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Nikolai Vasilieff

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

    Николай Васильев, Nicholas Vasilieff, Nikolai Vassilieff

  • Date of Birth:
    03-11-1887
  • Place of Birth:
    Moscow Oblast (RU)
  • Date of Death:
    13-10-1970
  • Place of Death:
    Williamstown (US)
  • Profession:
    MuralistPainterScene Designer
  • Introduction:

    Vasilieff was not only one of the Union of Russian Painters in Istanbul’s leaders, but he is also remembered for his stage settings and costumes for the ballet Scheherazade at the Theatre des Petits Champs.

    Word Count: 36

  • Signature Image:
    Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978). [Untitled] (Nicholas Vasilief, Painter). Gelatin silver photograph, 9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (24.4 x 19.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Wallace B. Putnam from the Estate of Consuelo Kanaga, 82.65.414
  • Content:

    Before Nikolai Vasilieff fled to Istanbul, he lived in the Russian Empire, where he received an excellent art education. First, he attended a private art school run by Konstantin Yuon in Moscow and later he studied at Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, where the principal teachers included Leonid Pasternak, Konstantin Korovin and Valentin Serov. This directed Vasilieff toward the use of "mass and colour in art and away from lines and graphics", which were very important in St. Petersburg (Friberg, “Vasilieff at the Benton”, 1977). Moreover, after having served in the Russian army during the war, he had the opportunity to work as Robert Falk’s assistant in the painting class at Vkhutemas.

    Nikolai Vasilieff stayed in Istanbul for nearly three years and was able to achieve a lot during this time. He was not only one of the leaders of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, but he is also remembered by many people for his beautiful stage settings and costumes for the famous ballet Scheherazade (in Shanghai backdrops for this ballet were painted by Vera Kuznetzova), which was performed by Zimin in the city on 30 December 1921. To explain the significance of this performance, it is necessary to quote from one of the local Russian newspapers of that time: “It was a truly artistic performance – the maximum that could be given with the most conscientious attitude to the matter. It was a vivid performance, pleasing the eye and caressing the ear. The orchestra played beautifully under the direction of the talented Butnikov, and the wonderful music of Rimsky-Korsakov conquered even this diverse festive crowd. Vasilieff’s excellent scenery, evoking Bakst’s best works in terms of richness and splendour of colours, rich costumes and a general charm of the ambience, rich and colourful, created an atmosphere of captivating oriental fairy-tale that gripped the attention of the audience [...]. In a word, it was an excellent ballet performance that had never been seen in Constantinople. The financial success of the evening was in line with its artistic one. The theatre was full” (Anonymous, “Sheherezada”, 1921). Vasilieff worked in various fields; for example, during his stay in Istanbul he painted two walls of the Maxim restaurant which was a popular place at the time and actively participated in the Union's exhibitions (including First Russian émigré artists in Istanbul exhibition and Exhibition of Russian émigré artists at Taksim Military Barracks). In 1923, the Russian press in Istanbul made an emphasis on the portraits he exhibited at one of the YMCA venues in Pera/Beyoğlu, such as the portraits of Mrs. Fridolina, Mrs. Kuskova and Princess Volkonskaya (“perfectly conceived and skilfully executed”).

    He undoubtedly benefitted from his "Istanbul" experience in New York, where at first things did not go as well as he had dreamed. He took on any work in order to survive: There he not only painted the walls of local Russian restaurants and made drawings for The Pilgrim’s Almanac, but also baked bread and painted walls on construction sites. His situation improved in the second half of the 1930s when his patron Hugh Stigs helped arrange his first solo exhibition. Funds from clients allowed him to purchase a studio in New York (somewhere at Union Square where at the time among other organizations the New School for Social Research was located). Vasilieff worked there until 1966. Nevertheless, he decided to spend the last years of his life in his own house in Lanesborough (Massachusetts). Vasilieff’s paintings can be seen today in many famous galleries and museums around the world.

    Word Count: 590

  • Media:
    Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978). [Untitled] (Nicholas Vasilief, Painter). Gelatin silver photograph, 9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (24.4 x 19.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Wallace B. Putnam from the Estate of Consuelo Kanaga, 82.65.414
    Nicholas Vasilieff, Still Life With Mushrooms, 1960. Oil on linen, 30 × 40 1/8 in. (76.2 × 101.9 cm). (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Mrs. Ansley W. Sawyer 61.59).
  • Bibliography (selected):

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

    Anonymous. “Scheherazade.” Presse du Soir, 31 December 1921, p. 2.

    Anonymous. “Russkoye iskusstvo za granitsey.” Teatr i Zhizn’, January 1922, n.p.

    Anonymous. “Nicholas. J. Vasilieff, 82, Dead; Artist an Emigre from Moscow.” New York Times, 14 October 1970, p. 50.

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

    Chave, Anna. “Nicholas Vasilieff.” Société Anonyme Catalogue: Modernism for America Resources, edited by Jennifer R. Gross, exh. cat. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2006, pp. 677–678.

    Friberg, Hedda. “Vasilieff at the Benton.” Connecticut Daily Campus, 20 April 1977, p. 4.

    Leykind, Oleg, et al. Hudojniki Russkogo Zarubej’ya (1). Izd.dom “Mir”, 2019, pp. 335–336.

    Scott, Martha B. "N. Vasilieff Rediscovered in Colorful UConn Show." Bridgeport Sunday Post, 22 May 1977, p. 71.

    Ted’. “K Vystavke Hudojnikov.” Presse du Soir, 29 June 1923, n.p.

    Word Count: 137

  • Archives and Sources:

    Slavonic Library (Slovanská knihovna) in Prague.

