St. Petersburg Stories and Tips

The life of Repin and his dacha's history

"The staircase of Sheherezada", Repino Photo, St. Petersburg, Russia

I’d like to tell you about the history of this place. In 1900, during a trip to Paris (it was Repin's 5th time in Europe; the first one was after his graduation from the Academy, when he won the Gold Medal and a six-year scholarship, which allowed him to travel abroad nearly three years), Repin met Natalya Borisovna Nordman (she was the "love of his life"), and then moved to her country estate "Penates" in Kuokkala (at that time this territory belonged to Finland). Natalya Borisovna and Ilya Efimovich Repin together organized the famous Wednesdays at the "Penates," which attracted the elite of Russia of those days. It was a bohemian place frequented by artists, musicians, and actors: A. Kuprin and V. Mayakovsky, Korney Tchukovsky and T. Kyi, F. Shaliapin and Koni – they all attended his house parties on Wednesdays. Nordman died in 1914. Before her death she left her estate to the Academy, and now it’s a filial branch of The Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Fine Art. Even after Nordman's death, Repin lived in "Penates" for 16 years. But the museum itself was founded only in 1940, and already in 1948 Finish Kuokkala was renamed Repino.
The place for "Penates" wasn’t chosen accidentally; in those days, and even quite recently, it was the area of a health resort. Now you can see plenty of dachas there (it a quiet and pleasant land). In those days, less than 3 thousand people lived here (I mean, their permanent residence); though there were not many places of entertainment in this place, nevertheless twenty thousand people came here every summer – it was the highest density in the countryside, the most crowded place near St Petersburg. For city dwellers Kuokkala has been a magnet since it was founded as a summer residence area in the early 19th century.
In the memoirs of Lydia Tchukovskaya (she was the daughter of one of the most famous Russian specialists in literature – Korney Tchukovsky), you find that, as children, they disliked all the summer residents who came to Kuokkala by the suburban train.
"…And fresh air… and around only deep snow, and skies, and no one around, and pine-trees, -- sometimes I’m envious of my life there…» these are the words of Korney Tchukovsky, who was one of the neighbours of Repin. He also said once, already being in Peredelkino, that the people who lived in Kuokkala could count themselves among the most fortunate in Russia.
Before the death, "handicapped by the atrophy of his right hand, Repin couldn’t produce works of the same quality". Nevertheless he trained himself to paint with his left hand, and he did his best to succeed in it. He was completely absorbed in what he was doing. During the last years of his life Repin lived under the pressure of financial strain. In 1926, a group of Bolsheviks sent by the Ministry of Education of the Soviet Union helped him financially to force him to return, but he didn’t do that. They greatly resented his refusal to leave Finland to Russia. Up until the last days of his life Repin didn’t leave his "Penates".
Later, these country houses, like "Penates", turned into dachas; I mean the very notion of country house became outdated. This is why, now, we don’t have any country-houses; they were associated with wealth, luxury and dignity, and belonged to the richest families in this country. Our dachas are much smaller and cheaper.
It’s interesting to note that the word "dacha" has become widespread in use. It was derived from Russian, as well as such words as "sputnik" and "perestroika" (there are few derivations from Russian into English but "dacha" is among them), a great number of famous Russian people of art had their dachas. Reading "Anna Karenina", or "War and Peace" by Tolstoi, you can see more clearly that heroes and heroines are very often shown at their country houses not far from Moscow and St Petersburg. It’s a pity but now there are few places where you can see more clearly what the notion "dacha" means, yet "Penates" absolutely justifies this name dacha.
I would suggest that you walk in the picturesque surrounding area of coniferous forests, which stretch for miles. I suggest making a round in the Penates, starting from the cottage and back to it. No one would see you around; walking at a slow pace, only the squirrels will be your fellow travelers. Here every pond, path, bench, and even artesian well was made according by Repin's own hands and according to his own desire. There are four angles of the park. Begin from the house, and then move to the summer "Theatre of Osiers and Isis," where the performances took place. Vladimir Mayakovsky read here his verses. The way we take lay through the forest till we reach "The staircase of Sheherisada;" now the pine trees around are so high that even if you climb on its top, you wouldn’t see the Gulf of Finland. Nothing disturbs the silence of the grave of Repin (he died here on September 29, 1930), where are always fresh flowers. On the way back, we come to the above mentioned artesian well. Repin himself preferred this healthy cold water to the water-pipe and even now we can drink water from it.

If you are not in a hurry, you will be able to appreciate every detail of this "magnificent temple created by nature and man." Repin himself observed this area from the balcony "Aeroplane," which you can see on the pictures. In 1914 Repin wrote to Switzerland to N. B. Nordman, "My aeroplane gives me wonderful sunbathes... I have never seen anything like this, that is why now I am writing on it." He was absolutely sure that the air and his tendency not to close the windows in winter time let him live a long life. So...

Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand?

By Sir Walter Scott

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip