On 8 December 2020 the Ovcharenko Gallery announced that it successfully bid 61.2 million rubles ($826,756) at auction to purchase the former house-studio of Isaac Levitan in Moscow. The conditions of the auction (and legislation related to the preservation of objects of cultural heritage) require the Ovcharenko Gallery to spend additional funds to restore and preserve the building, which is currently a fire hazard and in poor condition.
Quoted in TASS, Vladimir Ovcharenko, the gallery’s founder, said, “Art will live in it. Before us is a lot of work to restore the building. It’s a fire danger. But this doesn’t scare us. . . . The spirit of Levitan will help us. In return, we promise to devote ourselves to art and world-class artistic projects.”
In 1889 Sergei Morozov, a wealthy Moscow entrepreneur, gave Levitan the use of the detached building on the grounds of his father’s grand mansion in a fashionable, secluded part of the city. The artist remained there until his death in 1900, living on the ground floor and working in his studio on the second floor.
Sweet Lika is a fully produced, two-act audio drama that I’ve just posted to sergegregory.com. It originally premiered in 2017 as a staged reading at ACT Theater in Seattle as part of The Great Soul of Russia series performed by members of The Seagull Project ensemble.
The play is based on the letters of Anton Chekhov and Lidia (Lika) Mizinova. They wrote to each other for over ten years starting when he was 29 and she was 21. Their correspondence is a lovers’ duel, a parrying and thrusting in which Chekhov uses humor as a defense against intimacy and Lika plays along, hoping to penetrate his inscrutable heart.
Each act is one-half hour long and can be played on any device. It’s also possible to download the files for later listening. I hope you enjoy it, and, if you do, be sure to let others know about it.
I have written a chapter titled “Burned Letters: Reconstructing the Chekhov-Levitan Friendship” for the newly published Chekhov’s Letters: Biography, Context, Poetics. The editors also asked me to contribute to a section in the book in which the anthology’s authors describe their favorite Chekhov letter. “A Prescription to Keep Love at Bay” is a short essay on a humorous and intentionally absurd letter Chekhov wrote to Lika Mizinova on 20 June 1891.
This book is the first in English or Russian to be devoted to a collection of articles on Chekhov’s letters. Angela Brintlinger of Ohio State University writes that the editors “Carol Apollonio and Radislav Lapushin have gathered the best Russian, British, and North American scholars and writers to offer fascinating historical background, textual analysis, and personal insight into the most intimate genre of writing—the epistolary—and the most approachable of Russian writers—Chekhov.”
The book is available from the publishers, Lexington Books, and from Amazon.
“The Apotheosis of War” (1871) by Vasily Vereshchagin
This year I’m once again collaborating with Seattle’s Seagull Project Ensemble by curating a performance titled “The Dark Side of Humanity” as part of their Great Soul of Russia reading series that takes place at ACT Theatre in downtown Seattle at 7pm on Tuesday, April 10.
I’ve selected and translated three short stories (“Four Days” by Vsevolov Garshin, “Noose Ears” by Ivan Bunin, and “Ward No. 6” by Anton Chekhov) that will be directed by the Seagull Project’s artistic director, Gavin Reub.
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.
“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
“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