Emile Witmeur

Magazine issue: 

* The original title of Emile Witmeur's article: Emile Witmeur. Un peintre russe chantre de la Wallonie. Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov. The Russian painter who praised Wallonia. Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov. Revue "La Vie Wallonne”, 15 Mars, 1924


Emile Witmeur.

Pokhitonov met Emile Witmeur (1874-1954) in 1894, soon after he had moved to Belgium. From that time on and for the next 30 years, Witmeur was not just a friend but a close confidant of Pokhitonov’s.

In 1894, Witmeur received his degree in philosophy and philology at the Department of German Philology of Liege University. After that, he won a grant to take a trip abroad (in 1896), and travelled to Germany, Holland, England and - it would seem not without Pokhitonov’s influence - to Russia. During his travels, Witmeur did not limit himself to improving his language skills but also collected information about people and events, and formed a broad understanding of the social issues.

As a clerk at a large banking consortium and a few Russo-Belgian businesses in 1900-1904, he found himself involved in a number of financial projects, and supplemented his theoretical knowledge of economics with his expertise and command of languages. It was at that time that Witmeur’s real calling to be an educator became apparent. In 1913, Liege University entrusted him with teaching modern languages at the Special Commerce School at the Department of Law. Emile Witmeur - an honorary professor of Liege University, Chairman of the Liege Chapter of the Dante Alighieri Society, Vice-President of the Benelux Convergence Committee, Vice-President of the Management Council of the firm “Charbonnages du Hasard” - published works on philology, philosophy, aesthetics, economics in its current and statistical aspects, as well as the expansion of university education.

His achievements were vast in scale - in philology, philosophy, aesthetics; profound works on Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgahg von Goethe (in German); a translation from Leo Tolstoy, translations of drama and choral works into German and Flemish, which were put to music; and finally, publications on Ivan Pokhitonov and the watercolourist Francois Marechal.

Emile Witmeur published his article on Ivan Pokhitonov’s art in the “La Vie Wallonne (Liege)” magazine on 15 March 1924, three months after the artist’s death. The article contained a great many facts about the artist’s life and work that the author had heard from Pokhitonov himself. Documents from Pokhitonov’s own archive were also included in the article, something that makes it especially valuable for scholars. It was no accident that an abstract from this article served as an introduction to the catalogue of the artist’s posthumous exhibition, which opened on 17 November 1925 in Liege.1

It will be published for the first time here in English and Russian2, thanks to the kind permission of the descendants of Emile Witmeur, Ivan Pokhitonov and the von Wulfferts3.

We hope that the readers will judge with understanding the individual facts that are related in the article - the facts whose interpretation inseparably combines reality and fiction. But all this does not detract from the main virtue of Emile Witmeur’s article. It was the first attempt at deep and comprehensive examination of Ivan Pokhitonov’s art.

Eleonora Paston


Pokhitonov was born in Elisavetgrad4, a small town in the Kherson Province of Southern Russia, where the undulating steppes flow to the lowlands and flooded meadows by the rivers. He spent the first 25 years of his life in those vast plains, and they inspired both his world view and his art. All his life he loved great expansive plains and marshy lowlands, so rich with game; by contrast, he always felt confined in the mountains. From his youth on, he would observe the life of plants and trees, stars and clouds, his companions in his solitude.

His ancestors were awarded the status of gentry in the 18th century, under Catherine the Great. As loyal subjects, they all did their military service in the Artillery Guards, and after that lived the quiet lives of country landowners. The artist’s grandfather had 24 sons; the oldest distinguished himself during the campaign in Persia in 1827 under General Paskevich, the conqueror of Yerevan. It was on the occasion of that military success that Tsar Nicholas I asked the illustrious warrior what reward he wanted for his service. The answer surprised the Tsar: “As my reward, I ask that all my 23 brothers be freed from our father’s authority and given education, or enrolled in Cadet Corps”. The supreme sovereign issued an order, and this strange request became reality. The youngest of the brothers was still a baby, and he was sent to the Cadet Corps along with his wet nurse. It was this boy who was to become the father of the artist Ivan.