    Word Count: 6

  • Author:
    Ekaterina Aygün
  • Exile:

    Istanbul, Ottoman Empire/Turkey (1920–1923); New York, United States (1923–1966).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Küçük Yazıcı 4 (now presumably Tarlabaşı Blv. 79), Hüseyinağa, Beyoğlu, Istanbul (studio); Union Square, New York (studio).

  • Metropolis:
    Istanbul
  • Ekaterina Aygün. "Nikolai Vasilieff." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2949/object/5138-10440325, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Vladimir Bobritsky
    PainterScene DesignerGraphic ArtistMusician

    Bobritsky worked at the Theatre des Petits Champs, where he successfully dealt with stage designs and costumes, at the same time he participated in the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople.

    Word Count: 31

    Promotional photograph of Vladimir Bobri (1898–1986), illustrator, author and editor of Guitar Review magazine, 1950. Self-scan from Guitar Review magazine, Winter 1987, no. 8 (The entire contents of the GUITAR REVIEW unless otherwise noted are copyrighted © 1985 by ALBERT AUGUSTINE LTD).
    Promotional photograph of Vladimir Bobri (1898–1986), illustrator, author and editor of Guitar Review magazine, 1950. Self-scan from Guitar Review magazine, Winter 1987, no. 8 (The entire contents of the GUITAR REVIEW unless otherwise noted are copyrighted © 1985 by ALBERT AUGUSTINE LTD).Vladimir Bobritsky decorates the shawl of Vera Strelsky, a former member of the Russian Imperial Ballet (Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 13 January 1924, p. 86).Illustrations by Vladimir Bobritsky, Mentor, June 1930 (Chris Mullen, fulltable.com).
    Istanbul
    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
    Leonid Tomiloff
    Scene DesignerDecorator

    As a professional scene-designer, Leonid Tomiloff was in high demand in Istanbul. For many years, he worked at the Theatre des Petits Champs and was the chief decorator of the Constantinople Commercial Club.

    Word Count: 33

    Short note about Leonid Tomiloff (Radio, 30 January 1927, n.p.).
    Entertainment program of the Constantinople Commercial Club as listed in the Zarubezhnyi Klich almanac, April 1925.
    Istanbul
    First Russian émigré artists in Istanbul exhibition
    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

    Portrait of the poet Maximilian Voloshin (one of the representatives of the Symbolist movement in Russian culture and literature) by Boleslav Cybis that was presented at the exhibition. Boleslav Cybis was an émigré artist from the Russian Empire and a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople who was fond of representing truths symbolically, combining figurative thinking with ideas of the avant-garde (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).Portrait of the poet Maximilian Voloshin (one of the representatives of the Symbolist movement in Russian culture and literature) by Boleslav Cybis that was presented at the exhibition. Boleslav Cybis was an émigré artist from the Russian Empire and a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople who was fond of representing truths symbolically, combining figurative thinking with ideas of the avant-garde (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
    New School for Social Research
    Academy/Art SchoolPhoto SchoolUniversity / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute

    During the 1940s and 1950s emigrated graphic designers and photographers, along with artists and intellectuals, were given the opportunity to held lectures and workshops at the New School for Social Research.

    Word Count: 31

    Werner Wolff, K.S. Safranski’s Class in Pictorial Journalism, 1950 (New School for Research Archive, Photograph Collection © Steven Wolff).
    Announcement of "Art Applied to Graphic Journalism, Advertising, Design, Fashion" course by Alexey Brodovitch, published in New School Bulletin. Art Classes, 1942/43, p. 11 (© New School course catalog collection, NS-05-01-01. The New School Archives).Announcement of "Pictorial Journalism" course by Kurt Safranski in New School Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 9, 1944, p. 84 (© New School course catalog collection, NS-05-01-01. The New School Archives).Announcement of "The Small Camera In Photography Today" course by Lisette Model. New School Bulletin. Art Classes, vol. 9, no. 2, September 1951, front cover and p. 34 (© New School course catalog collection, NS-05-01-01. The New School Archives).Lisette Model at New School by Joe Covello, 1960s, New School for Research Archive, Photograph Collection, NS.04.01.01:16 (© The New School Archives and Special Collection, The New School, New York, NY).Portrait Alvin Saunders Johnson by Fred Stein, New School for Research Archive, Photograph Collection (© Fred Stein Archive).Flyer of “New Architecture and City Planning” symposium by Paul Zucker (© The New School Archives and Special Collection, The New School, New York, NY).
    New York
    Vera Kuznetzova
    ArtistDesignerIllustrator

    A native of Harbin and a resident of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, Vera Kuznetzova was among the most accomplished female artists of the Russian diaspora. Together with Mikhail Kichigin, she travelled extensively around China and Eastern Asia, exhibiting her work and conducting visual studies.

    Word Count: 46

    Vera Kuznetzova, photography (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Painters Vasily Zasipkin, Vera Kuznetzova and Jacob Lehonos in the Salle des Fetes of the French Municipal College at the Russian art exhibition, photography, June 1931, The China Press, 5 July 1931.Vera Kuznetzova, Official’s Tour, water colour, 1933–1936 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).Vera Kuznetzova, illustration on the cover of the Projector Weekly Magazine, Vol. 41, 6 October 1934 (© Mikhail Drozdov).Vera Kuznetzova, Old Man with a Pipe, charcoal and sanguine drawing, 1937, Shanghai (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai,1940, p. 35. Vera Kuznetzova, Court Scene, illustration.Vera Kuznetzova and Mikhail Kichigin in Yaroslavl, photography, 1968 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Shanghai