The Nabokovs’ Art Collection
In “Speak, Memory’ Vladimir Nabokov mentioned some paintings and drawings in his family collection but he never gave any details about the works. The history of the art collection of the Nabokov family is not yet fully researched and only recently some new materials have been found.
In the manuscript division of the State Hermitage Museum there is a document entitled “The catalogue of the art objects formerly belonging to V.D.Nabokov in the Division of registration of monuments of art and history” that contains a wealth of information on the Nabokovs’collection.
After November 1917 the Nabokov House was used as the headquarters of the District Military Commission. In September 1918, after all property in Russia was nationalised, the District Commissar received the order of the Art Commission to aid the art expert M.D.Filosofov in cataloguing the Nabokovs’art collection and help to relocate it. The report written by Filosofov is available and from it we learn that 79 paintings and graphic works were taken away from the house.
Among the works nationalised and catalogued were drawings and watercolors by A.Benois, B.Anisfeld, paintings by Ruisdal, Beccafumi, Lingelbach, Everdingen, Romanino, Teniers, A.Ostade and others. A large part of the collection was not attributed and the catalog mentions many “authors unknown”. An addendum to the list is the paper entitled “Paintings belonging to Olga Nikolaevna Rukavishnikova” (Olga Nikolaevna Rukavishnikova was Vladimir Nabokov’s maternal grandmother). A handwritten note next to the list says that the catalog was found in the Nabokov House and some of the paintings listed in it were actually found among the collection.
Apparently, the parents of Vladimir Nabokov did not do much collection work. The collection of over 50 works of the 16th and 17th century Western European art. Contemporary artists often gave sold or gave their works as gifts to the Nabokovs whom they knew personally. Some works (e.g. by Boris Anisfeld) were given as gifts to the Nabokovs as benefactors donating money for art projects.
The location of a large part of the collection has been already found and the work is going on. As we know now 20 paintings are in the State Hermitage Museum, 15 drawings are in the State Russian Museum, 2 paintings are in the Kovalenko Art Museum in Krasnodar, 2- in the Samara Art Museum, 1 painting is in the Khabarovsk Art Gallery and 1 is in the Vladivostok Art Museum. We are also collecting materials about the several paintings sold by the Soviet government to collectors abroad .
Here we publish the reproductions of some paintings for the first time. We are grateful to the State Hermitage, the Samara Art Museum, the Khabarovsk Art Gallery for the reproductions of the paintings.
The photographs of the Hermitage items were made by Yu.Molodkovets, A.Koksharov, V.Terebenin, L.Heifets.