World Abaza Congress

16 July 2024
Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba: the artist in exile
"Only that art lives, which was born from life"

The first professional Abkhazian artist, Prince Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba was the great-grandson of the ruler of the Abkhazian principality Keleshbey Chachba. Shervashidze is the Georgian form of the Chachba family name, which was established in the written tradition of Georgia from the late Middle Ages.
The coat of arms of the Shervashidze-Chachba clan, approved on September 14, 1901
The father of the future artist Konstantin Georgievich was the youngest son of the last ruler of Abkhazia, Georgiy (Safarbey). Adhering to advanced views, he took an active part in public life, in particular, in the creation of the first Abkhazian primer, but in 1832 was involved in a conspiracy to restore the Abkhaz statehood, abolished under his father in 1810, after the disclosure of which was permanently expelled from native lands. He married the daughter of the French music professor, pianist Natalia Danlua. The family settled in Feodosia. It was there that on December 24, 1867, they had a son, Alexander, the third of four children. The parents of the future artist parted ways early. Alexander and his younger brother Vladimir remained with his father.
According to the plans of Konstantin Georgievich, the children certainly had to make a military career, so Alexander was sent to the Arakcheev Military School in Nizhny Novgorod, however, the young man, who at that time cherished the secret passion for art, studied there very reluctantly.
He (Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba) was burdened with official conditions, his military career did not attract him, he did not like studying in the Military School, and he was lazy
From the memories of the daughter of the artist Rusudan Shervashidze-Chachba
Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba in his childhood
© Shervashidze-Chachba's Family Archiv
The death of his beloved father made learning for Alexander an unbearable burden. The artist's mother Natalia Matveevna Danlua at that time lived in Kiev and was married to a teacher of a secondary school Nikolai Pavlovich Vasiliev-Yakovlev. At the petition of his stepfather, Alexander was enrolled in the Kiev real school, which he graduated in 1889. And in 24 years Alexander becomes an auditor in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. It was at this time that Alexander Shervashidze created his first oil paintings, such as "In the Garden," "The Night is Coming." The student's talent was noticed by the College teacher Vasily Polenov, who advised the young man to continue his studies in Paris.
"В саду", Александр Шервашидзе-Чачба, 1892 год
© Государственная национальная картинная галерея Республики Абхазия
"... I am a student in the school of painting and sculpture of V.D. Polenov in Moscow, on the advice of which in 1893 I went to Paris to study painting and, most importantly, drawing, which was very lame in school, which was not the fault of V.D. Polenov ...
From the letter of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba to Evreinova Anna Aleksandrovna - the wife of the theatrical figure and translator Nikolai Evreinov
Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba
© Shervashidze-Chachba Family Archive
In Paris, Alexander studied at the school studio of the famous throughout Europe, the teacher Fernand Cormon, whose students in different years were Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The prince studied drawing, painting, composition, anatomy, various styles and directions in painting.
At Cormon's school, the main postulate was to keep in the artist the love of art and freedom of creativity, not to link it with classical canons, but to give full disclosure of individual talent. It was there, at Cormon, Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba finally formed as an artist, as a creator.
Art critic Suram Sakaniya
Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba, St. Petersburg
© Shervashidze-Chachba's Family Archive
The young artist spent a lot of time in the museums of Paris, studying the manner and style of other artists. Then he began to write the first articles on art, which were published in the magazines "Apollo", "World of Art", "Golden Fleece", "Art" and others. He was one of the first who highly appreciated the work of the Impressionists. In Paris Shervashidze gets acquainted with many young Russian artists ─ Alexander Benois, Igor Grabar, Valentin Serov and others, becomes a member of the Russian artistic circle "Montparnasse".
There is not one truth, there are many truths. There is no true picture of life, but the impression of this life that passed through the artist's temperament.
From the article of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba about the Impressionists
In Paris Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba meets his future wife Ekaterina Vasilievna Padalka. The daughter of a hereditary nobleman, she studied at the Sorbonne in the mathematical faculty, but there was not enough money to exist, so sometimes she had to work as a model. This was the acquaintance of future spouses. The portrait of Catherine Padalka "The Lady in a Red Hat" belongs to the artist's brush. In 1905 they got married. But life was not very supportive to them - their first-born son Misha dies in infancy. The financial situation of the young family was also quite difficult.
Alexander Konstantinovich though, was very thoroughbred in appearance, however, possessing very scarce means, led a life more than modest. He was married to a person of excellent spiritual qualities, intelligent and educated ... both he and she were really poor.
