Libmonster ID: RU-17285
Author(s) of the publication: Svetlana CHIBISOVA

by Svetlana CHIBISOVA, department head, Novocherkassk Museum of Don Cossacks, Novocherkassk, Russia

Our museum boasts of a large and unique collection with as many as 200 thousand items in its custody. Holding pride of place there are relics of the Don Cossacks harking back to their best traditions. We have exquisite pieces of cold steel of the 18th and 19th centuries, side-arms awarded to officers of the Don Cossack Wojsko (Troop), and many other articles to feast your eyes on. We take special pride in a collection of regimental and decoration banners, bunchuks (staffs of Cossack hetmans or atamans, the regalia of power) as well as standards of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Orders and medals of the 19th and 20th centuries are the hallmarks of Cossack valor and gallantry in battle... Pieces of decorative and applied art as well as household articles shed light on the Don people's way of life and culture. Also kept in our museum are West European paintings and drawings side by side with works of eminent Russian artists. Now add photographs, documents, books and newspapers on the record of Don Cossacks and their kith and kin.

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The Don Museum was opened back in 1899. At first its collection comprised minerals as well as paleonto-logical and archeological articles by and large, that is what related to natural science findings. Another section was set aside for the archives of the Don Wojsko and rare books.

In 1900 the museum stock was expanded by troop regalia handed by the Don Cossack Wojsko command on the instructions of Alexei Kuropatkin, Russia's Minister of War. The Don people contributed personal belongings and arms of their forefathers; all told in 1902 the museum held around 3,000 items in its care.

The revolutionary turmoil of 1917 and the Civil War of 1918-1920 that followed in its wake decimated the museum and its collectibles. On orders of Lieutenant-General Afrikan Bogayevsky, the ataman (chieftain) of the Cossack Wojsko (Dec. 19, 1919), all regalia, ethnographic and numismatic items, czarist writs, banners as well as precious articles-over 5,000 articles in all-were taken abroad.

None the less our museum survived against the heavy odds. As early as the 1920s it set up an art section, unique in many ways.

It acquired more collections after the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. For one, early in 1946 it got a welcome addition-landscape paintings of the Peredvizhniks school dating from the turn of the 20th century (the Peredvizhniks, also known as the "wandering artists", traveled countrywide to show their works to people). These canvases came from the collection of Nikolai Dubovsky, a public personality born in Novocherkassk, the Don Cossacks capital. The same year as many as 2,750 articles were brought back from the Prague National Museum (part of those taken abroad in 1919). Since the 1950s the museum has concentrated on particular areas, namely the history of the Don Cossacks, local history and the arts.

Today our museum is a compound of historic buildings taking in the Ataman Palace (opened in 2005),

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the memorial house of Ivan Krylov, a landscape painter (opened in 1979), and the memorial house of Mitrofan Grekov, a painter of battle-pieces (opened in 1957).


Our collection includes remarkable portraits, both painted and drawn, of the 18th and 19th centuries. These canvases, once owned by Count Mikhail Grab-be, the last mandated ataman under the czars, pictured both his forefathers and relatives of his wife, nee Vse-volozhskaya. Most of the collection was inherited by Countess Sophia Grabbe from her father, Ivan Vsevo-lozhsky. Today our museum holds about seventy portraits of this collection, different in size and technique, with the property of the former hetman nationalized in the Soviet years.

Like many old private galleries, these portraits were in for a rough patch: first oblivion of disjointed, odd pictures, then careful restoration and exhibitions that showed their true artistic value.

The Ataman Palace, the residence of Don atamans, is now part of our museum. The exhibits had to be selected with much care to fit the historic site and its memorial status. The restored interiors of the chambers are a proper setting for the painted and graphic portraits related to the family of the last ataman. Lately our museum has begun in-depth studies into the Grabbe-Vsevolozhsky family collection.

We plan to open a large exhibition on manorial estates of the Russian nobility. The portraiture with its true identification and background will be there, too, to show what our people have accomplished in their research. The exhibition will concur with two memorable dates: 105 years since the death of Ivan Vsevolozhsky (Nov. 10, 2014) and his 180th birth anniversary (April 2, 2015).


Ivan Vsevolozhsky is a household name in Russian art: he served as superintendent of H.M. theaters and

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then as director of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He came from a wealthy family that owned land and ore mines in the Urals.

Thanks to good family connections, natural acumen, refined beau-monde ways and a happy marriage to Ekaterina Volkonskaya (1848-1898), he succeeded in his career to become Privy Counsellor and Ober-hofmeister, that is a top courtier.

Upon his graduation from the Oriental Languages Department of St. Petersburg University, Vsevolozhsky joined the Foreign Office and served as an attache at the Russian Embassy in Paris, France. A snobbish aristocrat and Francophile, he was a rather good piano-player and comic actor. Known personally to Prince Alexander, heir to the Russian throne (future Emperor Alexander III), Vsevolozhsky enjoyed his protection, and thus became director of H.M. theaters in 1881.

