(Nepokryte 1897 – 1970 Leningrad)
Portrait of a Man, Possibly Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky (1882-1969)
Inscribed upper right Ивановичъ (Ivanovich), signed and dated lower center 1916 г. Октября 19-го (1916, October 19) and
inscribed on the back of frame, translated from Finnish:
The painting was painted in 1916 by the Russian artist Anton Komashko, who at that time was a student of the Russian Professor Ilya Repin. Komashka, known as Repin’s most talented student, moved to Paris after the Russian Revolution, where he had considerable success. This painting was owned by Ilya Repin’s heiress, who sold it at Kuokkala’s Repin villa at the estate auction. The buyer was the economist Liisi Hyvarinen (later Mrs. Leppo), who at the time acquired a dozen Komashka works.
Watercolor and pencil on paper
16 x 10.5 cm (6 ¼ x 4 1/8 inches)
Anton Komashka was born in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine in a small village called Nepokryte. The artist’s impoverished family was unable to provide him with art supplies, but a seventeen-year-old Komashka was determined to create. In 1914 he sent a self-portrait accompanying a letter to the great Russian artist Ilya Repin (1844-1930), requesting to be taken on as a student. Swayed by his letter and the young man’s potential, Repin generously gifted Komashka the tuition to attend the Kharkiv Art College. Komashka was eventually invited to join Repin in Kuokkala, Finland (now Repino, St. Petersburg, Russia) at his summer estate called Penaty. It is unclear exactly how long Komashka resided with Repin, however his memoir Three Years with Repin assures us that he was there in 1916, the year he painted the current works. Little else is known of Anton Komashka other than his return to the Kharkiv Art Institute in 1927 as a professor, a post which he held until 1932.
Repin and his wife, the author Natalia Nordman (1863-1914), moved to Penaty in 1898. The proximity of the estate to Saint Petersburg allowed the couple to host a variety of guests from the city, and it was not uncommon for Repin to create portraits of his visitors. Penaty became an artistic hub, a destination for artists and intellectuals to visit during their travels in Russia. Natalia sadly passed away in 1914, after which Repin sought comfort in the company of his countless friends, students and visitors. A friendship of note was that with his neighbor and renowned poet Korney Chukovsky (1882-1969). The year of Natalia’s death, Chukovsky began to assemble Chukokkala, an enigmatic compilation of hand-written contributions from artists, literary figures and poets who visited Kuokkala. Chukovsky continued to develop the book throughout the 20th century, amassing photographs, doodles, personal notes, poetry, and even tic-tac-toe games from dozens of contributors, including the American poet Walt Whitman, the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin, and of course Ilya Repin, who provided the book’s first drawing. Chukokkala was not formally prepared until 1965, when Chukovsky recruited the assistance of his granddaughter to help him make sense of what was fundamentally a tattered and random collection of pages devoid of chronological or thematic order. The project required cross-referencing of Chukovsky’s diaries, context from countless archives, and the help of linguistic experts (the book contained writing in over ten different languages). The publication did not come into physical existence until ten years after Chukovsky’s death in 1969.
There is one surviving drawing by Komashka in Chukokkala, however others may have been lost or damaged during the book’s dramatic history, which included being hidden in a hole while Chukovsky fled from the fascists in 1941. The drawing is inscribed as translated from Russian, “1916 May 8th, in memory of the precious Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky, Anton Komashka” (Figure 1). It is possible that the inscription was added years after 1916, and Chukovsky’s comment in the published Chukokkala states that the drawing is of a neighbor, however he cannot remember his name. While the subject of the drawing is unknown, the style of the picture relates to the current work and confirms the close connection of Komashka, Chukovsky and Repin during their time together at Penaty.
We have identified the potential sitter as Korny Chukovsky, who would have unquestionably been present with Komashka at Penaty in 1916. Portrait of a man not only depicts the poet’s signature mustache (Figure 2), but it also bears the inscription on the upper right corner Ивановичъ, or Ivanovich, Chukovsky’s middle name, which in Russian is often used as a nickname between close friends.