A former country cottage of Yakunchikovs or as the locals call it, Yakunchikovs’ dacha (1), is one of the remarkable places of the town of Naro-Fominsk.
Before the October revolution of 1917 it belonged to Vladimir Vasilievich Yakunchikov, who was one of the owners of the local textile factory (which was a part of Voskresenskaya manufactory), and his wife Maria Fedorovna Yakunchikova, nee Mamontova. In summer of 1903 here in this hospitable house Anton Chekhov lived for more than a month and worked on his short story “The Bride” and play “The Cherry Orchard”. Konstantin Stanislavski, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, actors of Moscow Art Theater, famous artists also visited this place.
Anton Chekhov at Yakunchikov’s dacha. A.Chekhov and M.F. Yakunchikova are standing on the left., S.S. Mamontov (S.I. Mamontov’s son), on the right
Several years ago in the exhibition of the Historical Museum I saw the draft designs made by Elena Dmitrievna Polenova for the decoration of the dining room of Yakunchikovs’ dacha, and this was a true discovery in my researches related to the history of Yakunchikovs’ dacha. Before we only knew that Elena Polenova was related to Yakunchikovs because her brother, an artist Vasiliy Dmitrievich Polenov, was married Vladimir Yakunchikov’s sister Natalia.
On 16 December 2011 in the Engineering Building of the State Tretyakov Gallery there was the exhibition of Elena Polenova’s works devoted to her 160th anniversary, and being first after her posthumous exhibition. By this anniversary exhibition a gorgeous album of her works had been published, it gives you much information on her art and destiny. Elena Polenova’s life was short but very intensive, and she left her unique trace in Russian art and culture. At the anniversary exhibition there were her works from the Tretyakov Gallery, Russian and Historical museums, Abramtsevo and Polenovo museum-reserves, art museums of Yaroslavl, Kaluga and Saratov. And among them, there was a life-size draft panel Zhar-ptitsa (the Firebird) (2) made by Elena Polenova for the decoration of the dining-room of Yakunchikovs’ dacha.
Elena Polenova. Zhar-ptitsa (the Firebird), a draft panel for the decoration of Yakunchikovs’ country cottage in Nara. 1897-1898. State Tretyakov Gallery
Artist Alexandre Nikolayevich Benois in his book “Russian School of Painting” highly evaluated the multifaceted talents of Elena Polenova and pointed out that thanks to her “all the industrialized art activity of zemstvo (3) started, she inspired the pottery of Abramtsevo, Stroganov School for Technical Drawing, carpet manufactory of Mrs. Choglokova; she also inspired other artists, among them were Yakunchikova (4), Malyutin, Davydova, Rerikh, Korovin, Golovin, Bilibin.”
Polenova’s art influenced Russian artists, many of them replicated her impressive manner to run a contour of objects with ink and pen; she encouraged many of them like her friend Apollinariy Mikhailovich Vasnetsov to study old Russian history, architecture and folk costume. Elena Polenova was a soul of the team of talented youth in which there were Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin, Alexander Golovin, Leonid Pasternak, Abram Arkhipov and other artists who participated in art parties arranged by her brother, an artist Vasiliy Dmitrievich Polenov. Elena Polenova participated in the creation of the Moscow Fellowship of Artists and assisted with the arrangement of the Folk and Historical exhibition. She contributed to the renewal of the handicraft industry.
Mostly thanks to Elena Polenova Maria Fedorovna Yakunchikova nee Mamontova, also got enthusiastic about folk art. She became orphan at her early age and was mostly brought up in the family of her uncle Savva Ivanovich Mamontov. We know her interesting works in ceramics and painting on wood. Due to her artistic taste, organizing and entrepreneurial skills, and sufficient financial resources, M.F. Yakunchikova encouraged the development of the arts and crafts and their popularization with Russian and foreign people. She was one of the organizers of several Russian crafts exhibitions and the Crafts section of the Russian Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.