From Alexander Benois's book "My memories"
Ekaterina V. Padalka with her son Misha
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba with his son Misha
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
Ekaterina Vasilievna Padalka with her son Misha, the town of Klyamar near Paris, 1909
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
In 1906 Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba took part in the exhibition of Russian artists in Paris. Presented to the French public "Self-portrait" was a huge success. For this picture, Alexander Konstantinovich was accepted into the National Society of Artists of France.
At the end of 1906, the artist moved to St. Petersburg, where he became a decorator of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters. His first work on the stage was the scenery for Gounod's opera "Faust" for the Mariinsky Theater. Then followed "Tristan and Isolde" by Wagner and "Tantris the Fool" by Hardt ─ both of these productions were staged at the Alexandrinsky Theater by Vsevolod Meyerhold. Critics appreciated not only the work of the director, but also the scenery. Maximilian Voloshin called them "a valuable historical work performed during a serious study of ancient miniatures and illustrations." The artist created about 105 sketches of costumes for the production of Shakespeare's tragedy "Hamlet"
... I was the Chief decorator of the Imperial Theaters in St. Petersburg -" ... I was the Chief decorator of the Imperial Theaters in St. Petersburg - my name was on the posters of the Mariinsky, Alexandrinsky and Mikhailovsky theaters every day - I was just an apprentice and "friend" of Golovin, a large decorator - the artist; modest theatrical artist - me, but I was known by the whole of Petersburg, I did not seek it.
From the letter of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba to Evreinova Anna Aleksandrovna - the wife of the theatrical figure and translator Nikolai Evreinov
Ekaterina Vasilievna and Alexandr Konstantinovich had two more children - son Konstantin and daughter Rusudan. However, soon after the birth of his daughter, Alexander Konstantinovich leaves the family to actress Natalia Butkovskaya, whom he met at the "Old Theater". After this, Ekaterina Vasilievna for the sake of her son, suffering from tuberculosis, moves with the children to Feodosia. Rusudan with Konstantin occasionally met with his father in Koktebel, where Alexander came with his new wife to his friend, poet and artist Maximilian Voloshin. The last meeting of children with his father took place in 1920.
The last meeting of Alexander Konstantinovich with daughter Rusudana (Bina) and son Konstantin (Tusia), Koktebel, 1920
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
Alexander Konstantinovich with his son Konstantin, Finland
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
Bina and Tusya with dogs Zhivoy and Babka "at the war"
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
After the revolution and the fall of the Empire, the artist goes to his homeland of ancestors - to Abkhazia. In 1918, together with his wife and director Nikolai Evreinov, he organized a children's art school in Sukhum, where he taught drawing lessons, and a dramatic studio, in which he acts as a stage designer. The performances of Evreinov were shown to the public in Sukhum: "Merry Death", "Stepik and Manyurochka", "School of Etuals". A special success for the audience was the production of "Kozma Prutkov".
N. N. Yevreinov was a very demanding director, rehearsals were held daily from 11 to 7 pm continuously. Alexander Konstantinovich came to the theater early in the morning and worked until the evening, the scenery was written in the attic by students of the studio and himself. Tall, lean, always extremely tidy, he kept very simply, with everyone finding a common language. Very reserved, never raised his voice. If it was necessary to make a remark, he did it calmly, without offending the guilty. This theater interested many people.
From the article of Rusudan Shervashidze-Chachba - a quote from one of the participants of those performances, the theatrical figure S.I. Mulman
Sketch of the costume of Columbine of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba for the comedy of Nikolai Evreinov "Merry Death", Sukhum, 1919
© The State National Picture Gallery of the Republic of Abkhazia
Scenery of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba for the comedy of Nikolai Evreinov "Merry Death", Sukhum, 1919
© The State National Picture Gallery of the Republic of Abkhazia
Nikolay Evreinov, Drawing of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba
In Sukhum, Alexander lived with his cousin Georgi Mikhailovich Shervashidze-Chachba, the brother of the artist – revolutionary Vladimir often spent his time with him. All together, they often visited the Sukhum villa of the Shervashidze-Chachba family, "Tchemi". While in Sukhum, in his diaries Alexander Shervashidze thinks a lot about the spiritual revival of his people.
... The external beauty of the city is just as necessary as clean air, sunlight, it's the soul of the city, without external beauty the city is dead, doomed to the pitiful and vulgar existence of a barnyard in a poor economy. ... We live among the people with beautiful, ancient customs, with a large beautiful inner spiritual culture, and we must make our city beautiful. Nothing incidental, all deliberate and all in the calculation of the overall harmony ... I see all the princes and nobles in Sukhumi, dealing with commercial matters in the city; First of all, it is necessary to think about the Motherland. The wealth of the Motherland is your wealth ... I am extremely sad when I think that everything that you value so dearly in Abkhazians, in general in our people, can disappear. I imagine them as slender, deft very polite, with great dignity, silent, moderate in everything, persistent and hard. This is what our culture is about... I will say firmly: it is better to live in the patzha ... better savagery (seeming) of an "uneducated" illiterate Abkhaz than the half-formation of those whom I see in Sukhum. Those who come from remote mountain villages are dearer to me than Sukhum residents. They still contain a lot of what is described by Tolstoy in the Hadji Murat, which is so dear, so beautiful, and what gives the right, and makes it happy to say loudly: I'm a mountaineer, I'm an Abkhaz.

