, to the end of his days, the life interest from the sum either put into a bank or funded with a tutor nominate appointed. Upon his death the above capital concerned is to be passed to the city of Moscow for the purpose of setting up and maintaining an asylum for mentally retarded people of a capacity that the above capital concerned will allow.” It is evident that the painful realization of the incurable malady that prevented his only son from taking over the family business made Pavel Tretyakov provide for appointing a guardian for him if necessary. Thus, it seemed unthinkable that subsequent developments could make him the owner of almost the entire Tretyakov estate.

The situation was very anxious for both family and friends. But the most devastated were Pavel Tretyakov's three executors - Konstantin Vasilievich Rukavishnikov, Vladimir Grigorievich Sapozhnikov and Sergei Sergeyevich Botkin, all of whom had been very close to Tretyakov. Botkin, a doctor of medicine, was his son-in-law; Sapozhnikov was a well-known Moscow merchant and benefactor; Rukavishnikov was a major industrialist, public figure and philanthropist who acted as the Mayor of Moscow from 1893 to 1897. In her memoirs, cited above, Yevdokia Dmitrieva, Rukavishnikov's daughter, wrote about the role her father played in that exceptionally dramatic story: "My father became practically desperate. I saw him really suffer because he had promised in all faith to Pavel Mikhailovich to execute his will and now he was unable to do it! Only due to a mistake in the text of the will!” In Tsarist Russia there was only one way to solve problems when all other paths had been tried and failed - by making a petition directly to the Tsar. It was decided to choose that way.

To reach the attention of the head of state has been far from easy at any time. Making a petition was only half the task; ensuring a favourable response to the petition was what would mean success. Such was the difficult task that Rukavishnikov approached. He started by visiting Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, then Moscow Governor General, who assisted Rukavishnikov in contacting the Chief of His Majesty's Chancellery office for petitions addressed to the Emperor. In his covering letter Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich wrote: "Taking with sympathy the petition of the executors of Pavel Tretyakov's testament who find themselves in a position when they are unable to execute the will of the deceased, I dare to ask Your Excellency to submit the petition to His Majesty's merciful consideration and solicit for His Majesty's favour to grant permission for exercising the attached herein after home-written will of Tretyakov.”[10]

The Chief of His Majesty's Chancellery office, Dmitry Sergeievich Sipyaghin, was a long-term acquaintance of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, uncle of Nicholas II. In 1891 Sipyaghin had been the Grand Duke's predecessor in his office and later, in 1892, acted for the Moscow Governor when Sergei Alexandrovich was away. It did not take him a fortnight to reply and on 2 April 1899 Dmitry Sipyaghin's letter brought a sympathetic response.[11] Nevertheless, he advised that the executors' petition should be supported with letters from all lawful heirs to Tretyakov's estate, declaring that they did not object to the validation of the home-written will in its existing form. Tretyakov's daughters had nothing against such a step and, moreover, they were entirely suportive of the efforts made by Rukavishnikov and wrote their letters without delay. But Mikhail Tretyakov, the son, was unable to write any letter and his guardians could not do that in the name of their ward, since it would infringe his rights. But there could be no hope of a positive outcome without a letter from the principle heir. An unpleasant procedure became inevitable: medical expertise of the Moscow Medical Department officially pronounced Mikhail Tretyakov to be an imbecile. But that was not the end of the matter: Mikhail was not just any ordinary citizen, but heir to a huge estate. Thus, the conclusion of the Moscow Medical Department had to be confirmed by the Senate.