For the first ten years in his life, little Vanya [a nickname for Ivan] was educated at home and lived a careless life in his father’s estate. His parents planned for him to have a military career, so they sent him to study with the Cadet Corps in Poltava, an institution from which he ran away after a year, and left him with highly unfavourable memories. The boy was then enrolled in grammar school in Nikolaev. He was already fond of hunting and drawing in his spare time. When he shared with us his childhood memories, he always spoke fondly of his elderly German teacher, a kind soul who gave high praise to the boy’s drawings and paid little attention to sloppy homework.

After he finished school, Pokhitonov was accepted at the Petrovsko-Razumovsky Agricultural Academy near Moscow. He was a student there for two years, and then transferred to Novorossiysk University Natural Sciences Department. He became very interested in zoology and regularly attended the young professor Mechnikov’s5 lectures. They became friends and remained close until the famous scientist’s death. The student did not abandon painting, but thus far it remained a favourite hobby. In 1871-1872, he took a trip to Switzerland with his mother and infirm sister, and while in Geneva, he painted with dedication. An art dealer, after much persuading, agreed to show some of Ivan’s paintings in his shop, and - would you believe it? - they were sold the following day! This success did not alter the young man’s plans: upon his return to Russia, he took a most prosaic job at a bank in Odessa. After a few months of a life that did nothing for his love of the open air, he submitted to his parents’ wish and assumed responsibility for managing the family estate. For a few years Pokhitonov led the ordinary life of a gentleman farmer. Eventually, he tired of that, and due to his declining health, his father allowed him to take a trip to Italy for a change of scenery. Pokhitonov visited Milan, Venice and Florence, and in December 18776, on the day of the battle of Pleven, he surrended to the appeal of the French capital, irresistible to any Russian, and came to Paris. Here, his innate desire for the bohemian life took over, clearly not inherited from his mother, who was of Serbian heritage, but rather from his father, a native of Little Russia [now Ukraine] with a bit of gypsy blood in his veins.

The young man’s resources quickly came to an end - he often had to wait for a long time for his family’s allowance to arrive - and he had to find a source of income. He had no success finding a paying job and lived in very humble circumstances; he would sometimes sell a drawing or a painting to one of his compatriots living in Paris. It seems that his calling for artistic expression, previously latent, was finally taking hold of him - the irresistible inner force drove him to art, notwithstanding the uncertainty of his life abroad.

Meanwhile, he never took painting classes, nor attended an art academy. His powerful personality was mature enough to acquire his own experience and learn from his own mistakes; his first-rate natural talent allowed Pokhitonov to continue his work without guidance. In general, he resented any obligatory discipline; he instinctively rejected, and would continue to do so all his life, any kind of formal training - a feeling that amounted to an almost mystical fear. Good-for-nothing students who skipped classes at school and did not apply themselves could be sure to find him sympathetic and indulgent.

In March 18767, without saying a word to his friends, Pokhitonov exhibited some of his work at a salon on the Champs-Elysees: a portrait, a landscape and a painting of a dog’s head. He was lucky to be introduced to [Jean-Louis- Ernest] Meissonier, who had been told about a certain Russian eager to hear the master’s opinion.

The great artist, at the height of his fame, examined the Russian’s studies with exclamations of astonishment and admiration. Praise from such a high authority gave rise to the popularity of Pokhitonov’s art. His study “Barbizon” (17 x 26 cm), now in the Moscow Museum, dates back to this time. At the Salon of 1881, Pokhitonov exhibited two of his pieces, “Meule” (Haystack) and “Effet de niege” (Effect of Snow). The prominent art critics of the time, Albert Wolff of “Le Figaro” (1 May 1881), Emile Bergerat of “Voltaire” (31 May), Count Montigny and J. De Tarade of “Jokey” (9 July 1881) in their reviews all paid special attention to the miniature paintings by the young artist; they pointed out the extraordinary personality of the artist, a truly outstanding talent, worthy of the most demanding connoisseurs’ attention.