V.A. Serov. Portrait of M.F. Yakunchikova. 1888
In 1896 M.F. Yakunchikova commissioned embroidery designs | templates from Elena Polenova for her craftshop in Solomenky village (5) in Tambovskaya province including the panel “Zhar-ptitsa and secret apples” for All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition in Nizhniy Novgorod. Elena Polenova wrote to V.V. Stasov on this work: ”I have chosen fairytale Zhar-ptitsa guarding golden apples, as a plot. I have pictured dark night, clouds above, between them you can see the moon, the stars; in the middle there is a tree with golden fruit, on the top of the tree there is a fire bird in a light sleep, around the tree the fairytale \ fantastic flowers and grasses are interlacing and interweaving. Below among the roots of the tree leverets are keeping quiet, lower there are wetland grass, bulrush and algae, all is strongly stylized”. In autumn 1897 Elena Polenova was commissioned by M.F. Yakunchikova to decorate in Russian style a dining room of a “white house” of the country cottage in Naro-Fominsk village. No doubt that the artist visited the Yakunchikovs’ dacha to take a decision on the future work. But after the accident she felt sick and had to go abroad to have treatment (6). A.Y. Golovin who was a close friend to Polenovs’ family accompanied her in this trip. In Paris Elena Polenova and A.Y. Golovin by her request were working all the winter on the interior design of the dining room. In accordance with the plan all the surface of the walls of the long narrow room were intended to be covered with ornamental bars and panels either painted or emroided.
Disign of the dining-room. A wall with a door. 1897-1898. State Memorial Museum-reserve of V.D. Polenov
The designs for the project “Russian dining-room” in which “legend and fairy-tale were applied to decorate a flat surface in such a lucky and talented way” were published in the journal of English symbolists and produced a great interest to Russian folk art which had not been known there before. An English journalist Natalie Peacock who became friends with Elena Polenova, wrote about that work: “…a fantastic element which has been introduced with such knowledge, originality of performance, smart way to decorate the walls without any monotony have given rise of my enthusiasm for decorative surfaces, while a national character of all the design has produced my deep interest”. In Russia the designs were published in the journal “Myr iskusstva” (World of Art).
A.Y. Golovin. “The Swans”. Design of a panel for the Yakunchikovs’ country cottage in Nara. 1890s. State Tretyakov Gallery
For the the Yakunchikovs’ house in Nara Elena Polenova made designs for the panels “The Fern Flower” and “The Zhar-ptitsa”, while A.Y. Golovin made a design panel “The Swans”. The surface of wooden walls Elena Polenova planned to decorate with ornamental patterns “The Dandelions”, “The Flowers are Greeting the Rising Sun”, “Beast-bird”. The interior environment also included glazed tile stove and carved furniture from Abramtsevo workshop, including carved wooden shelves.
A.I. Golovin. The Dandelions. Draft. 1890s. State Tretyakov Gallery.
Artist E.G. Tatevosyan who knew well Elena Polenova, recalled her work for the Yakunchikovs’ dacha: “Due to her beginning illness she did not have a chance to paint herself. Golovin painted with oil on canvas for her. The decorative side of the designs had been excellently done mostly in calm greenish tone. I did not have a chance to see them at their place, but do not think that Golovin could do badly.” Elena Polenova totally trusted Golovin’s skills because he studied a lot and took a lot from her. Elena stayed in Paris for longer time due to her illness while Golovin had left for Russia and started the groundwork. However Elena Dmitrievna did not have a chance to see the implementation of her plans. On 7 November 1898 she died. All the work started for the decoration was finished by A.Y. Golovin.
I could find this out by having visited a very interesting anniversary exhibition of A.Y. Golovin which was held in 2014 in the State Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky val, and getting familiar with an album of Alexander Golovin published by the Tretyakov Gallery.
At the exhibition there were Golovin’s works kept in a lot of Russian museums and galleries, and private collections, which enable the visitors to learn the art of this outstanding Russian and Soviet artist who worked in arts and crafts, portraits, theatrical decorations and costumes. At the exhibition you could see several designs made by Golovin for the decoration of the Yakunchikovs’ dining room, and also a receipt given by the artist to Maria Fedorovna Yakunchikova with regard to the works and now kept in the department of manuscripts of the State Tretyakov Gallery.
Receipt given by A.Y. Golovin on 25 April 1899. Department of Manuscripts of the State Tretyakov Gallery
From different sources we know that on the bank of Nara-river there were two secondary buildings, one made of stone and one made of wood, and two wooden main houses, one of which was a big two-floors house with a round veranda, and the other one was a small white house situated closer to the river. I think that the “white house” was built at the end of the XIX century by the initiative of Maria Fedorovna Yakunchikova. Probably, this house was mentioned by N.V. Polenova in her memories on a visit to the Yakunchikovs’ dacha of her sister Maria Yakunchikova-Veber (also an artist). “In Nara apart from the sympathy of all people around, Maria Vasilievna found by what she was inspired in Russia. On the neighborhood it was an old estate of prince Shcherbatov, and at her own place, a terrace which reminded her Vvedenskoye (7) …”
M.V. Yakunchikova. The Veranda. 1899
In 1903 in his letter from Yalta to his wife Anton Chekhov wrote that in “the white house” Yakunchikovs gave reception to high guests, who were vice minister prince Obolenskiy, princess Liven, etc.
