For everyone around, the happy fate of this couple was composed in heaven. She originated from the family of the famous sugar manufacturer Nykola Artemiyovych Tereshchenko, who, just like his brother Fedir, was fond of collecting art objects. Actively acquiring paintings by Russian artists at auctions and exhibitions, the brothers often competed with the Tretyakovs.
Varvara Nykolayevna (1852—1922) grew up in an atmosphere of piety and passion for art, and she was not inferior to her brothers in terms of passion for collecting. In the person of Bohdan Ivanovych Khanenko (1849—1917), she met a like-minded person close to her in spirit. The husband graduated from Moscow University in 1871, served as a magistrate in St. Petersburg, then a member of the Warsaw District Court, served in the Department of Justice. He was interested in art, met Shishkin, Kuindzhi, Aivazovsky, and began collecting paintings early.
In the early 1980s, Bohdan Khanenko retired. From that time, the couple was not anchored, and they enthusiastically began to travel to European capitals, get acquainted with museums, collectors, auction houses, and antique dealers.
Mikhail Nesterov, who was associated with Kyiv for years of his work (he took part in the design of the St. Volodymyr Cathedral), was a frequent guest of the Khanenko family. In a letter from the artist to his relatives dated 18 February 1891, you can read: “Today I visited Khanenko for the second time, examined his collection of paintings and rarities; this collection is the only one of its kind in Russia, even the private collections in Moscow don’t have it.”
Trial and error method
Bohdan Ivanovych collected artifacts with the passion of a hunter. Thanks to his instinct, in Kyiv, you can see the works of Rubens, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Van Eyck, Perugino, Frans Hals, Reynolds, and the Khanenko Adoration of the Magi diptych by an unknown Dutch artist of the 15th century, which entered all world catalogues.
Olena Zhyvkova, deputy director for scientific work of the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts, tells the story of one acquisition. Moscow horse breeder Malyutin asked Khanenko to urgently come to him so that he would take away unnecessary trash from him. The time was late, and he had to examine the canvases with a candle. But even under dim lighting and a cursory examination, the instinct did not disappoint him!
In 1999, the Museum of Western and Oriental Art was returned to the name of its creators, Varvara and Bohdan Khanenko. Just recently! Unfortunately, the storms of wars and revolutions scattered the objects, collected by the Khanenkos with such a love. The Museum’s experts say that only a third of the once huge collection remains in Kyiv today, but the survived pieces cause invariable interest and admiration not only among idle visitors, but also among specialists.
The works of Zurbarán Jr. are extremely rare, moreover, it is almost impossible to find the paintings he signed, and the Khanenko’s still life has the artist's signature.
At that, every collector has mistakes. This turned out to be the acquisition of the lovely Infanta, who has been attributed as the work of Diego Velázquez for almost a hundred years. Khanenko acquired this painting in 1912 at the sale of the collection of the Consul Eduard F. Weber (at that time, the most significant private collection of old masters in Germany). The provenance of the work states that in 1891, the Portrait of the Infanta Margarita from the collection of Don Sebastian was acquired by a certain Colnaghi, who, in turn, sold the most valuable painting to Weber. For a long time the world’s big names did not agree to recognize the Kyiv Infanta.
In 2008, scholars finally attributed the painting to Juan Batista del Maso, a student of Velázquez, and dated it to 1665. But many visitors to the Museum are still striving to the hall, where the Infanta Margarita, albeit pained not by Velázquez, shimmers with her pearls from time immemorial.
Our separate material is dedicated to the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts
Knowledge and money
At the time of the beginning of the Tereshchenko-Khanenko collection, few people promoted the investment attractiveness of art. Today, it is much talked, and in many ways, this motive becomes fundamental for collecting works of art. They collect them indiscriminately, without examination, without even having primitive knowledge. It results in an unjustified rise in prices and the emergence of artistic myths. But in collecting works of art, the main thing is not their financial viability, but love! And only when a collector acquires artifacts intuitively (but not without a foundation of his subtle taste), then he can discern the master’s handwriting even in the twilight of a candle, take the trail of a masterpiece like a hound and catch the prey with a stranglehold.
A collection cannot be gathered without money, it is obvious, but at the same time one should not forget about knowledge. Khanenko’s library contained about 3 thousand books on art history, he consulted with the most famous specialists of that time. His collection is considered outstanding not so much for the number of exhibits as for their artistic value. And Bohdan Ivanovich used an encyclopedic approach to the creation of his museum. It is not for nothing that over the main staircase, after the restoration of the building in 1987—1998, a cleared inscription became visible, the first terzina of the 4th chapter of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy:
Between two viands, equally removed
And tempting, a free man would die of hunger
Ere either he could bring unto his teeth.
As a passionate collector and admirer of painting, he wanted to present the main epochs in his museum, therefore, thanks to his enthusiasm, today you can see Egyptian figurines, antique sculptures, Byzantine objects, scrolls and bronze from the Middle Kingdom on Tereshchenkivska Street.
Art in the city: masterpieces for Kyiv
Khanenkos moved to Kyiv from St. Petersburg in 1881. By this time, it had already become obvious that the collection did not fit into their apartment and a separate room had to be built for it; moreover, the couple considered it a crime to hide their acquisitions from the public. Some prefer to admire alone, others show off in a narrow circle of close friends, and some open museums and open doors for everyone.
The couple had no children, and the Museum became the fruit of their many years of love and care. They considered having, for example, a painting by Titian or Greek marble of the fifth century and not showing these things is the same as taking over the unpublished works by Goethe, Pushkin or Shakespeare. The creations of geniuses, in essence, should not only belong to those who own them — this was the credo of Bohdan Khanenko.
Her father presented Varvara a land plot on street Oleksiivska, 15 (now Tereshchenkivska). When designing the mansion, the couple assumed the collection will be located there, and provided a separate space for each epoch. So, the Green Cabinet, where the medieval section is located, is distinguished by a pseudo-Gothic style. The decoration of the Red Living Room corresponded to the Renaissance era. The Delft dining room imitated a 17th century Dutch house with stained-glass windows, Delft faïence items on the walls, high oak panels.
Bohdan Ivanovich died in 1917, and his cherished desire came true: the collection became national, moreover, it became the basis of several Kyiv museums (the National Art Museum, the Kyiv Art Gallery, the Museum of Western and Oriental Art). Varvara Nykolivna was less fortunate in recent days, the new government separated her with her favourite subjects, to which the life of the spouses was devoted.
She passed away in 1922 and was buried next to her husband, in the cemetery near the Vydubetsky monastery