Papkov Semyon Vasilyevich

Semyon Papkov Collection

In 1989 – 1990 the Department of personal collections received from Semyon Vasilyevich Papkov (1902 – 1993) twenty-six theatrical designs and watercolours by Alexander Benois as a donation. Papkov donated these works through the [Rodina] society of Russian ex-patriots in America.

The Papkov family emigrated after the revolution and lived for a number of years in Yugoslavia. Only the eldest son was able to receive a further education and went on to become an architect. The younger son, Semyon, studied engineering and worked as a building contractor. When Yugoslavia was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, Semyon and his wife Yulia joined the resistance movement. At one point, Yulia was sentenced to death by the Nazis, before being rescued by partisans. The deterioration of relations between Tito and Stalin after the war had serious implications for Russian émigrés living in Yugoslavia. Semyon was arrested and the rest of the family expelled from the country. After many years in various nations, the family finally settled in San Francisco. As Semyon was unable to continue his previous profession after being tortured in prison in Yugoslavia, he decided to open a private bakery. Semyon Papkov eventually had his own house in San Francisco, where he lived until his death in 1993.

Despite all these misfortunes, Semyon Papkov never lost his interest in art, inherited from his wood-carver father. He only began collecting, however, in 1972. Papkov corresponded with Anna Cherkesova, the daughter of Alexander Benois, and collected four hundred works by Benois and the members of his circle. He also acquired works from Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky, with whom he began corresponding in 1974. Far from his homeland, collecting works of Russian artists allowed Semyon Papkov to feel that he still in touch with her national culture.

Alexander Benois was one of the leading figures in Russian art at the turn of the century. In 1926, he settled in France, where he was the artistic director of Sergei Diaghilev's [Ballet Russes]. Benois also created the sets and costumes for theatres in London, New York, Milan, Vienna and Copenhagen. The master's theatrical designs reflect his exceptional ability to recreate different historical periods and national styles.

The set and costume designs now on exhibition were created in France between the 1920s and 1950s. Like all of Alexander Benois's theatrical works, they are refined, decorative and historically exact. The exhibits include a crimson curtain for Maurice Ravel's ballet [La valse] (1928) and the costumes of the Venetian Merchant in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera [Sadko] (1930) and the droll heroes of Yevgeny Schwartz's play [The Emperor's New Clothes] (1940).

Alexander Benois painted such large watercolours as [Interior of the Artist's Studio] and [Landscapes of Normandy] between 1928 and 1948. These works demonstrate the artist's talent as a watercolourist and convey the charm of one of the most attractive regions of France.

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