Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chekhov with a squint?

Chekhov by Serov 

I never realised Chekhov had a squint.

I've always had a soft spot for people with a squint, especially in women.  'What else did she want, that witch with a very slight squint in one eye?' (from Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita, tr. by Michael Glenny).

But Chekhov! The great playwright and humourist, the master of short story who is always portrayed, in paintings and photographs, hiding behind his trademark pince-nez on!

In this portrait dated 1903 (watercolour, paper), Valentin Serov, a great portraitist (he is famous for the portrait of Shaliapin among others), removes the pince-nez and tucks it inside Chekhov's waistcoat at the bottom of the picture, as though saying, there, he is not a sad narrator of decline, doom and gloom, look, he is a bubbly, fun loving man.

Serov met Chekhov in 1900 and immediately started asking him to sit for a portrait. He even tried to ambush him at home, sending a visiting card saying that he will drop by with some paper and pencils. It didn't happen and Chekhov agreed to sit only months later.

Although the portrait is usually dated as of 1903 Chekhov actually sat for Serov in the Spring of 1901. After a few sittings the writer left for Crimea and never had a chance to pose for the portrait again. Serov considered the work unfinished, a study, but apparently had to give up of ever catching Chekhov again. "Chekhov is elusive," admitted Serov.

In 1904 the writer died.

(source: article by T.Yu.Novoselova, teaching scholar, Chekhov Central Public City Library, Taganrog, Russia)

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