Cases were known to be waiting for examination in the Senate for years. Rukavishnikov and Sipyaghin managed to push the matter forward, and arrange for it to be considered in the Third Department of the Senate much more quickly. On 19 May Sipyaghin sent a formal letter to the Minister of Justice Nikolai Valerianovich Muraviev in which he set out the whole story in detail, supporting it with letters from the family, the resolution of the Senate and concluding it with the words: "Taking into account that the above petition was made with the aim of bringing the will of the deceased to execution as being clearly expressed by him manu propria in his testament according to which Tretyakov gave a considerable part of his estate to charitable and public institutions, and that his daughters expressed their agreement with the execution of such a will of their father, and that Tretyakov's son, whom the Senate recognized as an imbecile, will be well- provided for, due to the rights the will grants him, enjoying lifelong interest on a capital of 200,000 rubles, I find the petition made by the executors of Tretyakov's will worthy of the monarch's attention...'[12] Muraviev replied that, for his part, he did not object to and could express a favourable opinion regarding the petition.[13] In the final event, all such obstacles were overcome and on 28 July 1899 Rukavishnikov was due to have an audience with Nicholas II. Yevdokia Dmitrieva wrote about it thus: "The Emperor became interested in the story of Pavel Tretyakov's last will and the error concerned. My father tried ardently to prove that the case was absolutely extraordinary and rare and that there was, nowhere in the world, such a thing as the Tretyakov Gallery created by one man who dedicated his whole life to such a noble and high-minded activity as collecting marvellous paintings. Sparing neither trouble nor expenses, Tretyakov had put in all his knowledge, all his love. My father also noted that the Gallery had already been donated by Tretyakov, when he was still alive, to the city of Moscow. Now in his will he intended to give the gallery capital for its proper maintenance and further enhancement. He dared to say that it would be unthinkable to leave the gallery without such funds. All the more so to leave the will of Pavel Mikhailovich without execution! Nicholas II listened attentively. And the truth triumphed in the end!”

Curiously, Nicholas II was not unfamiliar with the Tretyakov collection. While still heir to the throne, he happened to visit the Gallery with other members of the royal family accompanying Alexander III in 1893. Alexandra Botkina remembers: "Pavel Mikhailovich, due to his natural modesty and shyness, did not like making new acquaintances, all the more so meeting high-up figures, whom he always tried to avoid. But that was an occasion he could not escape. Nevertheless, he was quite pleased with the simplicity of the tone and manner of the royal family <...> Their natural behaviour and interest in paintings made the royal visit easy and pleasant. Nikolai Alexandrovich, heir to the throne, told me enthusiastically, while standing in front of the Polenov canvases, about his trip to Egypt and climbing the pyramids. I found him a delightful conversationalist.”[14]

Nicholas II might have remembered that visit to the Tretyakov gallery. Moreover, the arts, as is known, were not alien to him, and the name of Pavel Tretyakov was familiar. In December 1896 Tretyakov was decorated with a Silver Medal "in memory of the Sacred Coronation of the Emperor Nicholas II.”,[15] As a result, the Emperor reacted positively to the validation of Pavel Tretyakov's will: all necessary formalities were observed and the matter was decided positively.[16] All the executors and Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich were sent the same formal notifications which informed them that the Emperor "by His Sovereign power condescends to permit the Moscow district court, notwithstanding their previous decision of 15 March 1899, to subject the case of legalization of the home-written last will and testament dated 6 September 1896 and made by the Council of Commerce and hereditary Citizen of Honour Pavel Tretyakov, and consider any abuse of the formal wording of the above non-statutory...” [17] The original of Tretyakov's last will and testament was sent to the Moscow Governor General Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. Thus, Rukavish- nikov returned in triumph!