Probably, a picture of the “white house” made by Trunov in 1900
Artist A. Benua remembered about the impression made by the decoration of the dining-room. “The dining-room of M.F. Yakunchikova made by Polenova and Golovin seemed to me a perfect decoration for a very exquisite fairy show, talented but wild.” Thanks to the fantasy of the artists on the walls of the “white house” fancy ornamental and floral patterns interlaced, the feathers of the fairytale the Zhar-ptitsa designed by Polenova, gleamed softly, the Swans passed with dignity and the the Dandelions designed by Golovin were about to fall off. As it had been designed the dining room also had the furniture made in Abramtsevo workshop, including carved shelves.
A resident of Naro-Fominsk T.Y. Kolcheva remembers that in the first years of the Soviet period in the “white house” there was a junior group of an orphan house. We do not know which art works were left there that time. It is extremely doubtful that the hostess of the dacha could take anything with her. It is obvious that the empty estate was partially robbed, and a fire which broke out soon in the orphan house, finally destroyed beautiful art works. During the Great Patriotic War when the line of defense passed across the territory of Yakunchikovs’ dacha, the big old house was destroyed too. But a wooden outbuilding in which Anton Chekhov lived, still survived up to 1980s. But nowadays even the footings of the buildings will disappear soon.
V.A. Simov. A secondary house in which A. Chekhov lived. 1903.
At the exhibition my attention also was drawn by a photo of 1900 year from the archives of the State Tretyakov Gallery. It was made near the Crafts section of the Russian Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. A lot of people participated in the arrangement of the Crafts section which inspired a sincere admiration of the visitors of the exhibition and was awarded by the Big silver medal. Princes and merchants financed its establishment, while artists and folk masters made the exhibits. Among the sponsors there was an owner of Naro-Fominsk textile factory Vladimir Vasilievich Yakunchikov. Among the artists there were K.A. Korovin, A.Y. Golovin, E.D. Polenova, N.Y. Davydova, M.V. Yakunchikova, M.F. Yakunchikova.
Near the Crafts section of the Russian Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. 1900. Sitting are M.F. and M.V. Yakunchikova. Standing are N.Y. Davydova, V.V. Yakunchikov. A.Y. Golovin. 1900. Department of Manuscripts of the State Tretyakov Gallery
At the Exposition Universelle in Paris the audience admired the wall appliquè panel “Ivanushka the fool (8) and Zhar-ptitsa”. It was designed by M.V. Yakunchikova based on a text-picture made be Elena Polenova to the same name fairy-tale. She also selected the colour of textile materials and watched the work of the embroiderers. But the beautiful article was exhibited under the name of Elena Polenova. This way M.V. Yakunchikova paid tribute to the memory of her close friend. She had difficult birth and taking care of her health her friends and relative did not disclose the news on Elena’s death for long.
Despite her fragile health Maria Vasilievna considered it her duty to complete many Polenova’s initiatives and undertook the implementation of Polenova’s plans to decorate the Crafts section of the Russian Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. In summer 1899 she came to Yakunchikovs’ dacha, where Maria Federovna Yakunchikova and artist Natalia Yakovlevna Davydova were busy with preparation of the folk masters’ works collected from all parts of Russia to be exhibited at the Exposition Universelle.
Photo of Natalia, Vasiliy and Varvara Davydovy
The hostess of Yakunchikovs’ dacha and Natalia Yakovlevna Davydova had been friends since their youth. They arranged embroider workshops to help to struggle with hunger in Tambovskaya province (see endnote 5), and sold the works of the local embroiderers even abroad. After the death of their tutoress Elizaveta Grigorievna Mamontova nee Sapozhnikova, a spouse of the mechant Savva Ivanovich Mamontov, they jointly ran the joinery and woodcarving workshops in Abramtsevo, and the Moscow shop selling handicraft ware. E.G. Mamontova also was a relative to the Yakunchikovs because her brother Vladimir was married Elizaveta Vasilievna being a sister of V.V. Yakunchikov.
N.Y. Davydova. A wooden shelve. Kept by the family of Aleksey Sergeevich Davydov whose grand-father Vasiliy Yakovlevich Davydov worked for the Yakunchikovs’ factory in the village of Naro-Fominsk and was a brother of N.Y. Davydova.
Natalia Yakovlevna Davydova was a remarkable artist and a brilliant organizer, and made an immense into the development of the handicraft industry. In Crafts museum created by the local zemstvo and S.T. Morozov, she headed the section of furniture. The Crafts museum was not only a static organization, its local branches taught all aspirants, assisted the craftsmen to buy materials and to sell their works.
Near the Crafts section of the Russian Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. 1900. Fragment. Sitting are M.F. and M.V. Yakunchikova. Standing is N.Y. Davydova. 1900. Department of Manuscripts of the State Tretyakov Gallery
In the first years of the Soviet system Maria Federovna Yakunchikova and Natalia Yakovlevna Davydova established an embroider workshop in Tarusa. After Natalia Yakovlevna died in 1925 Maria Fedorovna left Russia.
In 1903 Anton Chekhov wrote that N.Y. Davydova is a “lovely young lady” and a person “worthy of respect”. In Yalta museum there is a carved wooden model of a town made by Davydova upon Chekhov’s request and presented to him in 1904 after the opening night of the “Cherry Orchard” together with M.F. Yakunchikova’s presents. A carved cross on Elena Polenova’s tomb also was designed by N.Y. Davydova.
N.Y. Davydova. A carved wooden model of a town. 1904. Kept in Chekhov’s museum in Yalta.
Carved cross on Elena Polenova’s tomb designed by N.Y. Davydova
We also should recall an exhibition of Russian artists under the title “Modern Art” which was opened in St. Petersburg on 26 February 1903. It was financed by V.V. fon Mekk and prince S.A. Shcherbatov, an owner of the estate in the village of Naro-Fominsk. Among modern works made by K.A. Korovin, L.N. Bakst, A.N. Benua, K.A. Somov, E. Lancere, S.A. Shcherbatov and other participants of the exhibition there was “The Terem” (9) made by A.Y. Golovin in Russian fairytale style. As prince Shcherbatov recalled, it “has caused a real furore and more than any other room attracted the sovereign”. As M.V. Dobuzhinskiy remembered, it was a “…an attic with low ceiling created by Golovin in a Russian fairytale style with the coloured joyfully carving, with owls, paradise birds and with a big face of the sun on the patterned ceiling.” Prince Sergey Aleksandrovich Shcherbatov had an eye on this tiny wooden palace and wanted to install it in his estate in Naro-Fominsk. He wanted to set it up in his pine forest and settle an old woman looked like Baba-Yaga (10) in it. If he had done this there would have been one more place connected to Golovin in Naro-Fominsk!
A.Y. Golovin. Draft paintings for the Terem. Fragment. 1902
Now there almost nothing has been left from Yakunchikovs’ dacha at which well-known people of art guested or worked, where there were objects of high cultural value. Yakunchikovs’ dacha is not included into any touristic route, its beautiful pine-trees are dying, its territory is grassed over and defiled. And no Zhar-ptitsa, unfortunately, will come to this place…
1. “Dacha” means a country cottage in Russia.
2. In Slavic folklore, the Firebird (Zhar-ptitsa in Russian) is a magical glowing bird from a far or fairy land.
4. He meant an artist Maria Vasilievna Yakunchikova
5. An embroidery workshop in the village of Solominki was founded by M.F. Yakunchikova to support the peasants of Tambovskaya province during hunger.
6. In April 1896 Elena Dmitrievna went with her brother in a cab. When the cab went downhill one of its wheels hitched on a rail of a horse-train. Elena Dmitrievna fell from the cab on the pavement and hit her head. The consequences were awful, she suffered from raging headaches, disorder of speech and coordination. She died on 7 November 1898 and was buried at Vagankovskoye cemetery in Moscow.
7. An estate Vvedenskoye (near Zvenigorod) in which M. V. Yakunchikova spent her youth and which she loved so much, was suddenly sold by her father V.I. Yakunchikov.
8. Ivanushka the Fool in Russian folk fairy tales is mostly a young simple-hearted but clever main character who gets involved in fantastic adventures.
9. A wooden old-style Russian palace.
10. In Slavic folklore an old ugly woman with magic abilities living alone in a deep wood, can either help people or make them harm.
This article is based on
— Articles and illustrations published in the anniversary editions by the State Tretyakov Gallery “Elena Polenova” and “Aleksander Golovin”;
— Polenova N.V.\ M.V. Yakunchikova. Moscow 1905
— Chekhov A.P. Full collection of works and letters. Vol. 20, Moscow, 1951
— S.A. Shcherbatov \ Prince Sergey Shcherbatov\ An artist of the gone Russia, Moscow, 2000
(translated by Anna A. Danilova)