September 14, 1917 in Sukhumi at Georgy
From the diaries of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba
It seems to me that the Sukhumi period of his father's activities was, although short-lived, but the most precious to his heart, despite the fact that he executed performances in St. Petersburg and in major European cities with leading artists of the time.
From the article of the artist's daughter Rusudana Shervashidze-Chachba
However, due to conflicts with the local authorities, who persecuted Abkhazian relatives and friends of the artist, including his brother Vladimir, Alexander Shervashidze and his wife had to leave Abkhazia. Saving the artist and his family, Nestor Lakoba personally escorted him to emigration. This was written by Nikolai Evreinov Maximilian Voloshin on July 10, 1924: "Alexander Konstantinovich fled from Georgia from the Mensheviks, who pressed his friends Abkhazians, now Bolsheviks, and he was seen off in Batum by Lakoba himself - the current Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of Abkhazia …"
Half-title of the first issue of the magazine "Russian Art", 1921
The title page of the exhibition catalog "Exposition des oeuvres des artistes russes", held from June 16 to July 10, 1921
The cover of the exhibition catalog "Exposition des oeuvres des artistes russes", held from June 16 to July 10, 1921
Leaflet of the exhibition "First Russian Exhibition of Arts and Crafts" in the art gallery of Whitechapel, London, 1921
The path of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba led to France. In 1920, the artist receives an invitation from the famous theater figure Sergei Diaghilev, the creator of the famous ballet company "Russian Seasons", to work as a stage designer in his ballets. Diaghilev believed Shervashidze was an "irresistible Russian artist", a theater designer and artist Ivan Bilibin ─ "the best designer in the whole of France," and the great dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar ─ "consummate craftsman, an accomplice of artistic and theatrical revolution in the West." In addition to Diaghilev, Shervashidze worked for other theaters in Paris, London and Brussels, participated in a theatrical tour in the United States.
Russian ballet of Diaghilev
For a long time little was known about Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba, only that he was in Paris. His daughter Rusudana Alexandrovna had no connection with her father after 1929 - the time of the last correspondence between her parents.
My father wrote to us and when possible, financially supported in the hungry twenties. Over time, our correspondence was interrupted. So our destinies dispersed. My mother, having gone through many difficulties, brought up us and managed to preserve in our hearts love and respect for her father ... she died in 1955, without knowing anything about the fate of her father. She always worried that his work will remain abroad and will not get home. My brother Konstantin, who sailed as an assistant to the captain of the Black Sea Shipping Company, died in 1938. We are left with my father alone - he is in France, and I'm in my homeland. We did not know anything about each other, until accident helped me find it.
From the memoirs of the daughter Rusudana Shervashidze-Chachba
Konstantin Aleksandrovich Shervashidze-Chachba
© Shervashidze-Chachba’s Family Archive
Rusudana Shervashidze-Chachba
In 1956, an article by art historian O.D. Piralishvili about the work of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba appeared in the Georgian magazine "Drosha", where his death was also reported. Two years later, this article falls into the hands of the artist himself, and then he writes the answer to the author of the article: "I am correcting a small inaccuracy: I'm still alive, to my surprise, I'm not sick and live completely alone. ... I am ready to give everything I have to museums in Tbilisi and Sukhumi"
Following this letter, 500 works by Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze arrived in Tbilisi. After a while, 220 of these works were delivered to Sukhum. Also, Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba's works are kept in the State St. Petersburg Theatrical Library and the State Central Theater Museum named after Bakhrushin.

It was the article of Piralishvili and the response to it of Alexander Konstantinovich that marked the turning point in the constant search of his daughter Rusudana Alexandrovna for the traces of her father, the connection with whom she and the whole family had lost for quite some time. Since 1958, the active correspondence of the daughter of the artist Rusudana Alexandrovna with her father began. From this correspondence it becomes clear that as a stage designer Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba worked with Diaghilev, and then with his successors until 1948, when his wife, Natalia Butkovskaya, died.
A small gouache by Picasso in 1922 - "Two women running on the beach" was repeatedly enlarged and used as a curtain In Diaghilev's ballet "Blue Express". A copy made by theatrical artist Alexander Shervashidze was so accurate that Picasso signed the curtain with his name, since then this is the biggest work ever signed by Picasso.
