Serov’s grave

Maria Favorskaya, née Derviz, wrote in her memoirs about life at Domotkanovo, her family’s country estate, including recollections of her mother’s cousin and father’s close friend, the painter Valentin Serov.


There’s a display of photographs and artworks at the Domotkanovo museum in a room devoted to the extended Derviz family.  Here is Vladimir Dmitrievich Derviz – Maria Favorskaya’s father.

Her account of Serov’s death and funeral in 1911 is moving:

“Future painters, sculptors and architects drew, painted, and sculpted in a low-rise building of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture on Myasnitskaya Street. The October morning, damp and cold, was suitable for work.

A model in a blue Russian sarafan and a kokoshnik was posing for the “life class”. The yellow light of a lamp lit her from one side, from the other the cold daylight [came] through a huge floor-to-ceiling window. Another model, a naked boy, was lying on a podium at the opposite side of the large classroom.

I was painting the boy in oils. All of a sudden the wind brought the news: Valentin Serov had died.

The students surrounded me, his relative, asking if it was true. I was stunned: “Impossible! I saw him a couple of days ago, he looked absolutely healthy.” Immediately I went to the Serovs.

I passed by the front stairs and came in through the kitchen. The cook said:

“How awful! Our barn [master] died this morning,” and burst into tears. I went upstairs. Olga, Serov’s wife, was active as ever. She was telling relatives and friends: “Yesterday he was healthy and cheerful, and today he woke up and said only that he did not feel well, and died. I was alone and could not send for the doctor at once.”

Her constant care about the large family, the habit of receiving Counts and Countesses as well as the common people, the concern to observe decencies, as her husband required, helped her to go through her grief with reserve, without tears and complaints.

Serov’s mother – Valentina Semyonovna – was already there, in the boys’ room upstairs. Relatives and friends surrounded her, and everybody worried about her: she was old. She was in a state of heightened dismay and kept saying that she could not understand that her son – her Tonya – had died.

The coffin was carried along the endless Donskaya Street, then placed on a bier, though the artist had forbidden this: he hated biers.

Many relatives, friends, artists, art students walked, Serov’s admirers – noble patrons (often merchants) – came in carriages.

It was cold and gloomy. The artist was buried at the Donskoye cemetery, next to the grave of Gogol.”

It intrigued me to read that he was buried at Donskoi, close to Gogol, because certainly neither of them is there now. Both are in the Novodevichy cemetery, about which I’ve written before.  (I also wrote about Donskoi, where Solzhenitsyn is buried. Yes, I do have a fascination for cemeteries!)


Valentin Serov’s grave in Novodevichy cemetery, Moscow

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