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Nikolai Becker

  • Given name:
    Nikolai
  • Last name:
    Becker
  • Alternative names:

    Николай Беккер, Nicolas Becker

  • Date of Birth:
    12-04-1877
  • Place of Birth:
    Saint Petersburg (RU)
  • Date of Death:
    16-11-1962
  • Place of Death:
    Nice (FR)
  • Profession:
    Graphic ArtistPainter
  • Introduction:

    Nikolai Becker worked tirelessly in Turkey for three years. He created at least 168 portraits of men and women (among them admirals and their families, commanders-in-chief, diplomats, etc.).

    Word Count: 27

  • Signature Image:
    Nikolai Becker (Teatr i Jizn’, no.10, 1929).
  • Content:

    Nikolai Becker worked tirelessly in Turkey for three years, and as a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, he created at least 168 portraits of men and women (among them admirals and their families, commanders-in-chief, diplomats including Foster Waterman Stearns). According to one newspaper, it was "an entire gallery of the gods and goddesses of the occupying Olympus"; according to another newspaper, these works were so professional that they "did not need any recommendation". The artist achieved fame after two solo exhibitions at the Pera Palace Hotel in 1921 and 1922: “N.N. Becker is not only an artist of great technique, a serious school, a scientific approach, he is also a poet of colours, an inspirational and rich colourist. He has his own way, which he followed both there in his native and distant Petersburg, and here, where for the second year he exhibits with unusual success for Russians abroad” (Anonymous, “Vystavka N.N. Beckera v Pera Palace”, 1922). Here is what is known about his first exhibition in Istanbul: “…everything was sold out and portrait orders came in one after another. Unfortunately, some of his artworks have already been taken to Europe, but those that remain, such as the portraits of Madame Dumesnil, Shainovich, Svanishvili, Dzhakeli, Gerson, Monsignore Dolci and others, truly honour their author” (Anonymous, “Vystavka hudojnika N.N. Beckera”, 1922). When journalists spoke about a serious school and a scientific approach, they meant the education that Becker had received at the Imperial Academy of Arts of the Russian Empire even before the First World War (his teachers were O. Kovalevsky, F. Roubaud and J. Tsionglinski). In Russia, he painted hundreds of portraits: members of the imperial family, the highest aristocracy and the financial world. Family portraits of the Yusupovs and Stroganovs were very famous and admired. Most critics believed the painter’s traditionalism was evident. Some of them still found "something new" in his works but "not under the sign of modernism [...] rather in the sense of grace and taste" (Anonymous, “Hudojnik N.N. Becker”, 1929). They also noted that the appearance of this “European with Versailles manners and a purely Russian soul” was in astonishing harmony with his work (Anonymous, “Hudojnik N.N. Becker”, 1929). They predicted a bright future for him in Europe, believing that he was "fresh and fragrant for the most refined European eye", and as it turned out later, they were right.
    After Istanbul, Becker continued his career as a portrait painter in Paris, and this was an equally prosperous period in his life. There he painted both diplomats and women. While he was living in France, he worked in London for a long time (the result were portraits of the English nobility) and Madrid (before he arrived, he already had orders from high-ranking Spaniards). In the late 1950s Becker moved to New York and, despite his advanced age, continued his productive work; he decided to return to France after the death of his third wife (Anonymous, “Nikolai Becker: Portraitist of Russian Royalty”). In Nice he painted numerous landscapes.

    Word Count: 504

  • Media:
    Nikolai Becker (Teatr i Jizn’, no.10, 1929).
    Photograph of the portrait (Natalia Khomyakova Deleon) by Nikolai Becker, Istanbul, 1922. The same portrait, but in colour, was published on the cover of Jak Deleon's Beyoğlu'nda Beyaz Ruslar 1920-1990 (Istanbul Kütüphanesi Yayınları, 1990). Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 12 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Foster Waterman Stearns, by Nikolai Becker, 1923. Foster Waterman Stearns was the third secretary of the American Embassy in Istanbul from 1921 to 1923 (© Courtesy of the Holy Cross Archives, Worcester, MA. All Rights Reserved).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Anonymous. “Vystavka hudojnika N.N. Beckera.” Presse du Soir, 20 May 1922, p. 3.

    Anonymous. “Vystavka N.N. Beckera v Pera Palace.” Presse du Soir, 26 May 1922, p. 3.

    Anonymous. “Vystavka Soyuza Russkih Hudojnikov.” Presse du Soir, 19 June 1922, n.p.

    Anonymous. “Hudojnik N.N. Becker.” Teatr i Jizn’, no. 10, June 1929, p. 19.

    Anonymous. “Nikolai Becker: Portraitist of Russian Royalty.” 19 June 2015, ninecarolineantiques.com, https://ninecarolineantiques.com/nikolai-becker-portraitist-russian-royalty. Accessed 2 August 2020.

    Leykind, Oleg, et al. Hudojniki Russkogo Zarubej’ya (1). Izd.dom “Mir”, 2019, pp. 214–215.

    Word Count: 74

  • Archives and Sources:

    Archives & Special Collections at the College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts).

    Slavonic Library (Slovanská knihovna) in Prague.

    Word Count: 19

  • Acknowledgements:

    I wish to express my most sincere gratitude to the representatives of the Archives & Special Collections at the College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts) for their enormous assistance. My deep gratitude also goes to the representatives of the Slavonic Library (Slovanská knihovna) in Prague for helping me tremendously during my work at the library.