It seems that his fellow artists developed the same deep respect for the painter. By way of example, the text of a hand-written letter of 20 March 1882, written in Paris, which Pokhitonov received from Alfred Stevens, reads:

Paris, 20 March 1882
Dear sir and fellow artist,
We think it would be interesting for art of all countries to gather in one private exhibition the work of different artists who would represent their respective nations.
Here are the names of the participants: from England: Millais,Alma Tadema; from Belgium:Alfred Stevens;from Germany: Menzel, Knauss; from Austria, Makart; from Sweden: Walberg;from Italy: de Nittis; from Spain: de Madrazo;from Holland: Israels;from Russia: Pokhitonov, Bogolyubov; from America: Boughton.
We hope, dear sir and fellow artist, that you will support our endeavour and send a few of your paintings to us (please no watercolours or drawings.) We believe that no one would represent your country’s art better than yourself.
If you do not have any available pieces in your studio at the moment, we hope it would not be too much trouble for you to loan some of your paintings from their happy owners.
The exposition will open on 1 May in the wonderful gallery of M. Georges Petit.
To show our respect for French art, we asked MM. Meis- sonier, Jules Dupre, Baudry and Gustave Moreau to honour us with their presence.
Every artist is allowed the four and a half metre width of a six-metre high wall.
We ask that you, dear sir and fellow artist, let us know at your earliest convenience the number and titles of the paintings you would be sending to our private international exhibition.
Please accept our sincere compliments, dear sir and fellow artist.
P.S. Information regarding participation in the exhibition should be sent to M.Alfred Stevens at 15, rue de Galais.
Organising committee: Alfred Stevens, J. De Nittis, R. De Madrazo.

This international exhibition opened on 15 May 1882, at the Petit gallery at 8, rue de Seze. Another document tells us that not all the intended participants joined this art exhibition. France, finally, was represented by Jules Dupre, Gerome and Baudry, Austria - by Charlemont in place of Makart, while America declined to participate. We can see that these masters of international art accepted Pokhitonov, 32 at the time, as one of their own, worthy of the same kind of esteem of art lovers. The reviews in the press were no less complimentary and enthusiastic after this exhibition than those from the year before. His paintings “Haras” (Herd of Horses), “Bhcheron” (Lumberjack), “Jeune fille brodant” (Young Girl Embroidering) are all mentioned in the reviews. Jules Claretie, in his article in “Temps” on 19 May, called Pokhitonov “the Meissonier of the landscape”, a comparison that was to be often repeated later. Edmond Jacques in “Intransigeant” of 24 May, Dargenty in “Courrier de l’Art” of 22 June, and Albert Wolff in “Le Figaro” of 15 May 1882 all expressed their admiration for the beauty of the lines, knowledge of overtones, and praised the feeling of great open space, in spite of the small format. The miniature, they wrote, was carried out to perfection here; this was the Frans Mieris of the Lilliputians; a tour-de-force of delicates tones.

Pokhitonov’s success at the Paris exhibition was so great that he received 17 - a number worth noting! - simultaneous contract offers from the principal art dealers of Paris. He signed a contract with Georges Petit for 69 years; however, in view of Petit’s financial difficulties, the artist ended up signing another one, with Goupil. In return for a fixed monthly allowance of 1,000 francs (payable whether the artist finished any work or not) and 65% of the purchase price of each piece, Pokhitonov gave the dealer the exclusive right to sell his work, which was the dealer’s main goal. The artist, honest and reliable, scrupulously fulfilled his obligations; nor did he have any complaints against the dealer either.

At that time of his life, Pokhitonov developed a great desire for knowledge; he wanted to observe the universe in every detail, in a small corner of the world that would have water, trees, animals, humble craftsmen, and open landscapes covered with snow; he wanted to study the wide spaces, the sun at its highest point, the changeable skies. A small piece becomes for him an inexhaustible source of detail rich in sensations, just like the human heart is rich in the nuances of feeling. His eye was incredibly exact; he never tired of peering into the details, with patient naivete and an unrelenting love for the truth - and his images of nature emerge so real that they seem to be snatched from life. His style, ingenious and sincere, technically perfect, by obligation truthful, is first and foremost familiar, natural and straightforward.

