Nikolay Kuznetsov

Tchaikovsky Research
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Nikolay Kuznetsov (1850-1929)

Russian artist (b. 2/14 December 1850 at Stepanovka, Odessa province; d. February 1929 at Sarajevo), born Nikolay Dmitriyevich Kuznetsov (Николай Дмитриевич Кузнецов).

The son of a landowner from Kherson province, Kuznetsov was a student at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, where he was awarded three silver medals. In 1881, he began to tour widely exhibiting his works, frequently travelling abroad.

Tchaikovsky and Kuznetsov

In Odessa in January 1893 he painted the only contemporary portrait of Tchaikovsky, which now hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

A few days after leaving Odessa, Tchaikovsky wrote to Vladimir Makovsky:

I made the acquaintance of the painter N. D. Kuznetsov, who wished to paint my portrait, and this he carried out with exceptional success, as others have said and as I, too, think. Those citizens of Odessa who came to look at this portrait during the sittings expressed their extraordinary delight, amazement, and joy over the fact that such a splendid work of art was being painted in their city. The portrait was painted rather hurriedly, and that is why it may possibly not have the desired finish in the details, but in terms of its expression, lifelikeness, and authenticity it really is remarkable" [1].

Nikolay Kuznetsov's portrait of the composer, 1893

Tchaikovsky also praised this portrait in a letter to his brother Modest: "In Odessa the painter Kuznetsov painted a really astonishing portrait of me. I hope that he still has enough time to send it to the peredvizhniki exhibition" [2]. In his biography of the composer, Modest said the following about Kuznetsov's portrait:

This portrait is now in the Tretyakov Gallery. The artist, who was not familiar with Pyotr Ilyich's inner life, thanks to the flair of inspiration was able to discern the tragic element in his mood at that time and with profound truth conveyed what I can only try to describe faintly here. Knowing my brother as I did, I can safely assert that there is no better, more truthful and staggering likeness of him as he was in life than this portrait. Yes, there are small deviations from reality in a few details of the face, but they do not obscure the main content, and I would not wish to see them corrected. It is not within the reach of man to produce something that is entirely perfect, and, God knows, perhaps the perfection of spirituality in this portrait is achieved at the expense of various insignificant inaccuracies in the individual traits of the face.

Kuznetsov gave this portrait as a present to Pyotr Ilyich, but the latter refused to accept it because, firstly, he did not want to have a likeness of himself at home; secondly, he did not feel entitled to give it to someone else; and, thirdly and most importantly, he did not want to deprive the artist of what he would otherwise be able to earn for this work. So instead of the portrait Pyotr Ilyich gratefully accepted as a present a delightful study of a spring landscape, which even to this day constitutes the finest adornment of the composer's rooms at the house in Klin" [3].

The painter's daughter Mariya Kuznetsova (1880–1966) trained originally as a dancer, but went on to become a famous soprano, singing at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg from 1905 to 1913, after which there followed several engagements in Western Europe and North and South America. Her father painted her in the role of Mariya in Tchaikovsky's opera Mazepa.

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

One letter from Tchaikovsky to Nikolay Kuznetsov has survived, dating from 1893, and has been translated into English on this website:

One letter from Nikolay Kuznetsov to the composer, dating from 23 February/7 March 1893, is preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, No. 2012).


External Links

Notes and References

  1. Letter 4851 to Vladimir Makovsky, 27 January/8 February 1893.
  2. Letter 4852 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 28 January/9 February 1893. The peredvizhniki (literally 'itinerants') were an important association of painters in the second half of the nineteenth century who rejected academicism in favour of travelling around Russia and seeking to capture on their canvasses scenes from the real life of the people. However, such leading painters associated with the movement as Ivan Kramskoy (1837–1887) or Ilya Repin (1844–1930) also created many fine portraits of famous contemporaries.
  3. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1997), p. 531.