Lika Mizinova and Anton Chekhov
While researching Antosha & Levitasha, I read the letters of Anton Chekhov and Lika Mizinova. I was primarily interested in their relationship with Levitan and in how the three of them played off each other to heighten a romantic rivalry that was sometimes in jest, sometimes in earnest.
But I also found myself fascinated with the dramatic arc of their ten-year correspondence. In his letters to Lika, Chekhov used humor and wit as a defense against intimacy. He dallied with, deflected and ultimately rejected her love for him without openly expressing the ambiguity of his feelings toward her. For Lika, what started as lighthearted exchanges ended up as sad expressions of thwarted love.
I decided to translate and adapt their letters as a two-act play. I worked with dramaturge Gavin Reub to fashion the exchange of letters into a dramatic interplay that would work on stage. On June 6th, Sweet Lika, performed by members of The Seagull Project Ensemble, premiered at ACT Theatre in downtown Seattle.
“Railway Stop” (1885), one of five stolen Levitan paintings that have been recovered.
The Russian Interior Ministry announced on 28 December 2016 that all five paintings stolen from the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos in August 2014 have been recovered in two raids on the outskirts of Moscow and Nizhni-Novgorod. The five paintings–“Ravine Behind a Fence,” “Quiet Stream,” “Railway Stop,” “Backwater,” and “Roses”–have an estimated value of $1.27 million. Three men, wanted in connection with a series of armed robberies, were arrested. Additional details in English and in Russian.
Through meticulous scholarship and fine writerly craft, Gregory offers a riveting story of two creative geniuses at work. . . . In addition to this vivid picture of Chekhov’s and Levitan’s potent personal and professional relationship, Gregory’s readers will gain valuable insights into the context in which they worked: the politics and economics of artistic production; the competing movements in the arts at the time; and, memorably, the pervasive and toxic anti-Semitism that affected Levitan at every step of the way — including in Chekhov’s circle. . . . Gregory’s book should be required reading for Chekhov and Levitan scholars, for anyone interested in the history of Russian art and literature, and for general readers.
Carol Apollonio, Duke University
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“There is rich material in this study. Gregory was right to unpick this relationship. From the point of view of Chekhov studies, Levitan is too often
neglected. From the point of view of Levitan studies, this is an artist whose position astride the two most significant movements in Russian painting of the late nineteenth century, ‘The Itinerants’ and the World of Art, is ripe for
investigation and appreciation.”
Cynthia Marsh, Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Nottingham
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“This meticulously researched and readable book is a chronological account of the contacts, friendship, common pursuits, rivalries, and professional work of Anton Chekhov and Isaac Levitan—two pivotal figures in Russian literature and art. Their work marked the end of positivism which reigned in Russia from the 1860s on—much longer than elsewhere in Europe. Their output was marked by lack of political engagement. Chekhov’s stories did not carry ideological freight. Levitan’s landscapes eschewed narrative content.”
Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier, The Harriman Institute, Columbia University
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The photo portrait of Levitan on the left is one of the most expressive taken of him and has been widely published. However, when and where the photo was taken are often misattributed (“Babkino, 1898”) or left vague (“1890’s”).
The photo on the right is a vital clue to solving the mystery. It is a portrait of Levitan’s mistress Sophia Kuvshinnikova and her husband Dmitri, taken at the same time on the same steps of the same dacha. This considerably narrows the possible times and places that the photo could have been taken—it had to be during a summer when the three of them were together at or near the same dacha.
I assumed it was taken at the dacha at Zatishie (Tver Province) next to Lika Mizinova’s family estate, Pokrovskoe, in the summer of 1891. There are several references to Dmitri Kuvshinnikov visiting his wife and Levitan while they stayed there. The journalist Evgraf Konchin, in researching his book Levitan Mysteries (Загадочный Левитан, Moscow, 2010), found the original photo of the Kuvshinnikovs in the archives of the Moscow Literary Museum. On the back, written in faded pencil, were the words “Vladimir Province.” This led him to conclude that the photos were taken the following summer in 1892 in the village of Gorodok near Boldino in Vladimir Province. Levitan and Sophia Kuvshinnikova arrived there in May, and Konchin maintains that Dmitri Kuvshinnikov stayed there for several days during the summer at the home of a physician colleague.
The existence of the photos also allows us to make an educated guess about who took them. Either Dmitri or Sophia took the portrait of Levitan; Levitan, in turn, photographed the Kuvshinnikovs.
Evening Bells (1892)
Alison Anderson’s novel The Summer Guest is an elegy and a delicate mystery, in which Anton Chekhov appears as a muse and an elusive friend. Katya Kendall, a Russian émigré who runs a failing small press in London, hires Ana Harding to translate a newly discovered diary by Zinaida Lintvaryova, a blind doctor terminally ill with a brain tumor. The Lintvaryova family rented the dacha on their estate to the Chekhov family for the summer in 1888 and again in 1889. The diary chronicles Zinaida’s friendship with Chekhov, who trusts her with a secret: he is working on a novel.
During the Soviet era, Katya falls in love with her future husband Peter in the presence of a Levitan painting. Having just met, they stand before Evening Bells at the Tretyakov Gallery:
It was a river scene, with two churches on the far side, a cluster of towers and onion domes. A road led down to the river and then away from the other side, almost as if a horse and carriage could drive across the river unimpeded. There was a small jetty with some fishing boats, and a larger boat conveying people to the other shore. There was an evening light with clouds, a gentle summer serenity.
Katya turned to Peter and said in Russian, We’re in the picture. We are on this side of the river, obviously, and we have to find a way to get to the other side.
More about The Summer Guest