When his patient industriousness and enormous amount of work allowed the artist to become the rightful master of his medium, when his youthful passion and curiosity (which pushed him to imitate for the sake of imitation, sometimes unsuccessfully) had been satisfied, Pokhitonov was finally able to follow his own capricious inspiration. A landscape he painted from nature undeniably became a metaphorical expression of the feelings that flooded his soul, and a magical spirit entered his painting, which does not lose its truthfulness but comes alive and attains greatness, bringing the artist the devotion of his contemporaries, and also of generations to come, as nature and art bond in a way that defies comprehension in his work.

We can see that Ivan Pokhitonov quickly found his way. Throughout his career he would stay true to his chosen ideal of sincerity and truthfulness - his work would remain original, no matter how many new and diverse trends appeared before him. His truly unique technique did not require the viewer to stay detached; naturally, his style would develop and expand, yet preserved its essence. His paintings, not unlike the works of the Little Dutch Masters, would remain small in size, sometimes even miniature. In short, the artist would follow his own path like a persistent and untiring traveller, following his distant star, one visible to him alone; he would reach for his dream and rise above the challenges of daily existence. He would ignore cliques, scheming, and intrigues; he would not have any special connections to the press or art critics, nor would he seek official recognition.

When Pokhitonov visited Russia in 1901, he was given a triumphant welcome, like the biblical prodigal son, especially in Odessa; he was instantly awarded high recognition at the Imperial Academy of Art, and his paintings appeared in the museums of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Odessa (and even Adelaide in Australia); his portrait of the famous Ilya Repin was exhibited in one of the halls of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. But neither the honours bestowed on him nor his commercial success went to his head - his good-natured modesty remained unchanged. Even though he recognised both the value and the superiority of his work, he was too reserved and humble to allow as much as a hint at that. He never showed off nor sought popularity; he did not enter into competition, truly considering himself an outsider in that respect. Incapable of envy, he was kind and gracious; generous like a true aristocrat, he preferred to point out the excellence of others. Nobody ever heard him belittling his fellow artists; when he talked about their work, he rather pointed out their best features. Pokhitonov encouraged young artists, shared his experience with them and never worried about it - he knew that life and time mercilessly discard those who do not have enough strength or the qualities required to persevere. As to himself, he remained charmed by the changeable shapes and shades of colour, so it was in nature, not in the world of diplomatic receptions and high society, even when they were trying to attract him, that he found his faithful and tender companion that always shared his j oy or sorrow. An introvert, it was within himself that he inevitably found internal, hidden reasons for optimism. In times of melancholy, he did not complain. Like Glaucus, a deity in the “Iliad”, he felt that people would depart just as dry leaves fall from trees, and made peace with it; he accepted his destiny without concern for either the past or the future. His philosophy combined fatalism, dreams and the joy of the present; it seems that it was strange for him to look for anything beyond that.

In 1882, after the International Exhibition, Pokhitonov painted his portrait of Ivan Turgenev (15 cm x 12 cm), now in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. After that, in accordance with his obligations to Georges Petit, he went to Bulgaria to work there. Commissioned by Alexander III8, he painted a series of nine panels depicting the places where Alexander II, then the heir to the throne, lived in camp during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. These paintings adorned the chambers of Empress Maria Fyodorovna, the mother of Nicholas II; after Alexander III died, they were transferred to the Anichkov Palace on Nevsky Prospect in Petrograd, the new residence of the Dowager Empress. Maria Fyodorovna had better luck than Nicholas II - she left Russia in 1917 and settled in Copenhagen, escaping the tragic fate of the other Romanovs. There is reason to believe that she took Pokhitonov’s paintings with her. The panels offered a panoramic presentation of an undulating landscape: distant hills melt into the soft blue haze and carry the viewer’s imagination into infinity, which blends with the sky.

Pokhitonov was in full command of his craft. His drawing, his depiction of the landscape, his sharp eye - none of these were to improve any further: the artist had already achieved perfection. He was painting effortlessly; with wonderful accuracy he transferred to wooden panels the wide landscapes with their ever-changing sky (he chose the ones that reminded him of his beloved native land). That is why, as he would eventually admit, he never felt like he painted on commission.

