Andrey Avinoff

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Andrey Avinoff

Dr. Andrey Avinoff (14 February 1884 - 16 July 1949) (sometimes referred to as Andrej Nikolajewitsch Avinoff or Andrei Avinoff), was a Russian entomologist. Avinoff was the Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for 20 years from 1926 to 1946. He established himself as one of the world's greatest butterfly collectors. He is also well known for his paintings.

Life and career[edit]

Avinoff was born in Tulchyn, Podolia Governorate, now Ukraine. He was from a wealthy family in Russia with ties to nobility, and served a diplomatic role in the Tsar's court. He left Russia after the Revolution. In 1924, and having learned to speak perfect English while growing up, he was hired as an assistant curator of entomology at The Carnegie Museum. He was promoted to director of the Museum in 1926 which he remained through 1946. He was also a trustee of the American Museum. In 1927 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Pittsburgh. His associates at the Carnegie Museum included William P. Comstock and E. Irving Huntington, Cyril F. dos Passos, and Vladimir Nabokov. He was also close friends with the biologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, largely due to their similar interest in insects from Dr. Kinsey's work with Gall Wasps.

Avinoff generally lived a secluded but socially correct lifesyle in the upper class of Pittsburgh, which was a popular and thriving metropolis at the time, with a strong elitist social society. He never had children and he was homosexual.

Later in his life, suffering from health conditions, he moved to New York where he resumed his interest in painting, and the New Yorker profiled him in a 12 page article about his life. At his death, he had created hundreds of paintings which are largely sought after by collectors today.


In Russia, Avinoff spent his spare time traveling throughout the mountainous areas in Europe and Asia collecting butterflies. Much of his interest was spent on tracing their genetic evolutions through different valleys as the mountains prevented the variations of butterflies from mating with each other. Much of his collection was used to chart these genetic mutations. He found the Himalayas to be the ultimate proving ground. Avinoff's collection of Rhopalocera from the Pamir Mountains and Central Asia is in the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg. This collection of some eighty thousand specimens was appropriated by the Soviet government. Following World War II, the Mellon family asked to retrieve the collection, but this was refused.

Once in the US, through trading and purchase and through financing of expeditions, Avinoff managed to build up a near duplicate collection, most of which was donated to the Carnegie Museum. Much of his work still exists at the Carnegie Museum and at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Avinoff also made six trips to Jamaica which he described as "a dreamland of tropical splendor" between 1926 and 1940, five of them with Nicholas Shoumatoff, the son of his sister Elizabeth Shoumatoff, who Avinoff largely served as a father figure for. The two caught more than fourteen thousand bots (butterflies and moths in Jamaican patois), doubling the number of known species on the island to more than a thousand.


Later in his life, unable to travel from his health conditions, he moved to New York and resumed an interest from earlier in his life in painting. He was also the brother of the famous portrait painter Elizabeth Shoumatoff, who is most famous for painting Frankin Delano Roosevelt at the moment when he collapsed and died. Avinoff's paintings were highly skilled images of flora or fauna, or paintings with deep meanings with themes of religious, sexual, apocalyptic nature, or combinations of the three. He worked in a wide variety of mediums from precise pencil and ink drawings to oil to watercolor.

One of his most famous series of paintings depict The Fall of Atlantis, a poem by George V. Golokhvastoff published in limited edition in 1938 [1]. The Birth of Atlantis, illustrated in his series of paintings, exemplifies the Art Deco style popular in the 1930s. The image is of a young male figure rising out of the sea, symbolic of the legendary island said by Plato to have later disappeared beneath the waves during an earthquake. His paintings of flowers, and 350 of his works illustrate Wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin.


Partial list

  • 1946, with N. Shoumatoff, "An Annotated List of the Butterflies of Jamaica." Ann. Carnegie Museum, vol. 2O: pp. 263–295, pi. I
  • 1950, An Analysis of Color and Pattern in Butterflies of the Asiatic genus Karanasa. 10 p. 2 plates.
  • 1951, with Swedner, "The Karanasa butterflies, a study in evolution". Ann. Carnegie Mus., 32:1-250. (Also Monograph of the Satyrids of Central Asia)


  • Osborn, H. 1937: Fragments of Entomological History Including Some Personal Recollections of Men and Events. Columbus, Ohio, Published by the Author 1 1-394, 47 portraits.
  • Osborn, H. 1952: A Brief History of Entomology Including Time of Demosthenes and Aristotle to Modern Times with over Five Hundred Portraits.. Columbus, Ohio, The Spahr & Glenn Company : 1-303.

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