Since 1920 I worked very much for the ballets of S.D. Diaghilev, according to the sketches of French artists - Picasso, Derain, Braque, artists of a new direction in painting ... it gave me the opportunity to perform my favorite occupation - painting large canvases with my hand with, i.e. sceneries. Diaghilev greatly valued the fact that I wrote myself with my own hand on large canvases...
From the letter of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba to his daughter Rusudana
At a fairly old age, he did scenery for "Scheherazade" for the Monte Carlo theater, and this work, which he called "a trifle" in his letter to his daughter, took him five days.
For 5 days and 8 hours a day, at the age of 84 years - in fact it was beyond my power - but still I overpowered the old age of impotence, and admittedly Scheherazade (under Bakst) was my - the most successful, impressive, grandiose and colorful.
From Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba's letter to his daughter Rusudana
"Chopiniana" in the orchestration of Vittorio Rieti and with the scenography of Prince Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba and the costumes of Alexander Benois. Soloists Nana Golner, Michel Panayeff, Anna Volkova and Tatyana Ryabushinskaya
© Photo by Annete & Bazil Zarov, Monreal, Canada
Tatiana Stepanova and Oleg Tupit, choreographic poem in one act "Swan Lake", music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanoff
Map of the "Original Ballet Russe" tour in America, which began in Mexico in January 1942
Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba
© Family archive of Shervashidze-Chachba
Almost in every letter of his daughter, the artist spoke of the same thing - an irresistible desire to return to his homeland. Rusudana Alexandrovna tried to help her father to see his native land again, but all attempts failed. In 1959, the artist is forced to leave Cannes - the landlady of the apartment, demanded to leave it. New place of residence in old age is Monte Carlo, where the artist's friends helped to move. But there was one flaw. In Monaco, Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba lost the right to a French pension and in recent years was forced to live in a boarding house of the Princess of Monaco.
It is more and more difficult for me to survive ... I got an invitation from Tiflis from the directors of the Museum to come and that they want me to make a big official reception. I do not need this, I'm a modest and very old man, but if the Tiflis authorities take part in my visit, I think I can hope that they will let me come to Sukhum. If it is possible, then ... ask in Tiflis and in Sukhumi, if they want to let me live there with you, my daughter. To arrange my wish of arrival, I have to go to Paris ... but I could not do it because of the big expense ... The telegram to you cost me 1000 francs ... how to arrive, I know, so it will not be difficult for me, and travelling by avion will be very easy - my health is quite good ...
From the letter of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba to his daughter Rusudana
Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba in the guest house of Princess Grace Kelly, Monte Carlo
© Family archive of Shervashidze-Chachba
In 1964, Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba suffers a serious operation, after which he spends two years in hospital. In 1968, the daughter of the artist Rusudan finally gets an opportunity to see his elderly father in France. She arrived in Paris on August 25, but it was too late - five days earlier Alexander Konstantinovich Shervashidze-Chachba was buried in a Russian cemetery in Nice.

On this trip, his daughter visited the villa of Anna Sorina - the wife of Mikhail Dzhotovich Shervashidze-Chachba - near Nice, which Alexander Konstantinovich often visited, he had his own room, and among the personal belongings of his father she found among other things a lot of records that showed how much he yearned for his homeland.
Even on the photo of his wife, who died at Cannes in 1948, he wrote: "... Can I ask for the transfer of the body to Abkhazia on occasion?"
From the memoirs of his daughter Rusudana Shervashidze-Chachba
The artist, who loved his Motherland, but who never had the opportunity to live there, nevertheless found peace in Abkhazia, when in May 1985 his ashes were brought from the Russian cemetery in Nice and on May 12 in a solemn atmosphere reburied in Sukhum. Surprisingly, the last kilometers - by sea - the ashes of Alexander Konstantinovich to Abkhazia were delivered by the boat "Nestor Lakoba".
To the young Abkhazians, the children of the Land of the Soul! Apsny - your ancient call sounds like a distant sound, like an echo, a rustle of leaves, like a distant and sweet memory - oh my mother Abkhazia! - What a deep sleep your tired sons are sleeping! The intoxicating honey of your forests, the slope of the hills, the bluish distance, the distant snow, the noisy running of your streams, the smooth waters of the lake, the fragrant coolness of the forests, the green shrouds of stony shores, - oh my mother Abkhazia - go there, to the snows, there you see and hear, and live, so that every stone, every leaf, fallen and dry, so that every turn of the path is traversed, so that every new image of a native swarthy face, like a change in the morning sky, yours and greedy, and inquisitive.
from the notebooks of Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba

Автор текста Арифа Капба, бильд-редактор - Наала Авидзба, главный редактор – Амина Лазба