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.