Princess Maria Tenisheva

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Portrait of the Princess by Alexander Sokolov (1898)

Maria Klavdievna Tenisheva (née Pyatkovskaya, in the first marriage - Nikolaeva, (20 May, 1858 – 14 April, 1928), Russian Princess, a public person, artist, educator, philanthropist and collector. She was born May 20, 1858, in St. Petersburg. Maria Tenisheva is famous as the founder of the Art studio in St. Petersburg, and the Drawing School at the Museum of Russian antiquity in Smolensk, handicraft college in Bezhitsa town, as well as by artistic and industrial workshops held in her own estate of Talashkino.


Maria Pyatkovskaya was born on May 20, (June 1) 1858 in St. Petersburg. The girl was illegitimate,[1] and grew up in her stepfather's wealthy house; she was quite a shy girl, despite many governesses, nurses and teachers present in the house. Little Maria was expected to be obedient and restraint. His mother was cold to her, apparently binding to this child the moments of her life, which she was trying to forget.

When 16-year-old Maria just graduated from a private school, a young lawyer Rafail Nikolaev, proposed to her. The idea that the marriage would give her freedom, pushed her to give consent. The couple had a daughter, also named Maria, but the marriage did not work out as the husband was the gambler. "Everything was so gray and ordinary, meaningless" she wrote later. Soon Maria Tenisheva went to Paris to study singing at the famous Marchesi. She had a beautiful soprano. Maria also took her little daughter to France. That was a really tough time for Maria, as her husband refused to give exit permit and her mother also stopped subsidizing her. Maria took singing lessons at famous Mathilde Marchesi, also graphics lessons. Marchesi was sure that her student was born to have the glory of Russian opera singer. Maria was offered to take a tour of France and Spain. But due to the conflict with entrepreneur Maria refused to go, moreover, she decided that singing and stage performance were not for her. After she returned to St. Petersburg, she attended Baron von Stieglitz classes. At this time Maria was studying in depth the history of art, was spending a lot of time reading books and visiting museums.
In 1892, Maria was married to Prince Vyacheslav Nikolayevich Tenishev, an outstanding Russian manufacturer (relatives of the Prince did not recognize Maria, and she was not inscribed into the Princes Tenishev genealogy). The couple settled in Khotylevo estate acquired by Prince Tenishev in Bryansky district, Orel province; estate was situated on the banks of Desna river, where the Princess founded a one-class school.[2] Princess Maria Tenisheva had a great artistic taste, she could feel art. Tenisheva collected watercolors and was friends with famous artists: Vasnetsov, Vrubel, Roerich, Malyutin, Benois, sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy, and many other artists. She organized artists studio to prepare young people for higher arts education in St. Petersburg (1894–1904), where Ilya Repin was teaching.

Maria Tenisheva also became one of the founders of the magazine Mir Iskusstva (World of Arts).[3]

When traveling with her husband to Europe, Princess was not limited in finances and bought the Western European paintings, porcelain, marble sculptures, jewelry, historical values of China, Japan and Iran. And when she with her husband went travelling through the old Russian towns: Rostov, Rybinsk, Kostroma, Volga region villages and monasteries, the handmade beauty by unknown masters appeared before her and the new collection of utensils, clothing, furniture, jewelry, glassware set in.

In 1893, Maria Tenisheva persuaded her friend, Princess Catherine Svyatopolk-Chetverinskaya to sell her ancestry estate Talashkino,[4] and there she quickly created welcoming, creative atmosphere that gathered many famous artists, musicians and scientists: Ilya Repin, Nicholas Roerich, Mikhail Vrubel, and many others. Talashkino became Princess' lifework.[5] In September 1895, thank to Princess' efforts a new school building with dormitories, dining room and kitchen was opened for village kids near Talashkino. Orphans had privilege at the entry, and Princess Tenisheva took them on the full maintenance.

In 1919, after the Revolution, Princess Maria Tenisheva with her friend, Princess Catherine Svyatopolk-Chetverinskaya and her assistants left Russia for France. During her exile in Paris, she wrote a book of memories called "Impressions of my life. Memories", that covered the period from the late 1860s to the New Year's Eve of 1917. The book was published only after her death - Princess Maria Tenisheva died on April 14, 1928 in the Paris suburbs of Saint-Cloud. In the obituary to honour Maria Tenisheva Ivan Bilibin wrote: "Her whole life was dedicated to the native Russian art, and she has done infinitely much for it"