He had his day, however, as superintendent of H.M. Hermitage Museum, a position he held for ten years. Ivan Vsevolozhsky developed the Hermitage into a major art research and collection center. On February 13, 1903, Vsevolozhsky staged a fancy-dress ball in the Winter Palace (main residence of the Russian czars in St. Petersburg) as Emperor Nicholas II, his spouse Alexandra Feodorovna, and the nobles who took part donned dresses of the pre-Petrian time, that is worn before the reign of Peter the Great (end of the 17th and early 18th century). There is good factual evidence on that-reminiscences of dancers, sketches made by master artists, fancy dresses and an album of photographs that pictured such memorabilia from the 17th down to the 20th century, still in living memory.

Vsevolozhsky was among the merrymakers, of course. We in the museum have a water-color portrait on paper

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picturing a boyar noble; it was drawn and signed by Constantine Ivanov (1859-1916) in March of 1903. At that fancy-dress ball the Oberhofmeister was attired in a caftan (a long-sleeved robe with a girdle worn by Russian boyar nobles in the 17th century). Obviously the artist used the authentic photograph made at the ball.


Meanwhile we in our collection have a family portrait of Ivan Vsevolozhsky's ancestors (crayons, paper). The museum entry book lists it as a family portrait of the Vsevolozhskys by an unknown artist of the 19th century. The picture came in a black baguette frame. Judging by the age of the children portrayed in it, the portrait dates to a period between 1805 and 1809. This work is in the list of "group family portraits" quite common in Russian pictorial arts in the early 19th century.

We found that the author of the Vsevolozhsky portrait was an eminent French artist Louis Leopolde Boillit (1761-1845). A similar family portrait of the Vsevolozhskys by the same French artist was acquired in 1980 by the History and Art Literary Museum at Priyutino near St. Petersburg. Alexander Vsevolozhsky (1793-1864) shown in it is the father of our hero. The two Vsevolozhsky brothers, Alexander and Nikita, were quite friendly with the poet Alexander Pushkin: in the 1820s their home was a meeting-place of young writers and high-life jolly men. This coterie was known as the "green lamp society". Pushkin, then a young poet, entrusted the Vsevolozhskys the care of publishing and selling his works.

Yet another water color-a portrait of Sophia Vsevo-lozhskaya (nee Princess Trubetskaya), Ivan Vsevolozhsky's mother, as represented by Peter Sokolov (1791-1848), a great water-color painter of the Pushkin time. He is the author of three lifetime portraits of Alexander Pushkin and of a gallery of the Pushkin milieu. The portrait of Sophia Ivanovna Trubetskaya is remarkable in many ways. Her father, Prince Ivan Trubetskoy, was a second cousin of Sergei Pushkin, the father of the great poet. His sister Olga Pavlishcheva (nee Pushkina) recalled: in her childhood years she and her brother Alexander were taken to dancing lessons at the Trubet-skoys on Pokrovka Street in Moscow.

Sophia's portrait, once displayed at an art exhibition in the Crimea in 1905, is a long sought-after object for Moscow art experts. It shows a young woman wearing a green fur coat with a ferronniere (band-and-gem) on her forehead. We do not know the exact date of this portraiture, though Lydia Karnaukhova, an art researcher of St. Petersburg, attributed it to the late 1820s and to Peter Sokolov who signed his works in clear petite letters, no frills.

Still another water color from the same collection portrays a woman standing up straight and wearing a courtier's dress. An exhibition held in 1933 listed it as a "feminine portrait" by Alexander Sokolov (1883), Peter Sokolov's younger son who merited the honor of being an academic portrait painter.

Who was that ravishing woman? Now we know: Eka-terina Vsevolozhskaya (1848-1898), nee Princess Vol-

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konskaya, married to Ivan Alexandrovich Volkonsky. Her ceremonial court dress bears maid-of-honor insignia, the diamond monogram of Empress Maria Feodorovna married to Emperor Alexander III and mother of the last Russian czar, Nikolai (Nicholas) II.


One such portrait, a water color on paper, shows Sophia Grabbe's grandmother, Maria Petrovna Kikina (married to Prince Volkonsky). The museum book of entries catalogs it is a "child portrait" painted by an unknown 19th-century artist. Actually it is a copy of a water color by Karl Briullov (1799-1852), a great Russian portraitist, now in the collections of the Tretyakov Art Gallery in Moscow. He portrayed a little two-year girl in 1817 to 1819 according to some art experts. while others put it down to anno 1821. The image of that charming girl was Briullov's debut in this genre. The portrait in our museum's collection may be a repeat work of the same author. A thorough art examination is needed for exact identification.

There is another portrait of a Kikin baby girl, dead, swathed in a lace pelerine and shown as if she were asleep. A sad, blood-chilling image. In fact, it was a gloomy tradition to picture the late-lamented family members, children in particular, for their mortality rate ran high; this tradition stayed on up until the mid-20th century.

Briullov also portrayed Maria's parents (canvas, oils): General Peter Kikin (1775-1834), a veteran of the Patriotic War of 1812* against Napoleon and one of the

See: G. Gerassimova, "Great Soldier and Diplomat", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2008.-Ed.