Upon Pokhitonov’s return to Paris, he for a while worked with Carriere, whom he eventually replaced in the studio in the blind alley Helene, off Avenue Clichy; he often saw the artists Harpignies, Boulanger, and Guillaumet, the great writer Turgenev and the scientist Mechnikov. He ventured out of Paris - to the forest at Fontainebleau, to the South of France, to Biarritz, to the heathlands of Gascogne, to Pau, where the cart he used to take to go painting, come rain or shine, long remained a local legend. It was here, inspired by the views of the park and castle of Henry IV, that he painted some of his most important pieces. The Tretyakov Galley has seven of Pokhitonov’s paintings from that period, exhibited in hall 18.

In 1891, after 14 years of absence, Pokhitonov gave way to his nostalgia and went to spend some time in Russia. After that, probably influenced by Guillaumet, he was drawn to the dazzling sun of Southern Italy. In 1892, he settled down in Torre del Greco, at the foot of the Vesuvius, and Pokhitonov’s art seemed to flourish there. The artist must have been happy, enthusiastic, and full of exuberant lyricism. What a dynamic feeling his paintings radiate - almost close to the pagan, but nevertheless purposeful! It is not just “a portrait of a place” that we see, painted with almost religious adoration, as in the artist’s Bulgarian paintings; it is an ode to nature, bathed in warm golden light. Nevertheless, there is nothing loud or garish there; his joy remains charmingly tender, innocent and kind, calm and gracious. This happy time in the artist’s life, 1892-1893, produced five paintings that made their way to America through Goupil’s efforts. Another one, more of a genre painting, “Joueurs d’Osselets”, was exhibited in Liege, and is now owned by the artist’s family.

They are quite wonderful: the peasants, living their quiet lives, carefree children, glaring whitewashed walls, dusty roads, lush southern vegetation and parasol pines, aloe and agave, skittish goats grazing among ancient ruins, donkeys with water bags on their backs - and in every painting, the most important element is the great blue shiny sky, sometimes sprinkled with delicately painted clouds. Such are the elements of his symphony of colours. The sky is painted with such a sense of reality that the viewer is almost ready to squint his eyes to protect them from the bright sun. The people in these paintings are an integral part of the landscape, as if they are rooted in this land, just like plants. They are not there to enliven nature, instead they are its extension - they belong to it. This, however, was not always the case; in some later work, people and animals seem to have been added after the painting was already finished, as if catering to the public’s taste, and the harmony of the whole image is lost. It does not matter then that the hunter and his dog are painted with brilliant precision - the eye does not know what to focus on, and the viewer’s concentration is lost.

In July 1893, Pokhitonov moved to Belgium. Pavel Tretyakov, the famous Moscow patron of the arts, visited him at this time in Trou-Louette and acquired a number of paintings, including the poignant “Journee d’hiver” (Winter Day, 13 cm x 20 cm) and “Hiver” (Winter, 20 cm x 18 cm), now in the Tretyakov Gallery. That wonderful time in the artist’s life also produced some lyrical paintings; one worth mentioning is “Sarcleuses dans mon jardin” (Women Pulling Weeds in My Garden). Gifted to a family member, it was available for viewing in Liege. It is no longer the work of a mere miniaturist, the label Pokhitonov may have sometimes deserved, and that ill-informed critics would prefer him to keep!

At about the same time, Pokhitonov declined a very lucrative proposal from the Imperial government of Russia, which was made through Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod. The artist, whose fame and reputation had reached his native country, was invited to paint the interiors of the most notable ancient Russian religious architectural landmarks; he hesitated but in the end decided to stay in Belgium.

Pokhitonov did not like being interviewed. He felt no need to explain the details of his creative process; he shied away from effusive words, ranting and any verbal performances, which he called “comedy”. His correspondence was neither broad nor elaborate. No matter how sparingly he talked about his technique, there were still those rare and truly charming moments at his studio on Rue Charlemagne in Jupille when we were able to get a glimpse of the unique quality of Pokhitonov’s artistic method. A brief description follows.

