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Nikolai Saretzki

  • Saretzki took a rather long exile route: from the Russian Empire he fled to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Berlin, from Berlin to Prague, and from Prague to Cormeilles-en-Parisis near Paris.
  • Given name:
  • Last name:
  • Alternative names:

    Николай Васильевич Зарецкий, Nikolai Zaretzkiy, Nikolai Saretzky, Nikolai Zaretzky, Nikolaj Zareckij

  • Date of Birth:
  • Place of Birth:
    Tambov Oblast (RU)
  • Date of Death:
  • Place of Death:
    Cormeilles-en-Parisis (FR)
  • Profession:
    PainterGraphic ArtistIllustratorArt CriticCollectorScene Designer
  • Introduction:

    Saretzki took a rather long exile route: from the Russian Empire he fled to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Berlin, from Berlin to Prague, and from Prague to Cormeilles-en-Parisis near Paris.

    Word Count: 30

  • Signature Image:
    Nikolai Saretzki, 1927 (Gebrauchsgraphik, October 1928).
  • Content:

    Nikolai Saretzki, being a famous graphic artist, an excellent illustrator and an incredibly eager collector, was an exceptional individual. He took a rather long exile route: from the Russian Empire he fled to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Berlin, from Berlin to Prague, and from Prague to Cormeilles-en-Parisis near Paris, where he spent the last years of his life.

    In the Russian Empire, he received an extensive military education, but at the same time, he also engaged in painting. His interest in these two fields resulted in 1911 in a talented series of watercolour paintings, The Russian Army in 1812, which was later published as postcards and as an album with the same title. Over time, his inner artist defeated the soldier, and Saretzki entered Imperial Academy of Arts of the Russian Empire, where his most important teachers were Dmitry Kardovsky and Jan Tsionglinski.

    The first stop on his exile route was Istanbul. He moved there in 1919 via Yalta. Together with Wladimir Ivanoff, Dimitri Ismailovitch and others, he took part in the exhibitions of Russian émigré artists (including First Russian émigré artists in Istanbul exhibition), and was even honoured with a solo exhibition, which was held in Mayak in December 1921. The local Russian newspaper wrote the following about his work: “Thoughtfulness in the choice of subject, love of antiquity and gracefulness in drawing distinguish the work of this artist; along with the drawings, the small but valuable collection of old Russian porcelain, collected by the artist, deserves attention” (Anonymous,“Vystavka kartin hudojnika N.V. Saretzkogo”, 1921). One might assume that he acquired this collection of porcelain at auctions in Istanbul, but judging by the text Jizn’ na Fuksa, he contrived to bring it by sea from the Russian Empire. Interestingly, collecting was his favourite pastime and accompanied him throughout his life. According to a Russian journalist, who visited him at a nursing home for the elderly near Paris, his tiny room was littered with books, albums, photographs, engravings and many other materials that he had collected over the years. Judging by the fact that he continued to collect newspaper articles on the history and culture of Turkey even after leaving Istanbul, this country left a lasting impression on him.

    It is highly likely that by 1922 he had left Istanbul and moved to Berlin, although some of his works on Turkish themes in the archives are dated 1922. In Berlin, he was one of the leaders of the Union of Russian Artists in Berlin, painted book covers and illustrations, worked on theatre costumes and published articles about Russian artists in the German magazine Gebrauchsgraphik. In Prague, he managed to realise many of his ideas. For instance, in 1932 the exhibition Russian Society of the Pushkin Era (completely acquired by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk for the National Museum) was shown, and in 1933 an equally interesting exhibition Drawings of Russian Writers took place (Vel'min 1957, n.p.). From 1941 to 1944 he served as the last director of the Russian Museum of Culture and History in Prague. In France, he settled in a nursing home for the elderly, but this did not prevent him from organising several exhibitions of his works and at least six exhibitions based on material from his collections. It is known that at the exhibition, which took place in 1952 in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, almost all his works were presented, starting with the "Constantinople" period (mostly easel painting) and ending with completely new "French" illustrations for Russian books (N.A.B. 1952, n.p.). As Nina Brodsky aptly noted, he, his manners and his spirit, seemed to live in the thirties of the 19th century. Moreover, he himself once said that the great political upheavals had cast him out of this Russia but not of the Russia of 1914 (Brodsky 1928, 57). The roots of Saretzki’s creative strength certainly reach back into the past.

    Word Count: 629

  • Media:
    Self-portrait by Nikolai Saretzki/Saretzky, 1921, Constantinople (Gebrauchsgraphik, 1926).
    Nikolai Saretzki, 1927 (Gebrauchsgraphik, October 1928).
    Fish trade, by Nikolai Saretzki, 1922 (© Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow. All Rights Reserved).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Anonymous. “Vystavka Kartin.” Presse du Soir, 20 October 1921, p. 4.

    Anonymous. “Vystavka kartin hudojnika N.V. Saretzkogo.” Presse du Soir, 21 December 1921, p. 3.

    Brodsky, Nina A. “Nikolai Saretzki Als Illustrator.” Gebrauchsgraphik, October 1928, pp. 54–65.

    Bournakine, Anatoliy, and Dominic Valery, editors. Al’manah Na Proschaniye. The Farewell Almanac. L’Almanach Nos Adieux (1920–1923). Imp. L. Babok & fils, 1923.

    Gul’ R. Jizn’ na Fuksa. Moskva-Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoye Izdatel’stvo, 1927.

    Leykind, Oleg, et al. Hudojniki Russkogo Zarubej’ya (1). Izd.dom “Mir”, 2019, pp. 540–541.

    N.A.B. “Po vystavkam. Tvorchestvo A.V. Saretzkogo.” Russkiye Novosti, 27 June 1952, n.p.

    Vel’min, A. “Hudojnik N.V. Saretzkiy.” Russkaya Mysl', 18 July 1957, n.p.

    Vel’min, A. “N.A. Saretzkiy.” Russkaya Mysl', 29 August 1959, n.p.

    Word Count: 110

  • Archives and Sources:

    Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow (РГАЛИ).

    Archive in the Memorial of National Literature in Prague.

    Word Count: 18

  • Author:
    Ekaterina Aygün
  • Exile:

    Istanbul, Ottoman Empire (1919–1921/1922); Berlin, Weimar Republic (1921/22 –1931); Prague, Czech Republic (1931–1951); Cormeilles-en-Parisis, France (1951–1959).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Bursa Street 40 (now Sadri Alışık 40), Beyoğlu, Istanbul (studio).

  • Metropolis:
  • Ekaterina Aygün. "Nikolai Saretzki." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Wladimir Ivanoff

    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

    First Russian émigré artists in Istanbul exhibition

    The first Russian-speaking émigré artists in Istanbul exhibition was a one-day event but its success led to the formation of the Union and paved the way for other exhibitions.

    Word Count: 29

    Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople

    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

    Dimitri Ismailovitch
    PainterArt Historian

    In Istanbul, Ismailovitch became one of the leaders of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, organised three solo exhibitions, and made contribution to the study of Byzantine art.

    Word Count: 29