Pupil of Ermolov. The first Chechen artist

Pyotr Zakharov-Chechen. Self-portrait

The fate of Pyotr Zakharovich Zakharov-Chechen is inextricably linked with the terrible assault on the village of Dadi-Yurt. This topic is difficult and potentially explosive, because many ethnically committed historians try to use it in political games and cultivating the growth of social tension. They succeed in doing this for the reason that the modern man in the street, living in the virtual world of the so-called mimicism, cannot for a moment imagine either the realities of the 19th century society, or that legal world, which is very far from modern norms. In addition, many facts in this story are deliberately hushed up and omitted.

Storm Dadi-Ûrta

Dadi-Yurt was a very rich village. Up to two hundred capital stone houses surrounded by no less powerful hedges. Almost every inhabitant of the aul was armed, which was required by their craft. After all, the wealth of Dadi-Yurt was based not on cattle breeding or agriculture, but on a business that was completely legal for that highland society – raids. Oddly enough, but robbery in those places was as widespread and legitimate as the slave trade in the lands of the Circassians. Crossing the Terek, the warlike inhabitants of Dadi-Yurt fell upon the Terek villages, taking people into slavery and stealing cattle and horses. Numerous peace treaties concluded with the inhabitants of Zarechye were easily violated.

The last straw of patience of General Alexei Petrovich Ermolov, who was then already serving in the Caucasus, was the hijacking of a large herd of horses, which, according to some sources, turned up to two hundred cavalry into infantry. A plan of reprisals was drawn up, i.e. a military expedition aimed at punishing the enemy, restoring damage and eliminating the enemy base. This practice was common and completely legal for that time.

Before the assault on September 14, 1819 (according to the old style), by order of Ermolov, the inhabitants of the aul were offered to voluntarily move away from the Terek, and therefore from the Cossack Terek villages, which they were devastating. The obstinate highlanders refused, and a bloody assault began. Each house turned into a fortress, which had to be taken with the help of artillery. Even the women of the aul fought desperately, rushing at the Cossacks and soldiers with a dagger in their hands. A bloody meat grinder was going on.

Many women were executed by their own husbands right in front of the Russians. They became hostages of a rumor, deliberately cultivated for political purposes, that the terrible Yarmul, as Yermolov was called, ordered to select beautiful Chechen women, and to sell unattractive young ladies to Dagestani Lezgins for a ruble apiece.

And in the evening, when the aul was on fire, and hundreds of the bloody corpses of mountaineers, soldiers and Cossacks lay around, Russian soldiers found a crying boy in one of the houses destroyed by the battles. The boy was terrified, so a soldier named Zakhar took him away from this terrible place. It is this soldier who will take the child for education. It is generally accepted that Zakhar was a Cossack by the name of Nedonosov, but recent research shows that Zakhar was a soldier, and the surname attributed to him does not appear in historical documents at all.

There are also contradictions in the date of birth. Most often, it is indicated that Pyotr Zakharovich was born in 1816, but this date is taken from the ceiling. It’s just that one of the soldiers who discovered the child said that the boy looked no more than three years old, so the soldier’s assumption became the date of birth of the future artist.

In the Ermolov family

The boy was baptized in 1823 in Mukhrovani, 30 kilometers east of Tiflis. At baptism, he received the name Peter, according to one of the versions chosen by Ermolov himself, who took an active part in the fate of the original “sons of the regiment”. After all, Pyotr Zakharovich was by no means alone. Under Ermolov, many children grew up, who were orphaned due to the endless Caucasian war. Officially, they were looked after by the then Major Count Ivan Osipovich Simonich.

Formally, the children were considered captives, but this is probably the only case in history when captives were given shelter, clothing, food, and most importantly, an education that was unusually difficult to access and expensive for those times – as a ticket to life. For example, during the capture of the aul of Dadi-Yurt, a two-year-old boy was “captured” and brought up by Baron Rosen. Later, this boy will become a famous Chechen poet and will rise to the rank of collegiate assessor under the name of Konstantin Mikhailovich Aibulat.

Portrait of Pyotr Ermolov by Pyotr Zakharov

In Tiflis and Mukhrovani, Peter spent about five years, being raised by Zakhar and by Alexei Ermolov himself. After these five years, in 1824, the guy was transferred to education directly to Ermolov, but not to Alexei Petrovich, but to his cousin, Peter Nikolaevich, at that time a colonel, commander of the Georgian Grenadier Regiment. Peter was then single and had no children, so he was glad to have such an adopted son and called him only affectionately Petrusha. Ermolov quickly noticed that, simultaneously with teaching literacy, Petya constantly draws everything that comes to hand.

Noticing this creative inclination of the “son”, Ermolov began to bombard all possible authorities and comrades in arms with letters asking to admit Petrusha to the Imperial Academy of Arts of St. Petersburg. Unexpectedly for himself, Pyotr Nikolaevich ran into the wall of the charter of the Academy of those years, which forbade the taking of serfs and foreigners for training. But such a trifle could not stop the hero of the war of 1812 and the Caucasus. During the coronation of Nicholas I, he asked to pay attention to the gifted boy to the very president of the Academy, Alexei Nikolaevich Olenin, who advised first to give the boy to a professional painter to test his skills. Finally, Ermolov, coming from a noble family, raised all his connections, and soon the Society for the Encouragement of Artists took Zakharov under its wing, and he went to St. Petersburg.