Let us start with the material with which he worked, normally considered secondary, almost unimportant in painting. We were amazed as to how much precious time Pokhitonov spent preparing the panels he was going to paint on. He bought boards of mahogany or lemon wood and let them sit for quite a while, then scrubbed and polished them, soaked special cardboard in oil and let it dry; he arranged paints on his palette, experimented with the chemical results of adding layers of paint on one another, etc. In a word, all this slow and meticulous preparation, this “cooking” of his medium was the subject of his most painstaking care. Many a time we heard Ivan say: “I do not wish to give an aesthetic assessment of my work, but what I can guarantee is that it is not going anywhere!” He knew of the grave disappointments of Monet, Sisley and Pissarro, and took precautions. It was not for nothing that since his childhood he had studied the techniques of the Russian icon painters.

As for the drawing, it had to be exact, concise, sharp - the natural result of constant observation and hard work. To observe thoughtfully and represent honestly, without pretence or pedantry, carelessness or inaccuracy - that was the artist’s method. The eye directs the hand, and the hand follows like a humble and conscientious worker. No literature in a painting - the sin Wiertz and sometimes even the great Vereshchagin were guilty of. Historical, biblical or dramatic scenes did not entice Pokhitonov.

Since everything is relative, there is no “in itself” formula for the human eye; it cannot be absolutely determined by any visible line or contour. Consequently, it is only the light that defines the volumes and quantities, and separates the lines. Hence the supreme importance of an overtone, which is the quantity of light that an object holds, mostly due to how much light its different parts are exposed to; also, and this is most important, due to the humidity in the air. Light and humidity are the two vital factors that give objects their shape in space and give colours infinitely variable modulations of light. Aerial perspective comes before linear perspective. The sky, the essential element, overtakes and envelopes the land as it tries to escape its embrace. It would be ideal to be able to convey the vibrations of space. Looking at a painting, one should not be determining the season or the time of day by the position of the sun, but rather by the amount of moisture suspended in the air.

Pokhitonov had little affection for the theorists - he called them “babblers”. “Artists speak through their creations,” he said. “This is exactly what I am trying to do.” From time to time he took part in exhibitions in Paris and Brussels. Other exhibitions followed and attracted the attention of the public - in 1908, 1910 and 1913 in Liege, in 1909 in Antwerp. Despite the suffering he endured during the war and the Russian revolution, this tough old man held personal exhibitions in Liege in 1922 and in Antwerp in 1923. A number of his paintings were bought by some fortunate private collectors.

It was not by chance that his winter landscapes attracted special attention - to Pokhitonov, the snow had it own secret language. Saint Francis of Assisi talked to birds, Pokhitonov had conversations with snow. The notion of the benevolent snow had its origin in Russian winters - snow that is not a shroud of death, but quite the opposite, a warm cover that protects life, a festive garment that transforms the most ordinary things, giving them a delightful purity and youthful freshness. Pokhitonov always welcomed the snow, like the arrival of an old and faithful friend. The snow was something he contemplated and painted with tenderness - when it falls hesitantly on the crooked trunks and branches of trees; when it tenderly adorns bushes and hedges by the roads with a fringe of ermine; when it is crushed and pressed into the road tracks; when, as if sent from heaven, it covers the dark roofs of our crude towns with a stunning coat. In Pokhitonov’s paintings, a commonplace winter landscape touched the viewer’s heart, because the artist possessed that unique empathy that can reach and revive the soul of things.

The village of Jupille, for many years witness of the artist’s sorrows and joys, had the rare privilege to be the object of his art - sometimes lyrical, sometimes melancholy or even ode-like, restrained or even exultant. The roads to Bruyeres, Rond Cothey, Git-le-Coq; the meadows of Droixhe, Thier des Minimes, the little bridge in rue Meuse, Leche, the islands of Lardinois and Monsin, the convent, Havart Square, the lowland at Coyt and especially the round hills of Houlpays - thanks to Pokhitonov, they all have joined the realm of art.

Pokhitonov’s art brought out for the Walloons the beauty of the countryside surrounding Liege, in the same way that the work of Auguste Donnay highlighted the enchanting landscapes of the banks of the River Ourthe. When through the magic of art we rediscover the familiar landscapes where we were born and where we grow old, we find that, at the end of the day, there is something of us in the look of our native places. The artist becomes our guide and teaches us to see the poetry concealed not only in the material world, but also in the gesture or action so familiar that we do not notice it any more.