    Word Count: 56

  • Author:
    Ekaterina Aygün
  • Exile:

    Istanbul, Ottoman Empire/Turkey (1920–1923); Paris, France (1923–1950s).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Küçük Yazıcı 4 (now presumably Tarlabaşı Blv. 79), Hüseyinağa, Beyoğlu, Istanbul (studio).

  • Metropolis:
    Istanbul
  • Ekaterina Aygün. "Nikolai Becker." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2949/object/5138-10436753, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Wladimir Ivanoff
    PainterSculptor

    Not only did Ivanoff become one of the founders and chairman of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, but he also became famous for “Drawing Thursdays”, which took place at his apartment.

    Word Count: 33

    Members of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Summer 1922. Presumably one of the men in this picture is Wladimir Ivanoff. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 8 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Members of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Summer 1922. Presumably one of the men in this picture is Wladimir Ivanoff. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 8 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Photograph of the artwork by Wladimir Ivanoff (most likely). Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 16 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Istanbul
    Foster Waterman Stearns
    LibrarianDiplomatCollectorPolitician

    Foster W. Stearns not only actively supported Russian-speaking émigré artists in Istanbul but also assembled a collection of their works which has survived to this day.

    Word Count: 26

    Foster Waterman Stearns, by Nikolai Becker, 1923. Foster Waterman Stearns was the third secretary of the American Embassy in Istanbul from 1921 to 1923 (© Courtesy of the Holy Cross Archives, Worcester, MA. All Rights Reserved).
    Foster Waterman Stearns, by Nikolai Becker, 1923. Foster Waterman Stearns was the third secretary of the American Embassy in Istanbul from 1921 to 1923 (© Courtesy of the Holy Cross Archives, Worcester, MA. All Rights Reserved).Formal letter of thanks to Foster Waterman Stearns from the members of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 2 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Formal letter of thanks to Martha Stearns from the members of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 9 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Portrait by Mikhail Starikoff, Istanbul, most likely 1921/1922. Mikhail Starikoff was a Russian émigré artist who first settled in Istanbul where he was a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople and later moved to France (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Work by Alexandre Pankoff, Istanbul, 1922. Alexandre Pankoff was an émigré artist from the Russian Empire and a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople who is famous for his colour frontispiece for Memoirs of Halide Edib (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Landscape by Pavel Kravchenko, Istanbul, 1922. The writing on the back is indecipherable, but most likely says: “The Asian Shore of the Bosphorus”. Pavel Kravchenko was an émigré artist from the Russian Empire and a secretary of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople. His fate is unknown (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Christos Pancratos (Zeyrek Mosque / Monastery of the Pantocrator) by P. Fedoroff, Istanbul, 1922. P. Fedoroff was an émigré artist from the Russian Empire and a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople. Presumably he was Pyotr Fedoroff, who settled in Paris in 1924 and mainly worked as a painter of icons (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Caricature by Mitritch Karelin, Istanbul, 1922. Mitritch Karelin was an émigré artist from the Russian Empire and a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople. Presumably, Mitritch is a pseudonym, and this caricature (as well as others from this series on Istanbul) was created by Vladimir Kadulin, who liked to use different brush names (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Letter from Pyotr Wrangel to Foster Waterman Stearns, Box 2, Folder 2 of Stearns Family Papers (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Istanbul
    Exhibition of Russian émigré artists at Taksim Military Barracks
    Exhibition

    The exhibition of Russian-speaking émigré artists at Taksim Military Barracks was the first major exhibition organised by the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople.

    Word Count: 24

    Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople exhibition foyer, Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 11 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople exhibition foyer, Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 11 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Members of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 8 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople exhibition at Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 10 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Sculptures at the Union of Russian Painters exhibition in Constantinople, Taksim military barracks, summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 5 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Works of the Artel of Russian Craftsmen in Constantinople, Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 6 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople exhibition at Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 7 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople exhibition at Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 8 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Istanbul
    Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople
    Association

    The Union existed for less than two years but in that short space of time a tremendous amount of work was done by its members, refugees from the Russian Empire.

    Word Count: 30

    Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople logo from 1922 membership card of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople (Private Archive of Dimitri Ismailovitch that belongs to Eduardo Mendes Cavalcanti).
    Members of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 8 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).1922 membership card of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople (Private Archive of Dimitri Ismailovitch that belongs to Eduardo Mendes Cavalcanti).Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople logo painted by T. Sabaneeff, 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 1 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).One of the exhibitions of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 10 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).Exhibition of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople at Taksim military barracks, Summer 1922. Source: Scrapbook “To Mr. and Mrs. Stearns from Russian Painters”, p. 6 (Stearns Family Papers. Archives & Special Collections. The College of the Holy Cross).
    Istanbul
    Pera Palace Hotel
    Hotel

    The Pera Palace was the gem of Pera district where people gathered to wine and dine and be entertained, as well as to discuss the issues of the day.

    Word Count: 29

    Pera Palace Hotel, Tepebaşı (SALT Araştırma, Fotoğraf ve Kartpostal Arşivi, Istanbul).
    Pera Palace Hotel, Tepebaşı (SALT Araştırma, Fotoğraf ve Kartpostal Arşivi, Istanbul).Image of Pera Palace Hotel (Güneş Newspaper, 14 April 1991).Jazz-Band du Pera Palace by photographer Jean Weinberg (Les Russes sur le Bosphore Almanac, 1928).
    Istanbul