Wednesday 15 February 2012: Granny and me
When I noticed I was coming up to 500 blips I thought this might be the occasion to pick up the trailer I left in my previous family history blip a few weeks ago. There, I recounted the tale of my maternal great-grandmother's marriage in New York and I mentioned that my paternal grandmother had a connection with that city too - but in her case it's a posthumous one.
Anyway here she is and here I am holding a reproduction of her portrait which is owned by the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum acquired it many years ago (I don't know where from) in the belief it was by Vassily Kandinsky - in fact it is by a lesser painter Dmitry Kardovsky. When they discovered that fact the portrait was taken down and consigned to the stores. In 2007, I sought permission to view it in person and I made a trip, thanks to Guinea Pig Zero, to the museum's high security building in downtown NYC. The picture is almost as tall as me and painted in strong colours. Maria Anastasievna stands against a dramatic backdrop with lowering sky (to match her sullen expression), she wears a huge black hat and she clasps to her bosom a white Persian cat.
I had only seen a reproduction before. My father was alerted to the picture's existence only late in his life, having not seen his mother's face for 60-odd years. No other image of her exists although I grew up with a smaller companion portrait by the same artist of his father/my grandfather out shooting with dogs in the Ukrainian countryside. Financial hardship necessitated the sale of that picture when I was a teenager but I can visualize it clearly still (I don't know where it went).
Maria Anastasievna disappeared out of my father's life when he was a small child around the turn of the 19th century. After his parents divorced she vanished without trace. His two elder siblings died in childhood. Only he and his father survived the Revolution and neither could return to Russia when it was replaced by the Soviet Union. My grandfather died in Switzerland long before I was born. My father was surrounded by a radioactive zone as far as the past was concerned so I never questioned him about his memories of his mother. However, like most children of his social position he probably had little contact with mama who was more interested in social life than family life; his main attachment would have been with his nyanya (nurse).
This image is all that survives of my Russian grandmother (apart from 25% of my genes). My father had one other memento. The cat was called Mitzi. As a small boy he once mischievously tossed Mitzi in the air and caught her again. Naturally enough she gave him a deep scratch on his hand and he retained the scar for the rest of his life.