L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chaliapin, artist and artist's muse - portraits of Feodor Chaliapin

Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin (1/13February 1873, Kazan – 12 April 1938, Paris), Russian opera singer. A legendary figure in the world of opera, he is often ranked with Caruso and Callas as one of the greatest singers and most influential operatic artists of the twentieth century; Toscanini said that he was the greatest operatic talent he had ever worked with. Possessing a distinctive "high-lying" bass voice, he was immensely popular with the public and toured the world, performing in fully staged productions and solo recitals. He is also credited with helping to bring a more naturalistic acting style to the operatic stage. In addition, owing to his advocacy, Russian operas - the master works of Mussorgsky, Glinka, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov - became much better known in the West. He was also what one would call a "big personality" - temperamental, egotistical, willful - his fellow performers had to be constantly on guard, ever watchful for his penchant for scene-stealing. A fairly accomplished artist himself he was also, as seen here, a frequent and enthusiastic model for the best known artists of his day.

 Portrait by Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky, 1915.

Born into a peasant family, he endured a miserable childhood, working at menial labor from the age of ten. He left home at seventeen and, self-trained, found work with a choir on a private estate, and then with a provincial touring opera company. A few years later he was in Tbilisi, studying with and being supported by singer and teacher Dmitri Usatov. At his teacher's suggestion, and after a very successful year with the Tbilisi Opera, in 1894 he moved to Moscow. He debuted with the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg the following year, and in 1896 joined the private Mamontov opera company in Moscow. While there he met Sergei Rachmaninov; the two would become great friends and would be powerful artistic influences on each other. Chaliapin began a working relationship with the Bolshoi in 1899 which would continue until the war, and soon went on to success in the West; major milestones in the forward trajectory of his career were the celebrated Diaghilev seasons in Paris and London, beginning in 1908. The same period saw the commencement of a very successful solo concert career. 

Alexander Yevgenievich Yakovlev, 1917.

Chaliapin was married twice. He and Italian ballerina Iola Tornagi wed in 1898. The had six children, five who survived to adulthood. (One son, Boris, became a successful artist, completing more than four hundred covers for Time magazine. And the youngest son, Feodor Jr., had a long and successful career in film, lasting from 1926 to 1992, the year of his death; he is perhaps best remembered for his role as the grandfather in Moonstruck.) In 1906, while still married to Tornagi, Chaliapin began living with Maria Valentinovna Petsold, a widow who already had two children from her first marriage; they went on to have three daughters together. He maintained both families separately, the first in Moscow, the second in St. Petersburg. When he left Russia in 1922, he was accompanied by Maria and their three daughters. In 1927 he was granted a divorce from his first wife - she would remain in Russia until 1959 - and he married Maria a month later.

Konstantin Korovin, 1905.

Chaliapin was originally very supportive of the revolution in Russia and was treated as a revered artist in the new Russia. However, the unpleasant realities of everyday life under the new regime, combined with the instability and devastation of the ensuing Civil War, meant that he spent increasingly extended stays outside of the country. Moving first to Finland, he emigrated to France in 1922; Paris would be his home for the remainder of his life. He still maintained that he was not anti-Soviet, and remained a tax-paying Russian citizen for some years. A final break came in 1932 when, in his memoirs, he denounced the lack of freedom in Bolshevik Russia. In the meantime, he continued performing, recording - he would amass an enormous catalogue of recordings - and even starring in a film, Don Quichotte, directed by G. W. Pabst in 1933. His last performance was in Monte Carlo in 1937. He died in Paris the next year of leukemia and a kidney ailment; he was sixty-five. In 1984, his remains were returned to Russia, where they were re-buried in Moscow's prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery.

As Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, by Alexander Golovin, 1912.
Konstantin Korovin, 1915.
As Boris Godunov, by Nikolai Vasilievich Kharitonov, 1916.
 As Boris Godunov, from a 1922 model by I. Troupianskii and V. Rukavishnikova, circa 1955.
Konstantin Korovin, 1921.
Konstantin Korovin, 1921. (Version of the above portrait.)
Boris Anisfeld, 1916.
As Holofernes in Alexander Serov's Judith, by Alexander Golovin, 1908.
Valentin Serov, 1905.
Self-portrait caricature, 1907.
 Boris Kustodiev, 1922. (A masterpiece by Kustodiev.)
Another version/preparatory sketch by Kustodiev, 1920-21.
A further version and/or preparatory sketch by Kustodiev, 1920-21.
Boris Grigoriev, 1918.
Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kuznetsov, 1902.
By his son, Boris Chaliapin, 1934.
As Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust, by Alexander Golovin, 1905.
Leonid Pasternak, 1913.
Boris Grigoriev, 1923. (Grigoriev's portraits are notoriously unflattering, but this looks like it could be later than 1923.)
Sergei Konenkov, 1920.
By his son, Boris Chaliapin, 1934.
As Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust, by Alexander Golovin, 1905.
Self-portrait, date unknown.
Nikolai Andreievich Andreev, 1918. (I love the little "alternate" sketch visible on Chaliapin's neck.)
Savely Sorine, 1925 (?).


  1. Interesting story of a life - but WOW the collection of paintings! I love seeing one man through the "lens" of so many different styles. I particularly love the one you use as your top image.

    1. Thanks! I really had fun putting this together - also, quite a bit of hocus-pocus was necessary to get the best images. : )

  2. Thanks, Stephen. What a great collection.

  3. Oh I've never even heard of him -these are fabulous! I love learning new things here as I always do. Thanks!

  4. ^ Thank you both, Steffen and Stefan! I appreciate it. : )