Why is Fyodor Chaliapin wearing a stolen fur coat in the portrait by Boris Kustodiev?

Singer Fyodor Chaliapin bought his portrait, which was painted by artist Boris Kustodiev, immediately after the exhibition where he was exhibited in the Spring of 1922. And he never parted with it. Why did the artist depict him not on stage, but against the background of a fair and even in a fur coat?

The fur coat was stolen

In 1920, the opera ‘The Power of the Enemy’ was staged at the Mariinsky Theater;Fyodor Chaliapin was the director and performer in the role of the blacksmith Yeremka. He offered Boris Kustodiev to decorate the performance. Due to illness, the artist had been confined to a wheelchair for several years and the singer personally went to his home to make the offer. He agreed and suggested, without wasting time, to paint a portrait of Chaliapin in the clothes he was wearing at that moment. He really liked the fur coat.

The singer laughed: it was probably stolen. And he told me that, a few weeks ago, he had received it as a fee from some government agency. And he recalled the Bolshevik slogan: "Take the loot.” So, perhaps he was not the first owner of this coat.

Kustodiev laughed in response: "Here we are, Fyodor Ivanovich, and we’ll fix it on the canvas. After all, how original: an actor, a singer and a stolen fur coat!"

The singer's favorite dog posed for the artist

After the premiere, work on the portrait resumed. But, Chaliapin had his own condition: let the artist paint him in this nationalized fur coat, but with his favorite French bulldog ‘Royka’ at his feet. So that the dog could pose, a cat was placed on the closet and he stared at it while Kustodiev made sketches.

The painting was gradually filled with characters. The artist depicted Chaliapin's daughters Marfa and Marina, accompanied by the singer's personal secretary Ivan Dvorishchin. Kustodiev chose fair festivities as a background: in the distance, one can see the stage of a street theater and a poster with Chaliapin's name on it. It is as if the singer had just arrived on tour in a new city at the height of Maslenitsa.

Chaliapin took the portrait to France - the work hung over the fireplace in his Parisian apartment. Only in 1968, the singer's daughters donated the painting to the Leningrad Theater Museum. And its author's replica of a smaller size can be seen in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. 

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