No one was better than Pokhitonov at portraying a modest garden belonging to a craftsman or humble clerk. He knew from experience that in his own country, vast fertile lands were often not cultivated because there were not enough people to do so. With his characteristic ability for admiration, he valued more than most of us do the noble, great hard work that it is needed to obtain everything that even the smallest piece of land can give. From behind the thick glasses, his penetrating eye observed the scenes for his future paintings - rows of red cabbage, cane hedges, tiny patches of lettuce, currant bushes in the corner, a little courtyard where the industrious housewife was hanging out her washing to dry; looking at those scenes, he felt tenderness towards the humble, not just excitement over discovering a new aspect of colour or new lines.

It is in the same spirit that he went on his pilgrimage to [Leo Tolstoy’s estate south of Moscow] Yasnaya Polyana in 1905 - he had deep affection for Tolstoy the apostle of mercy, not snobbish admiration for Tolstoy the novelist. And when he recorded for generations to come the features of the famous writer in his marvellous portrait, wasn’t it his admiration for Tolstoy’s philosophy that moved him? And the portrait of his mother he painted soon after he moved to Belgium, considered a masterpiece by many, is surely a most reverent expression of a son’s love.

Pokhitonov is much more than a master of drawing, a skilful colourist, a hard-working, ultimate professional - he is a poet of the paintbrush. In many of his creations, this feeling lifts his realism to higher spheres and assures a permanent place for his art. He made a great contribution to world art; he added some magnificent pages to the great book of Beauty; he became one of the great masters. He celebrated our land of Wallonia in his loving art, and we honour his memory with genuine sentiment and appreciation.


  1. From Emile Witmeur's article in "Revue LaVie Wallonne" (Liege), 15 March 1924 // Catalogue of paintings, sketches and drawings by the artist Ivan Pokhitonov. From the collection of Madame Yevgenia Wullfert and Monsieur Boris Wulffert-Pokhitonov, which is to be on sale to the public in Cyrus Hall at 2 o'clock in the afternoon on 17 November 1925 // Ivan Pokhitonov. "'The Artist- Sorcerer'. On the 160th Anniversary of Ivan Pokhitonov's birth". 1850-1923. Moscow, 2010, pp. 155-158.
  2. Some publications dedicated to Pokhitonov's work quoted the abstracts from Emile Witmeur's article from the above mentioned catalogue of the 1924 posthumous exhibition of Pokhitonov's art.
  3. We would like to extend our deep gratitude for this opportunity to publish Emile Witmeur's article to Alexandra von Wulffert, the artist's grandniece, and Pierre Frangois Witmeur, Emile Witmeur's nephew, who made the article available for publication. We would also like to thank Ivan Pokhitonov's granddaughter Allegra Markevitch-Chapuis, who put us in touch with Pierre Frangois Witmeur and helped us obtain materials that further revealed Professor Witmeur's personality and work.
  4. Pokhitonov's birthplace is indicated incorrectly. See the Chronicle in this issue.
  5. Mechnikov, Ilya Ilyich (18451916), Russian and French biologist. He carried out research in a number of fields in biology and medicine. One of the founders of evolutionary embryology, originator of comparative pathology of inflammation, and scientific gerontology. Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine (1908).
  6. A mistake here: Pokhitonov arrived in Paris in January 1877.
  7. Based on the available information, Pokhitonov first took part in the Salon at Champ d'Elysee in 1878. However, it is a notable fact that Pokhitonov's exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery in 1963 featured his portrait painted by Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky signed and dated by the author: N.D.Dmitriev/1876 (Oil on panel, 22.5 x 16 cm. Private collection, France). In 1874-1875 Dmitriev- Orenburgsky is known to have lived in Paris as a pensioner of the Russian Emperor's Academy of Arts, and stayed there until 1883. He took an active part in Pokhitonov's life upon the latter's arrival in Paris in 1877. Presumably, Pokhitonov came to Paris earlier, in 1876, and could have shown his works at the Salon, while Dmitriev-Orenburgsky painted his portrait. However, these facts require more evidence.
  8. Based on the available data, the portrait was commissioned to him in 1881, and in summer of 1882 he was in Bulgaria. Pokhitonov started the portrait of Ivan Turghenev in late 1882 and continued it in 1883.





Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play