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founders of the H.M. Society of Arts Promotion; and his spouse, Maria Ardalionovna (maiden name, Tor-sukova). Our museum's catalogs both as a "Portrait of a Military", and a "Female Portrait" of the Russian art school of the 19th century, the artists not identified. Peter Kikin's portrait has other versions, one by the brush of Vladimir Borovikovsky, another great portrait-painter, dated anno 1815 or so.

As to the female portrait, we make out the exact year, 1811, and a Latin signature by Nicolas de Cur-taille, a French artist of the St. Petersburg Academie des Beaux Arts. This canvas is in the catalog "Russian Portraits of the 18th and 19th Centuries" published by Grand Prince Nikolai Mikhailovich Romanoff (1905-1909).

Likewise in our upkeep are two authentic portraits of Maria Kikina not known before. One produced by Peter Sokolov in 1821 (oils, paper) is among his first creations. Another artist, Vladimir Pogonkin, copied this portrait in a black-and-white lithograph. Maria liked her image and asked for another copy to decorate her teacup saucer; that copy was in a different light gamut, though reproduced from the black-and-white version. Another nice portrait painted by Vogel in the 1810s depicts Maria in a white Empire-style gown.

Present in our collection are also two 18th-century oils ("Saltykov the Page"), both portraits in oval metal frames. These twin portraits were in the catalog of the Crimean exhibition of 1905 and displayed under the same name.

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Three portraits on display in the Small Hall of the Ataman Palace are likely to catch your notice. Supplied with applique metal tablets bearing the engraved monogram of the Volkonsky princes, they are obviously of identical origin. Our book of entries attributes them to the Russian pictorial school of the early 19th century, their author either unknown or one of the Borovikovsky circle. Early in the 19th century Boro-vikovsky painted several portraits of Prince Volkon-sky's relatives. In 1801 this artist produced a pastel drawing of Princess Sophia Volkonskaya (1786-1868), greatgrandmother of Ataman Mikhail Grabbe's wife. This portrait has been in our museum's collection since 1933. Enclosed within a gilded frame, it depicts a young lady, fifteen years old, touching a locket with a bas-relief of her grandfather, Prince Nikolai Rep-nin; reposing on her breast is a lady-in-waiting's pin bearing the image of Empress Maria Feodorovna and a medallion with the czarine's portrait in a set of diamonds. This sujet is reproduced in a copy kept at the State History Museum ever since 1936. The lady's portrait in the Novocherkassk museum is probably an original.

We in our collection have a set of twin portraits of Lady Sophia Volkonskaya's parents. Our catalog registers them as works of unknown artists of the Russian pictorial school of the 19th century. A pastel portrait of Prince Gregory Volkonsky on cardboard is similar in its composition to another portrait he had Borovikovsky paint for him as he still served as Governor-General of the Orenburg Territory. We know of several versions of the canvas produced by the same artist in 1806 and 1807; two are in the collections of the Tula Museum of Pictorial Arts and the Pskov Art Gallery. Our portrait is a Borovikovsky copy made by a serf painter.

Here before us is a pastel portrait of his spouse, "Princess Alexandra Nikolayevna Volkonskaya, Nee Princess Repnina, Ober-Hofmeisterin of Empress Elizaveta Alexeyevna". A rather long name! We have labeled it as a "Portrait of Princess Volkonskaya" by an unknown author.

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Listed in the catalog of the Crimean exhibition of 1905 is yet another pair of portraits held in our collection picturing the grandfather and grandmother of Lady Maria Kikina, the parents of her mother, Princess Volkonskaya. Our museum's register has entered them as pastel paper portraits of Ardalion and Ekateri-na Torsukovs rendered by an unknown artist associated with Borovikovsky in the beginning of the 19th century. The Crimean catalog dates them anno 1795 and points to Borovikovsky as the author.

Twin portraits like that are in the custody of the Tretyakov Art Gallery. Collating these images we postulate: our portraits must have been copied from the originals by another serf artist, a common practice in Russia of those days.

Prominent in the Grabbe-Vsevolozhsky gallery is a pastel portrait on paper of Count Mikhail Grabbe, the ataman; the artist and time not indicated. Count Grabbe is portrayed in a cardinal full-dress uniform and decorations; from September 1911 on he was in command of H.M. First Hundertschaft (Company) of the Cossack Regiment of the Life-Guards; this portrait, as we found out, was painted that year; but the author is unknown yet.

Every museum has art objects either of unknown persons or wrong annotation. As Vassily Tropinin*, a great Russian portraitist of the 19th century, once said, such portraits are painted for the sweet memory of one's near and dear ones, and so they did not need any exact identification. Thus family portrait galleries came into being. But they were scattered far and wide all over the world in the turmoil of revolutionary events of the 20th century, as the time was out of joint, to land as nameless objects in all the various museums and private collections.

We have done a good deal of close, painstaking research in the way of their identification, something that is of great significance both for museum collections and our national cultural heritage.

See: O. Borisova, "The Very Moscow Museum". Science in Russia, No. 3, 2012.-Ed.


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