Yevdokia Dmitrieva wrote: "The whole of Moscow was intrigued by the outcome of the case. The testament itself was so wonderful, so extraordinary - how many people were interested in it! And what a terrible mistake! Everybody was dying to hear that my father had come back from St. Petersburg, and they hoped against hope that his powerful mind, eloquence and fantastic activity would help! There was no end to praising him for such an immense service to the Gallery, from all those who would benefit from Pavel Tretyakov's will, for the cherished memory of Tretyakov himself. There seemed to be no end to 'patriotic' gratitude from everybody! He himself, for his modesty, gave a discreet assessment of his actions, saying that he had done what had to be done and that he had tried to keep the promise he gave to Pavel Mikhailovich, that his honour and his respect for the memory and will of Pavel Mikhailovich had helped him to bridge the difficulties and encouraged him.” Further formalities were a matter of time. On 24 August 1899 the Moscow district court convened a meeting that ruled: "to put into effect the monarch's order of 28 July 1899 the home-written last will and testament of the hereditary Citizen of Honour and the Council of Commerce Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov is to be validated for execution.”[18]

That proved the happy ending to a story that might have become a tragic page in the history of the Tretyakov Gallery. Was Tretyakov's will executed as he had wished? Absolutely. His daughters were given their share of the estate and the shares of the New Kostroma Linen Manufacture Stock Company, valued at 1,1 56,240 rubles. His son received 200,000 roubles, and all the workers the sums due to them. The donations to the educational and charitable institutions concerned were made. The Moscow Duma received 835,199 roubles: 225,000 of them for the needs of the art gallery, and 150,000 for financing a house of free apartments for widows and orphans of Russian artists, as well as some real estate meant for the same purpose.

Despite such a postscript, the Tretyakov Gallery has continued to grow, continuing to be replenished with the best examples of Russian art. The Tretyakov house started reconstruction in 1900-01, which resulted in joining the original gallery building and the house under one roof with a single front designed by Viktor Vasnetsov. The hospice for widows and orphans of Russian artists was built to a project by the architect Nikolai Kurdyukov and opened in 1912. The Moscow Society of Merchants received 30,000 rubles to set up stipends for the pupils of city colleges, as well as some capital for arranging hospices.

Enhancing the initial sum with its interest, the Moscow Society of Merchants named a hospice after Pavel Tretyakov; it was built to a design by Sergei Soloviev[20] and opened in 1907. After Mikhail Pavlovich Tretyakov died in 1912, the sum of 200,000 rubles came under the control of the Moscow Duma that, according to Pavel Tretyalov's will, decided to spend the money on building an asylum for the subnormal. The construction of a two-storey building started in 1914, but the work was suspended in 1916[21]. The project was never to be completed.

What was the fate of those individuals whose initiative made the execution of Pavel Tretyakov's last will and testament possible? Konstantin Rukavishnikov, the life and soul of the whole campaign, died in 1915. In 1878 this remarkable man donated to the city of Moscow the asylum for juvenile delinquents that his brother Nikolai, who died young, had set up. The institution was known in Moscow as the Rukavishnikov asylum. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, an intellectual who, for a long time, presided over the Russian Historical Museum[22], the Committee for setting up the Museum of Fine Arts23, and the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, was assassinated by the terrorist Ivan Kalyaev of the Socialist Revolutionaries Party in 1905. Dmitri Sergeyevich Sipyaghin followed a tough punitive policy when he became the Minister of the Interior in 1900 and died at the hand of Stepan Balmashev from the Socialist Revolutionary Party in 1902. It proved a hard time of turmoil, revolutions and nationalization - but that is another story...


