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Tanglewood Online Exhibits

A Quilt of Connections: Pre-Revolutionary Artistic Circles in Russia

The Koussevitzky Quilt was created roughly between 1916 and 1918 and signed by a group of elite Russian artists, composers, authors, painters, and important industrialists who supported the arts. These individuals had close relationships with Koussevitzky and his wife Natalie and often with each other. The quilt allows us to glimpse the rich canvas that was artistic life in Russia before and immediately after the October Revolution of 1917. (Research by Elena Zaretsky).

This exhibit was created as part of the Koussevitzky 150 celebrations at Tanglewood.

Interior of Koussevitzky's living room with quilt hanging on the wall behind a couch and between two prints

The Koussevitzky Quilt hanging on the wall at Seranak, the summer home of the Koussevitzkys near Tanglewood

The quilt has hung at Seranak until it was removed for restoration in 2023.

Photographer unknown

The act of making a quilt to preserve memories of special occasions, or “friendship tablecloth”, were mentioned around the 19th century. Attendees of the gathering would sign their names in ink pencils, and names and any quotes were later embroidered over.  These tablecloths became cherished possessions and were kept in the family for generations, creating a treasure trove of memories. 

Russians, although known for their hospitality and love of sitting down for a meal or lively discussion, did not have that particular tradition of friendship tablecloths.  However, all of the participants of the Koussevitzky quilt spent years traveling through Europe and being exposed to European culture. Koussevitzky and his wife Natalia (née Ushkova) also moved to Berlin in 1905, where Koussevitzky was studying conducting and met Arthur Nikisch. They also spent the years between 1909 and 1920 frequently living in Europe, where Koussevitzky performed as a soloist and built his conducting career.

The Koussevitzkys finally left Russia in 1920.  The timing of the quilt suggests that this was a way of remembering their Moscow gatherings with friends, although there is no evidence that the quilt was created specifically as a parting gift. There also are few clues as to how the quilt was executed: were signatures collected at one large gathering or over time? It does appear that multiple people embroidered the signatures: there are different styles and different thread colors.  However, the signatures represent the most notable in Russian arts, literature and music of the time.

Key to Signatures

Quilt with embroidered signatures, with numbers next to each signature

1. Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)
Conductor, composer, double bass soloist

2. Evgeny Chirikov (1864-1932)
Russian novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and publicist.
Quote: "Poet, remember that applause and fame are not the same thing…"

3. Maria Germanova née Bichkova (1884-1940)
Worked in theatre, silent films, and as a director and theatre producer.
Quote: “And remember, life is an art.” 

4. Vladimir Nemirovitch-Danchenko (1858-1943)
Soviet and Russian theatre director, writer, pedagogue, playwright, producer and theatre administrator, who co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 with his colleague, Konstantin Stanislavsky (signature #34 on this quilt).
Quote: "Remedy for bronchitis: a mixture of cocoa, honey, smaltz, and cream.  One teaspoon of this mixture in a glass of milk."

5. Olga Gzovskaya (1883-1962)
Russian actress.
Quote: "And you, respectable signors, you will remember Mirandolina!" (excerpt from Carlo Goldoni's play Mirandolina (La locandiera)).

6. Maria (Alekseyesva) Lilina (1866-1943)
Russian and Soviet stage actress. Lilina was her stage name.  Joined Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 and rose to fame as Masha Chekhov’s “Seagull”.

7. Ivan Moskvin (1874-1946)
Russian and Soviet actor and theatre director.
Quote: “Will I ever live to see when everyone will be on the Russian side” (from Aleksey Tolstoy's Tsar Feodor, the role that catapulted him to fame).

8. Appolinary Vasnetsov (1856-1933)
Painter and graphic artist specializing in scenes from the medieval history of Moscow.

9. Sergey Vinogradov (1869-1938)
Russian impressionist painter known for his landscapes, genre scenes and interiors.

10. Avrelia (Aurelia) Dobrovolskaya (1881-1942)
Russian soprano, made numerous opera recordings.

11. Andrei Labinsky (1871-1941)
Russian tenor

12. Nikolai Karabshevsky (1851-1925)
Brilliant lawyer and speaker in pre-revolutionary Russia.
Quote: "For the price of an effort - joy of victory!"

13. Savva Mamontov (1841-1918)
Railroad entrepreneur, philanthropist and later founder of the Moscow Private Opera.
Quote: "Very proud and pleased with the success of Arkhangelsk Railroad build by me…"

14. Aleksandr Kuprin (1870-1938)
Russian novelist.
Quote: "Joy and sorrow will pass, enduring are only expectations and memories…"

15. Vlas Doroshevitch (1864-1922)
Journalist, novelist, short story writer, and religious commentator.
Quote: "Laugh, so you wouldn't cry..."

16. Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919)
Russian playwright, novelist and short-story writer, considered to be a father of Expressionism in Russian literature.
Quote: "Road to the truth is painful…"

17. Vera Pashennaya (1887-1962)
Actress of traditional Russian drama based at the Maly Theatre in Moscow.

18. Elizaveta Zhihareva (1875-1967)
Russian-Soviet actress.  

19. Aleksandr Ostuzhev (1874-1953)
Russian and Soviet drama actor. The surname Ostuzhev was Aleksandr Pozharov's stage name.

20. Varvara Ryzhova (1871-1963)
Russian-Soviet comedienne and character actress.
Quote: "A thread from everyone will make a shirt for the needy…"

21. Nikolai Radin (1872-1935)
Russian stage and silent film actor and director.

22. Ekaterina Roschina-Insarova (1883-1970)
Russian dramatic actress.

23. Evdokia Turchaninova (1870-1963)
Russian-Soviet actress, known for her diction and delivery.
Quote: "World's sorrow is not forever…"

24. Nadezhda Smirnova (1873-1951)
Actress, teacher, and later in life a writer.
Quoted Japanese Proverb "Kind and evil are not people, but one's own heart"

25. Valery Brusov (1873-1924)
Russian poet, prose writer, dramatist, translator, critic, historian, and prominent member of the Russian Symbolist movement.
Quote: "There are no days when one doesn't need a song…"

26. Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927)
Russian writer and playwright associated with the naturalism literary style.

27. Anastasia Verbistskaya (1861-1928)
Russian novelist, playwright, screenplay writer, publisher and feminist.

28. Vasily Pereplyotchikov (1863-1918)
Russian landscape painter, part of the Peredvizhniki art movement.
Quote: "Painting is something that cannot be described in words…"

29. Aleksandr Grechaninov (1864-1956)
Russian Romantic composer who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov.
Quote: Musical quotation.

30. Ilya Repin (1844-1930)
Russian artist.
Quote: "Artistism cannot be explained in words…"

31. Elena Leshkovskaya (1864-1925)
Russian actress.

32. Vasily Kachalov (1875-1948)
Russian actor renowned for his voice.
Quote: "Life will stay the same, difficult, full of mystery and joy..." (Excerpt from Chekhov's play "Three Sisters").

33. Olga Knipper (1868-1959)
Russian and Soviet stage actress, married to Anton Chekhov.
Quote: "Oh… will it go away soon…?" (from Chekhov's play "The Cherry Orchard").

34. Konstantin Stanislavski née Alekseyev (1863-1938)
Soviet Russian theatre director and character actor, who co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (signature #4 on this quilt).

35. Tatiana Schepkina-Kupernik (1874-1952)
Russian and Soviet writer, dramatist, poet and translator.
Quote: "Work and freedom before everything else!"

36. Aleksandra Balashova (1887-1979)
Russian ballet dancer, dance teacher and choreographer.

37. Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938)
Russian basso opera singer.

38. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Russian composer, pianist, and conductor.
Musical quote: Rachmaninoff wrote the first two bars of his Piano Concerto No. 3, and signed his name and date: 15 November, 1916.

39. Ivan Rizhov (1866-1932)
Soviet and Russian film and theater actor, member of both the Bolshoi and Maly theatres. Famous for his roles in plays by Nikolai Ostrovsky.
Quote: "Compassion is the basis for eternal harmony, eternal love…"

40. Osip Pravdin (1846-1921)
Russian actor and theater teacher who also translated several German plays (real name was Oscar Augustovich Treileben).
Quote: "When I am right, no judgment scares me..." (Shylock, "Merchant of Venice" by Shakespeare).

41. Aleksandra Yablochkina (1866-1964)
Russian and Soviet actress, played leading roles at the Maly Theatre in Moscow for more than 75 years.

42. Dmitry Smirnov (1882-1944)
Russian operatic tenor. Signed: Moscow, November 10, 1916

43. Antonina Nezhdanova (1873-1950)
Russian and Soviet lyric coloratura soprano

44. Yekaterina Geltzer (1876-1962)
Prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet.

45. Maria Yermolova (1853-1928)
Russian actress. Moscow Art Theatre co-founder Konstantin Stanislavski (signature #34 on the quilt) thought her the best he'd ever seen.
Quote: “Fiat Lux!”

46. Vasily Maklakov (1869-1957)
Russian student activist, later a trial lawyer and liberal parliamentary deputy, an orator, and one of the leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party.

47. Leonid Sobinov (1872-1934)
Russian and Soviet tenor.

48. Maxim Gorky (1868-1936)
Russian and Soviet writer, socialist political thinker and advocate.
Quote: “What is beautiful is beautiful even when fading.  What we love – we love even when dying…"

49. Nadezhda Nikulina (1845-1923)
Russian actress.

50. Glikeriya Fedotova née Pozdnyakova (1846-1925)
Russian actress. Friend of Konstantin Stanislavski (signature #34) and teacher of Aleksandra Yablochkina (signature #41).