Armenian Nersesov and Chechen Zakharov. Drawing by M.I. Scotty

Around the same time, Ermolov’s health began to fail. Long years of campaigns and endless war affected. In 1827, at the age of forty, Ermolov submitted a letter of resignation and moved to the Moscow region, where he devoted himself to his family. However, he did not for a minute lose touch with Zakharov, being keenly interested in his affairs and in correspondence not only with him, but also with Alexander Ivanovich Dmitriev-Mamonov, who took care of Pyotr Zakharovich in the capital.

In 1833, Zakharov finally entered the Academy, where he studied extremely well, earning a number of praises to the delight of Ermolov. Already in 1836, Peter was preparing for his first academic exhibition. According to some reports, it was a work on the national theme “Rybak”. The exhibition, consisting of almost 600 works by different authors, was visited by Nicholas I himself and his wife. Among the works he noted was the work of Zakharov.

Chechen is a freelance artist

Already on August 10, 1836, the Academy Council awarded Zakharov the title of a free artist. And in February 1837, the artist received an official certificate from the Academy. Peter immediately notified his adoptive father that from now on he was engaged in portraits to order and was already giving painting lessons himself. Despite the impressive list of portraits, few of Zakharov’s works have come down to us. Also, despite their number, the young artist still needed money.

Children of Peter Ermolov. Pyotr Zakharov-Chechen

During this period, Zakharov signs his works in different ways, apparently, sometimes feeling lonely, because was forced to move frequently. So, there are just signatures Zakharov, Zakharov-Chechen and even Zakhar Dadayurt. In 1939, Peter visited his adoptive father and painted a group portrait of his children. This picture vividly shows the fraternal atmosphere in which Zakharov grew up. Peter loved his “brothers and sisters” very much, always speaking about them with tenderness. This is how he wrote to Ermolov and his children in those days:

“I pray to God for the extension of your days and your whole family, Katerina Petrovna, Nikolai Petrovich, Alexei Petrovich, Varvara Petrovna, Nina Petrovna, Grigory Petrovich! All your family good health and good success in science, it was nice to know the success in drawing of Nikolai Petrovich, Katerina Petrovna and Alexei Petrovich, they promised to sometimes send their works … “

By the 40th year, Zakharov’s financial situation became difficult, and he entered the service as an artist in the Department of Military Settlements, working on illustrations for the publication Historical Description of Clothes and Weapons of Russian Troops with Drawings, Compiled by the Highest Command: 1841-1862. That year he made more than 60 drawings of uniforms and weapons of the Russian army. At the moment, a little more than 30 of his works of that time have come down to us. Having thus adjusted his finances, he applied to the Council of the Academy of Arts to receive a program for the title of academician. At the same time, he was forced to leave the capital for health reasons.

The famous portrait of Alexei Ermolov by Zakharov

At the end of April 1842, Zakharov-Chechenets arrived in Moscow, settling in the house of his adoptive father in 236 Chernyshevsky Lane. It was during the “Moscow” period of his work that Pyotr Zakharovich would write, probably, his most famous work, thanks to which every reader of these lines , without knowing it, he knows Zakharov in absentia. We are talking about a portrait of General Alexei Petrovich Ermolov. The very portrait in which the stern general looks menacingly at the viewer against the background of the darkening Caucasus mountains. This portrait was the very program for obtaining the title of academician.

Pyotr Zakharovich Zakharov-Chechen became the first artist-academician of Chechen origin in history. The future seemed cloudless, but fate had its own evil plans …

The family life that had barely begun, which promised happiness, quickly ended. Back in 1838, Zakharov painted a portrait of Alexandra Postnikova. And upon arrival in Moscow, he quickly became friends with the Postnikov couple. Soon he began an affair with Alexandra. On January 14, 1846, in the Church of the Intercession of the Virgin in Kudrin, Zakharov married his beloved woman. The Yermolovs, headed by Alexei Petrovich, were also present at the wedding.

Group portrait of the Postnikov family. Pyotr Zakharov-Chechen

Alas, misfortune fell on the young couple a few months after the wedding. Alexandra fell ill with consumption, i.e. tuberculosis. Despite the care of doctors, and she was also from a family of famous Moscow doctors, her beloved wife died. Almost immediately, Pyotr Zakharovich went to bed. Grief from the loss of his wife and forced inaction, when the hand could not hold the brush, killed the artist faster than the damned disease. After all, Zakharov worked all his life, and vegetation was unthinkable for him. His last days were brightened up only by communication with the “brothers and sisters” Yermolov, because Alexey Petrovich was constantly busy in the State Council, and Pyotr Nikolaevich had already died.

On July 9, 1846, an outstanding artist of his time, who significantly enriched the culture of the Russian Empire with wonderful works, died. They buried Zakharov-Chechen at the Vagankovskoye cemetery under the same tombstone with his wife.

Life after death

After death, creators begin to live in their creations. Zakharov is no exception. But he was unlucky in this sense several times. In 1944, when the deportation of part of the Chechen and Ingush peoples began, in some kind of doctrinaire ideological impulse or wanting to curry favor with the authorities, cultural officials began to delete the name of Zakharov-Chechen from catalogs, and some of the works were completely attributed to other authors. Now it is very difficult to restore historical justice.

Zakharov’s work also suffered during the war in Chechnya. Back in 1929, several of Zakharov’s canvases were sent from the Tretyakov Gallery to the Chechen-Ingush Museum of Local Lore in Grozny. During the first Chechen war, the terrorists turned the museum building into a fortified area with all the ensuing consequences. When the positions were abandoned, the museum remained in ruins, which the militants also mined. This is how Zakharov’s work disappeared.

The same fate was shared by the canvases of Pyotr Zakharovich, transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts of the city of Grozny in 1962. Now they are all on the wanted list and from year to year surface at overseas auctions, where they are sold for millions of dollars.

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