  1. Yevdokia Konstantinovna Dmitrieva, nee Rukavishnikova, was the daughter of one of the executors of Pavel Tretyakov's last will.
  2. Memoirs by Ye. K. Dmitrieva. The Archives of the Tretyakov Gallery. For details see the corresponding note in the Russian text.
  3. Pavel Tretyakov's other son, Ivan (1878-87), died from scarlet fever when a small boy. Alexandra Botkina, Tretyakov's daughter, wrote: "For Pavel Mikhailovich that was the frustration of all his hopes: for an heir for a continuation of the art collecting and trading activity. Vanya who was strong, handsome, gifted, good at music (he used to like improvising on the piano like his older sister) died while the other, handicapped, boy stayed alive." In: Botkina A.P, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov v zhizni i iskusstve [Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov in Life and Art]. Moscow, 1999, p.263.
  4. Ye. K. Dmitrieva, op. cit., see note 2.
  5. Pavel Tretyakov was the curator of the school and after his death it became known as the Arnold- Tretyakov deaf-and-dumb school.
  6. Ye. K. Dmitrieva, op. cit, see note 2.
  7. Botkina A.P, op. cit., see note 3, pp. 282, 283
  8. This part of the will was never to be executed. Alexandra Botkina writes: "Vladimir Konshin could not imagine that the young would be 'standing on the same floorboard' as he did. Some of the old workers were also against the equality. It all ended with finding certain 'circumstances of compelling force' which did not allow the deal." In: Botkina A.P, op. cit., see note 3, p. 283.
  9. They were all the daughters.
  10. The Russian State Historic Archives. For details see the corresponding note in the Russian.
  11. "Ibid.
  12. "Ibid.
  13. "Ibid.
  14. Botkina A.P, op. cit, see note 3.
  15. The Archives of the Tretyakov Gallery. For detail see the corresponding note in the Russian.
  16. The Russian State Historic Archives. For details see the corresponding note in the Russian.
  17. "Ibid.
  18. "Ibid.
  19. The Central Historical Archive of Moscow. For details see the corresponding note in the Russian.
  20. Today the building of the former asylum is part of the Institute of Surgery named after A.V Vishnevsky (27 Bolshaya Serpukhovskaya, Moscow).
  21. Ulyanova G.N., Blagotvoritelnost moskovskikh predprenimatelei. I860 - 1914. [The Benevolence of Moscow Industrialists and Merchants. 1860-l9l4], Moscow, 1999, p. 469.
  22. Today, the State Historical Museum.
  23. Today, the Pushkin State Fine Arts Museum.
The Pavel Tretyakov family
The Pavel Tretyakov family (left to right): Vera, Ivan, Vera Nikolayevna, Maria, Mikhail, Maria Ivanovna (Pavel Tretyakov’s cousin), Pavel Mikhailovich, Alexandra, Lyubov. Photo, 1884
Pavel Tretyakov. 1898
Pavel Tretyakov. 1898
Pavel Tretyakov lying in state. 4 December 1898
Pavel Tretyakov lying in state. 4 December 1898
Pavel Tretyakov. Moscow. 1894
Pavel Tretyakov. Moscow. 1894
Photo by D. Asikritov
Tretyakov’s daughters and their husbands
Tretyakov’s daughters and their husbands (left to right): Lyubov Pavlovna Gritsenko (nee Tretyakova), Alexander Ilyich Ziloti, Alexandra Pavlovna Botkina (nee Tretyakova), Nikolai Nikolayevich Gritsenko, Vera Pavlovna Ziloti (nee Tretyakova), Sergei Sergeyevich Botkin. Photo, 1894
Konstantin Rukavishnikov and his daughter Yevdokia. Photo, 1870s
Konstantin Rukavishnikov and his daughter Yevdokia. Photo, 1870s
Konstantin Rukavishnikov
Konstantin Rukavishnikov. Photo inscribed by the subject for his daughter Yevdokia, the author of the memoirs of how Pavel Tretyakov’s last will was validated. Late 1890s – early 1900
Pavel Tretyakov’s daughters (left to right): Vera, Maria, Alexandra, and Lyubov. Photo, late 1890s
Pavel Tretyakov’s daughters (left to right): Vera, Maria, Alexandra, and Lyubov. Photo, late 1890s
The Tretyakovs’ house in Tolmachi, Moscow. Photo, 1890s
The Tretyakovs’ house in Tolmachi, Moscow. Photo, 1890s
Emperor Nicholas II. Photo, 1890s
Emperor Nicholas II. Photo, 1890s
The decree of the Moscow district court dated 24 August 1899 about validation of the last will of Pavel Tretyakov
The decree of the Moscow district court dated 24 August 1899 about validation of the last will of Pavel Tretyakov





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