Black Sunday: 21 January 2024, by Viacheslav Chirikba

Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze (1867–1968)

Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze (1867–1968), The first professional Abkhazian artist; painter, art historian and art critic.

The following text is authored by Professor Viacheslav Chirikba, a distinguished linguist and former Foreign Minister of Abkhazia. He reflects on a heartbreaking incident: the fire in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists of Abkhazia, which led to the tragic loss of nearly the entire collection of the National Art Gallery. Professor Chirikba's poignant words, shared on his Facebook page, delve into the depth of this cultural tragedy and its implications for Abkhazia's heritage.

"In her later years, Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze's daughter, Biana Alexandrovna, often asked me, "Slavik, what should be done with my father's archive?" She brought a rich collection from Monaco, including letters, posters, diaries, artworks, and photographs. I suggested donating it to the Abkhazian State Archive, but she hesitated, and the archive remained with her family. On 22 October 1992, the National Archive of Abkhazia was deliberately burned down by the Georgian army. Had Biana Alexandrovna followed my advice, Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze's invaluable archive would have met the same fate – turned to ash.

Thirty years ago, a magnificent portrait of Alexander Shervashidze by Vladimir Rossinsky was found in a Moscow private collection. Biana Alexandrovna and I attempted to acquire it for the Abkhazian museum but were unsuccessful. Decades later, a premonition led me to rediscover this portrait at an upcoming auction in Moscow. In a race against time, I reached out to the Prime Minister. With his immediate action to allocate funds, I secured the painting at the auction. It's now a property of our republic, narrowly escaping the same fate as the others in the Sukhum Art Gallery.

"I feel extraordinarily sad when I think about the possibility that everything you hold dear in the Abkhazians, in our highlanders, might disappear. I imagine them to be tall, agile, very polite, with great dignity, silent, moderate in everything, resilient, and steadfast.

There is still much in them that Tolstoy described in 'Hadji Murat'—something so precious, so wonderful, that it gives one the right and joy to proclaim loudly: I am a highlander, I am Abkhaz."

— Alexander Shervashidze-Chachba | Sukhum, 1917 (Rusudana Shervashidze-Chachba: Articles, essays, reviews)    

During Soviet times, I brought a Chachba gouache from Leningrad, a gift to Abkhazia. Later, in St. Petersburg, I found another significant Chachba work and informed Vladislav Ardzinba, leading to its acquisition for the Sukhum Gallery. Other significant works were also acquired over the years, including contributions from our compatriots in the USA. But now, all these have turned to ash.

Last year, I repeatedly appealed to the republic's authorities with an urgent request to move A. Shervashidze's works from the "storage" to a safer place, proposing to create a separate museum for the artist. In 2014, there was already a fire in the "storage," which was localised. I explicitly warned that next time we might not be so lucky, and we would lose our treasure, and that a fire in the storage was only a matter of time. But nothing was done.

Viacheslav Chirikba and the grandson of A.K. Chachba-Shervashidze, Demosfen.
Viacheslav Chirikba (left) and the grandson of Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze, Demosfen. Facebook | V.A. Chirikba

A few months ago, sensing something, I appealed to the authorities of Sukhum to find a place for the safe storage of the world-famous artist's works. Again, nothing came of it! Thus, we lost the chance to save our treasure.

For three decades, I have been collecting materials for writing the biography of the artist's life and activities abroad. During this time, I compiled an interesting archive, including the artist's letters, posters with his name, memories of people who knew him, and many other interesting materials. I gathered all this at auctions, in antique shops in Russia, France, Spain, England. I planned to donate all this to the Alexander Shervashidze house-museum, once it was created, along with my personal collection of graphics and paintings, which I intended to donate to the museum. The same wish, in case of the museum's opening, was expressed by his great-granddaughter Tatiana, the keeper of the great-grandfather's archive, and the widow of Bocha Adzhindzhal, a researcher of the artist's work, who collected a rich archive related to his life and work.

However, it's now evident that the Alexander Shervashidze house-museum will never materialise. Approximately 300 of his invaluable works, desired by museums worldwide, were lost in the fire on 21 January 2024.

Is it a consolation that the artist's daughter Biana, his grandson Demosfen, and Bocha Adzhindzhal, who devoted his life to the artist's work, did not witness this horror? But how can those of us who understand the all-Russian, all-European, global significance of the artistic heritage of Prince Alexander Konstantinovich Chachba-Shervashidze, his contribution to the development of world theatrical art, be comforted?

In one of the albums dedicated to Diaghilev's Russian Ballets, released in America, Shervashidze's talent as a theater artist was called genius. Pablo Picasso admired his talent, Salvador Dali writes about him in his memoirs, Joan Miró and Georges Rouault gave him as present their works. Yet, we, his compatriots, have failed his legacy, a legacy he preserved despite hardships, intending to pass it on to his beloved homeland. The bitter truth is evident. SHAME!




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