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Life and customs of the “Penates”: Ilya Repin’s mansion-museum celebrates a double jubilee


The “Penates” mansion-museum is marking a double jubilee today. The mansion turns 115 years old, its former owner – Ilya Repin – was born 170 years ago. To mark the occasion, an exhibition of the painter’s works will be opened at his workshop. It will display works by masters of the Russian art – Polenov, Shishkin, Vasnetsov, as well as of Repin’s favorite apprentices – Serov and Kustodiev.


Finnish colleagues will have their contribution too. To mark the date, relatives of the legendary painter came to Russia from France. Facts and legends about Ilya Repin – in Mariya Marchenko’s reports.

He looks exactly like his grand-grandfather Ilya Repin. However, Ivan Dyakonoff did not inherit painter’s talent and works as an engineer.

Ivan Dyakonoff, Ilya Repin’s descendant: “I feel very weird as an artist’s model, especially when a painter has such a sharp view”

There are no painters in the Repin dynasty – him and his son Yuriy aside. When after the 1917 revolution they were settling in France, they had no time for art. Children were given technical education. It was then that those few paintings of the famous ancestor they had managed to take out of Russia after the revolution were sold – they needed money

Ivan Dyakonoff, Ilya Repin’s descendant: “My favorite painting – “Burlaki na Volge”. Im proud that it is valued so high both in Russia and the world”

Repin spent almost 30 years at the “Penates” – living and working. He bought two hectares of land in a formerly Finnish village of Kuokkala at the beginning of last century. This purchase saved the mansion. In 1917 this land was returned to Finland, and the painter found himself living outside of his homeland. It was here that he produced such paintings as “Chernomorskaya Volnitsa”, “Pushkin na Naberezhnoi Nevy”, “Samosozheniye Gogolya” and scores of others

Tatyana Andrushenko, head researcher at mansion-museum “Penates”: “Chukovskiy wrote that Repin worked himself to complete exhausting. He fell on the floor – in front of the canvass – because his nose was bleeding”

The painter worked only in an elegant suit – no paint-stained overalls – and always listened to music. Even his wife Natalya Nordman was barred from entering the workshop while he painted. She served him brunch through a special window cut in the door.

Mariya Marchenko, reporter: “Ilya Efimovich was modest and very simple in household. In the winter and in the summer, he slept on an open terrace – right on this rough bed, with no mattress. Not to freeze in -20 degrees, he curled into a sleeping bag, warmed by rabbit’s fur”

He had never had a flu. Skated with Chaliapin on a frozen pond in the winter, played cricket with Chukovskiy in the summer. Every morning he drank 8 sips of artesian water from a well in his courtyard. He was a vegetarian. His favorite dish was boiled potatoes with butter

Although – keeping a secret from his wife – he always ate a bloody beefsteak whilst on trips to St. Petersburg. And his wife had a secret of her own – she discreetly kept ham sandwiches for close friends. Although, during official lunches hay soup and cranberry cutlets were served

Vera Fillipova, caretaker at the “Penates” mansion-museum: “A chairman sat at the top of the table. He took lids off the plates. Guests put food to themselves, dirty dishes were put I these boxes”

Servants not only didn’t help during dinners, but also dined together with the guests. The Repin’s were convinced “sixty-ers”, supported democratic attitude. Although, those nice habits didn’t survive in the family. Not all descendants of the painter even talk Russian, but they come here every year. This time they will take a painting from the “Penates” to their hometown of Lyon.