My family moved to Russian Turkestan
while I was still a child, in order that we might be near the headquarters
of my father, who was at that time the commanding general of a brigade of
sharp-shooters. While there we visited the semi-independent native state of
Bokhara, the wonderful city of Samarkand with its magnificent architectural
monuments, which had been partly demolished by earthquakes, that city of Tamerlane
and other famous conquerors of Asia. The glorious mosques, with the resplendent
tiles of turquoise blue, of deep celestial ultramarine and brilliant gold
yellow, have left an indelible imprint on the memory of my childhood days.
I always consider butterflies as my main instructors
in art. Since childhood, I have made paintings of them, endeavoring to reproduce
every shade of their color, and every minute detail of pattern. Naturally,
my eye has been trained to notice the slightest variations in this respect.
The question of ornamental value of the butterfly's wings attracted me as
one of the most fascinating problems connected with my favorite branch of
Together with systematic and biological investigators,
I regard as most instructive the study of the laws of color and the pattern
variations and interconnections exhibited by the butterfly wings, which after
all represent the unique phenomenon in nature of a rigid, flat and ornamented
surface, stretched onto veins. This surface is devoid of any marked structural
The study of each pattern infinitely varies— though
manifestly subject to certain laws of balance, symmetry, ornamental repetitions
in the very intricate striation, peculiar occelation and elaborate border
designs--and discloses wonderfully illuminating material on decoration as
pure crystallization of natural ornament, independent of any epoch or national
taste. Perhaps one of the most instructive features of the coloring of butterflies'
and moths' wings, is not so much how the colors are matches, as in what proportion
of relative areas, equal or interrupted, they are combined. The elements of
quality and quantity are here equally significant.
find, on these winged jewels examples of dynamic symmetries, "constructivisms",
"suprematism", so much spoken about nowadays, and a great deal more
besides, never dreamed by any modernist prophet.
I decidedly consider a close and thoroughly systematic study of color rotations
and pattern variations of lepidoptera, a most valuable guide for developing
a sense of color composition and a feeling for harmonious and natural ornamentation.
Besides the scientific interest and gratification which
I derived from entomology, I feel myself immeasurably indebted in my work
as an artist, to the winged creatures that received from the ancient Greeks
the fitting name of Psyche.
Another circumstance which played an important role
in the formation and direction of my aesthetic taste since childhood, was
our old country house, in the south of Russia, with all the varied collections
and artistic treasures which it contained.
My nearest ancestors were enthusiastic
collectors in different branches, and so our old house happened to contain
many remarkable paintings of the Italian, Dutch and French masters, great
numbers of Asiatic rugs, old porcelain, various antiquities from archeological
excavations, and a considerable numismatic collection. Our library comprised
a great diversity of fine illustrated books, dating from the 15th century.
An important portion of the heirlooms, treasured in Byzantine and Old Russian
schools. Some of the most valuable of these religious paintings.
Adorned the church that occupied one of the wings of
the house. This estate was plundered and destroyed during the Russian Revolution;
the old manor and the church with all their precious contents are now nothing
In previous years we used to spend our summers here
and during my early days I lived in this atmosphere of beautiful paintings
and objects of art. When subsequently, in mature age, I visited the galleries
of Europe, I realized that fate had ordained me, since childhood, to live
in a real art museum, the various treasures of which had the additional importance
of being objects intimately connected with our family traditions. All these
dear and beloved paintings, books and collections were not only my teachers
but also my friends, departed now, but never forgotten.
Though my vocation has always been art and natural science,
I graduated in law, and as was the custom in certain classics in Russia, I
joined the government service, passing from district courts to the Senate
where I was Assistant Secretary General to the Imperial Court, where I had
been appointed in 1911, as Gentleman-In-Waiting to the Emperor, and, at the
time of the Revolution, I was elected District Marshall of Nobility.
But my official occupation fortunately always gave me
ample leisure for art and travels. My paintings were first admitted to public
exhibition in Moscow in 1904, before I had reached the age of twenty, and
since them they have been on exhibition in both capitals, Moscow and St. Petersburg,
most often with the Society of Moscow Artists and the Academy of Fine Arts.
Voyaging about the world brought me in contact again, at a mature age, with
the magic and charm of Asiatic art.
It was a true inspiration to admire the glories of India--Buddhist,
Hindu and Mohammedan--the phantasmagoric temples of South India, the grace
and abstract perfection of Mogul art, fascinating mystery and profound symbolism
of Tibetan banners in remote lamaseries. I am inclined equally to treasure
the enigmatical, terse laconism of the early Chinese portrait painters, the
calligraphic refinement of a court painter of a Shah-Takmasp or a Shah-Jehan,
or the devout pictorial prayer of a nameless monk in a forgotten monastery.
The tropical lands in the Old and New Worlds—
Ceylon; later, the West Indies, have
disclosed the wonders of color in exuberant vegetation that transcend all
regular limits of landscape composition in temperate zones. The primitive
art of modern natives presents an interesting tribute of naïve interpretation
of the luxury and overwhelming power of surrounding Nature.
Having come in touch with a great variety of artistic
traditions, during my travels around the
World, I always experience a delight in plunging into different cycles of
conceptions of beauty, and now I feel that my inclinations are decidedly divided
between different schools, even different cultures.
Perhaps these tendencies may seem paradoxical, but for me they preserve the
intimate interconnection, like different sounds forming one chord. It would
be difficult to express, briefly and explicitly, my artistic credo from the
point of view of my sympathies with accepted and known schools, but its closest
formula would include early Italian and Flemish Renaissance of scarcely later
than the Quattro Centro, ancient Russian Icon paintings and Indo-Persian miniatures.
The early Tibetan art also commands, in a way, may very
great admiration. The archaic Greek arts conception has a great fascination
for me. In the modern schools, which leave me cold in comparison with the
magnificent achievement of a more spiritual past, I am interested naively
in some novel ways of treating luminosities, spectral problems, transparencies
and superimposed prismatic reflections, so frequent on the iridescent butterfly
A loyalty to artistic traditions,
a feeling of appropriateness of various forms and style to particular subjects,
and a knowledge of draftsmanship are the best assets, in my opinion, to a
free personal expression. Moods, prompted by certain pictorial problems, should
freely and easily dictate the corresponding form of expression, blending them
out of their sympathetic components and molding them into one indivisible
It is like the perfect knowledge of all the shades of
meanings of words, the understanding of rules of correct phrase construction
and the feeling for character in language, which permits us to use it to the
best advantage in expressing our innermost personality.
An artist, in order to be free, should
worship craftsmanship and should lovingly cultivate the vehicle of his expression
in all the varied forms of his fancy.
With all due respect to the correctness of drawing in
cases of realistic painting, I feel more and more of call toward symbolic
and allegorical paintings.
The grand visions, contained in many sacred scriptures,
are a source of the most inspiring admiration, and if I will be able to dedicate
myself to the pictorial interpretation of some of these in the modest limits
of my ability, I would consider my vocation fulfilled.
Painting should remain a sign—it is by its very
It should be, in its true achievement,
a relation of significances—an apocalypse in colors and forms.
Mathematical harmonies and musical laws are akin to
it. The metaphysical is within its reach.
styles are part of the form and thus are an intrinsic element of the subject,
since to disclose it in a visual, graphical or chromatic form is the purpose
Our ecstasies, before the multifarious glories of the
beautiful, are anchored in an intuitive consciousness of s supreme unity.
The work of an artist should be a sacrifice of Devotion
and Tribute of admiration to the creator, as a dewdrop reflects the sun and
shines with a small spark of a heavenly rainbow.