Crimea in the Early Twentieth Century

On February 3, 2012, at the Crimean-Tatar Museum of Art was opened an exhibition titled ‘Crimea in the Art of the first half of the XX century‘. It is linked with the forty-fifth anniversary of the 1967 exhibition in Samarkand called ‘Artists Depicting Crimea’. The exhibition ran through 10 March 2012. The opening was attended by Hyder Ishmael, the deputy Mufti of Crimea and sundry other local worthies, as well as Shefika Abdurahmanova, a member of the Crimean Tatar Educators’ Association. She reflected that in the displayed paintings it was obvious how the West and the East intertwined in art, just as it had done in reality in the Crimea.

Pier in Gurzuf, by Konstantin Korovin. (1914).

The West is about concreteness, Shefika explained, that can be uncovered with little effort, whereas the East is multilayered and hidden and doesn’t reveal itself easily. It is a pretension called Orientalism to look superficially at the East and attempt to explain it, she added. This exhibition, however, is not Orientalist. We see that the artists despite belonging to an entirely different aesthetic school penetrated deeply into the essence of Crimean life, the essence of the culture, nature, landscape and architecture.

She drew attention to one of the pictures by Konstantin Bogayevsky. ‘This painting depicts the old Durbe,’ she said. ‘It is interesting that in the foreground is a thistle occupying nearly half the painting. The thistle is the Crimean Tatar symbol of eternity. The endurance and strength comes from the roots, which cannot be completely eliminated. The picture has a deep philosophical meaning.’

Eski Durbe, by B. Smirnov. (1905).

According to the artist Elmira Cherkezova, the exhibition is valuable because it reflects the present Crimea. Its value stems from the subtle, the specific and the real sense of Crimea that the artists managed to convey, she said. After all, the real Crimea is not given to all artists.

Girl with Koran, by Nina Zhaba.

The exhibition includes works from the collections of the Bakhchisaray Historical and Cultural Reserve, the Simferopol Art Museum, and the private collection of Idris Asanin, the writer. In particular, the private collection includes nearly thirty works by the Crimean artist Nina Zhaba.

Çufut Qale, by Nina Zhaba.

Road from Bakhchisaray through the Beshek-Tau hills, by Nina Zhaba.

Bakhchisaray women, by Nina Zhaba.

There are more than a hundred works from the first half of the twentieth century by eight artists, for instance Konstantin Bogayevsky, Vladimir Yanovsky, Alexander Kuprin and Nina and Alphonse Zhaba. There are landscapes, ethnographic studies reflecting the life and culture of the Crimean Tatars. Most are watercolours.

Wedding triptych, by Vladimir Yanovsky.

In 1967, as we mentioned earlier, there was a remarkable display of Crimean art organised in Samarkand under the aegis of Elena Nagayevskaya together with the writer Idris Asanin, a veteran of the Crimean Tatar nationalist movement. There had been works exploring Crimea and Bakhchisaray by Yanovsky, Nagayevskaya and Zhaba. In the present exhibition, however, there are no works by Lapirov, Podberezky, Ovseychuk or the orientalist Zavadovsky.

[The above was loosely translated from Mavile Abkerimova’s ‘Life through the eyes of the Crimean artists of the first half of XX century‘, Crimean News Agency, February 3, 2012.]

Rocks at noon, by Nina Zhaba. (1931).

Fountain, by Alphonse Zhaba. (1931).

Landscapes of the sunny Crimea were executed with great warmth and poetry by the artists Alphonse (1878-1942) and Nina Zhaba (1875-1942). Having finished her studies at the St Petersburg Academy of Art, Nina lived and worked in Bakhchisaray between 1906 and 1924, where her brother used to visit every summer to create his etudes. She married the musician Maksoud Osmanov and lived deeply immersed in the local scene. She studied the traditions and culture of the Tatars and painted hundreds of watercolours, capturing for posterity the traditional costumes, utensils, furniture and activities of the local peoples: the drying of tobacco, dressing and curing leather and felt. She painted images of Bakhchisaray’s religious architecture; unfortunately, these have not survived the passing of the years.

Of similar artistic and ethnographic value are the works of B. Smirnov, among which appear ‘Servant of the Khan’s Mosque’, ‘Mountain Girl’, ‘Children at the Gravestones’ and wonderful views of the khan’s palace.

Crimean peisage, by Vladimir Yanovsky. (1910s).

A vivid and historically accurate, yet romantic image of Bakhchisaray, Karasubazar and Eski Kirim was created by the landscape artists Vladimir Yanovsky (1876-1966) and Konstantin Bogayevsky (1872-1943). The buoyant watercolours of the former depict the architectural complexes of the khan’s palace: ‘Bakhchisaray – the Palace Museum’, ‘Fountain of Tears’, ‘Mausoleum of Dilyara Bikech’, ‘Corner of the Ancient Mausoleum’.

Crimean landscape, by Konstantin Bogayevsky. (1930).

Old Crimea, by Konstantin Bogayevsky.

Consul tower in Sudak, by Konstantin Bogayevsky. (1903).

Beasal Valley, Crimea, by Alexander Kuprin. (1937).

The poetic charm of the Crimea and its inextricable link with the traditional architecture is reflected in the landscapes of the artist Alexander (Vasilyevich) Kuprin (1880-1960). Absorbed by the colours of the eastern town, he discovered the necessary and appropriate tones for his Bakhchisaray cycle. His musically artistic works ‘In the Crimean Forest’, ‘Noon in Bakhchisaray’, ‘Bakhchisaray’s Durbe’ attract a special energy and dynamism, confirming that music and art are consonant.

Crimean landscape, by Yelena Nagayevskaya.

Bakhchisaray, by Elena Nagayevskaya. (1940s).

Crimean landscape, by Elena Nagayevskaya. (1960s).

The fate of the ancient town losing its individuality and the beauty of its old streets and houses attracted the attention of the Muscovite artist Yelena Nagayevskaya (1900-1990). She came to Bakhchisaray in 1950 to work in the Historical-Architectural Museum, and attached her life and art to the town. Nagayevskaya captured in her works the most famous monuments of religious architecture. In 1957, when the authorities began a barbaric campaign of destruction of the holy places of Eski Yurt, Nagayevskaya took up the defence of her adopted culture. She sounded the alarm, wrote to the influential A. Kuprin, who shortly thereafter managed to suspend the demolition. But the Crimean cityscape had by then suffered irreparable harm. Kuprin wrote in 1960 to Nagayevskaya that he missed Bakhchisaray and its hoary beauty. But ‘all the beauty in the architecture has been erased. Nothing remains of that lovely fairy tale.

The words of the artist became self-fulfilling over time. Today there are great efforts to restore the lost works, but only crumbs of the old greatness survive.

[Translated excerpts from Murvet Bekirova’s ‘Pictures – the Preservers of the History and Unique Culture of the Crimean Tatars‘, Voice of the Crimea, 17 February 2012.]

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