Unexpected discovery

In 1980 the Museum was donated a lithograph with the portrait of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov by publisher Sergey B. Khazin. This is an unusual portrait of the writer made in 1904. The whole drawing except for his face and white shirt is made up of microscopic lettering: the graphic artist traced the portrait with the texts of the following four short stories by Chekhov: In the bath, The Siren, Romance with a Double Bass and A Naughty Boy (That Wretched Boy), with a total volume of about 80 thousand characters. We got the portrait framed under glass on the front and tightly closed with cardboard on the back side. Before that this work of art was displayed on exhibitions several times.

In a view of changing storage conditions we had to take the picture out of the frame. As a result, we found a very interesting drawing under the cardboard. It was a shoulder-length portrait of a boy age 4-6. A round and gentle face, slightly protruding ears, blonde hair, a large open forehead, a little turned-up nose and large bright eyes. There was a sort of unchildish seriousness in his eyes. His head and face were slightly brightened up by the watercolor. The portrait sparked the interest of the Museum staff. It was evident that the painting was the work of a professional artist. The picture had the date 1920 and the signature of an artist.

The museum workers decided to show the portrait to fine art restorers of the Graphics Department of the Grabar Art Conservation Center. Everyone seemed to love this picture, but they said it needed some work on it. A few days later the Museum received the answer from the Graphics Department. The experts discovered that was the work of the famous Russian artist Alexey Vladimirovich Isupov. In 1926 he left Russia and went to Italy due to recurrence of tuberculosis of bones and joints. Since that time on, in the West he became known as Alessio Issupoff.

Isupov, Alexey Vladimirovich was born on the 10th of March 1889 in the town of Vyatka in the family of a woodcarver. He had his elementary art education in the icon workshop. In 1908 Alexey entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, where he studied under such famous Russian artists as A. E. Arkhipov, A. M. Vasnetsov, as well as in the workshop of K. A. Korovin and V. A. Serov. He graduated from the School in 1913.

In 1909 Alexey Isupov joined the Vyatka art group; he took an active part in organization of an Art Museum in his native town. From 1910 to 1915 he regularly exhibited his works at exhibitions of the Union of Russian Artists, from 1912 he started displaying his paintings at the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions and in 1916 he became a member of this partnership.

In 1914 he was drafted into the army and then sent to the reserve regiment in Turkestan. In 1917 he was released from military service at the request of the Union of Russian Artists. In 1919 he taught at the Tashkent Regional Art School, and in 1920 he moved to Samarkand. When in Samarkand, the Commission on Preservation of Monuments of History and Culture assigned him to make sketches of mosaics and architecture of this ancient city. As a result he created a series of Oriental landscapes and genre paintings.

In 1921, Alexey returned to Moscow. He painted quite a number of pictures devoted to revolutionary themes. Besides he had to sign a government contract to make a series of portraits of Soviet state officials. In the early 1920-ies Isupov was not feeling well. He was examined, and doctors found some symptoms of tuberculosis of his bones and joints. On doctor's orders he left for Italy, where he settled down in Rome in 1926. In the 1920-ies — 1930-ies he traveled a lot in Italy, painted landscapes, genre scenes and portraits. Paintings by Alessio Issupoff quickly won good fame in European art community. The master's personal exhibitions were great success in Rome (1927, 1928, 1933, 1945), Milan (1929-1931), Bergamo (1935), Trieste (1935), Turin (1937). His paintings were also exhibited in France, Holland, Belgium.

The artist's works continued to appear on Soviet exhibitions, particularly at the First State Traveling Art Exhibition in 1925 and others. He sympathized with the Soviet Russia, and was on friendly terms with Maxim Gorky and the Soviet Ambassador in Rome, D. I. Kursky.

During the Second World War, he assisted combatants of the Italian Resistance movement in their fighting against fascism in the country.

In the postwar years Isupov did not work too much because the disease of his hands was progressing. He had to focus mostly on still life painting.

Alexei Vladimirovich had perfect command of techniques and methods developed by the European schools of painting. However, in Russia his name until recently has been known only to art specialists. This is largely due to the fact that the greatest and most fruitful part of the artist's life took place in Italy, where he became known as an outstanding draftsman and painter. He worked in a variety of genres: portrait, landscape, still life, art and animalistic genres.

A. V. Isupov’s paintings were shown at his one-person exhibitions in Russia: in Kirov (Vyatka) in1971, Moscow (1973), Tashkent (1977). In 2009, his works were exhibited under the name "Alexey Isupov. Russia – Italy" in the Tretyakov gallery.

The boy on the portrait that was found out in the art collection of our Museum, looks very much like the boy in the picture Mother and son by Isupov (the first third of the XXth century, oil on canvas 79.5 x 63,1). It is quite possible that this is one of the sketches for our painting. The autograph of the artist on the portrait is similar to his signatures on such paintings as: Old Moscow. Neskuchny Garden. 1918 and Carts on the streets of old Moscow in the winter of 1913. It has two Russian capital letters "A. И." followed by the third small Russian letter "c".

Many European and Russian museums have works by Alexei Vladimirovich Isupov. His paintings are displayed in: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the National Museum of Contemporary Art and Architecture in Rome, Modern Art galleries in Milan and Naples, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. The most important collection of works by the master has the Vyatka art Museum named after V. M. and A. M. Vasnetsov (Kirov regional art Museum) – the native town of the artist.

Employees of the Museum-Reserve of A. P. Chekhov "Melikhovo" feel happy that now the Museum collection has been enriched with this touching image of a boy of far distant 1920-ies.