Mikhail Petrovich Botkin (1839-1914) was not only a painter, he was one of the most aggressive and grasping art collectors in fin de siècle St Petersburg. His greed was legendary. Nevertheless, after his death, his collection of medieval miniature enamels were found to be mostly forgeries, to the great glee of society. Nabokov named one of his characters Botkin, because he was greedy, but easily fooled by conmen.
BOTKIN Mikhail Petrovich
Mikhail Petrovich Botkin came from a famous family in Russia. One of his brothers was the famous author V. P. Botkin. Another brother was Sergei Petrovich Botkin (1832-1889), a brilliant physician. He introduced triage, pathological anatomy, and post mortem diagnostics into Russian medical practise. S. P. Botkin was also a court physician to Tsars Aleksandr Nikolaevich (1855-1881) and Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (1881-1894). He was also the father of Yevgeny Sergeyevich Botkin, the court physician to Tsar St Nikolai Aleksandrovich, who was murdered along with the tsar in 1918 in Yekaterinburg.
The ardent nature of M. P. Botkin did not allow him to occupy himself with mundane pursuits. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg in 1856, but, he left without finishing his studies there. He went to Italy, using his own means, and from there also visited Germany, France, and Spain, studying the techniques of the artists in these countries. It is no surprise that M. P. Botkin is known as an artist of the academic school with a strong leaning to “Italian” archetypes, which is characterised by strictness of technique, idealisation in composition, elevation of figure, and refinement of colour. In 1863, he returned to Russia, where he was occupied for some time with intensive work in painting, in particular, portraiture, and he also perfected his skills in another direction by learning etching.
Mr Botkin also worked in business, taking part in commodities trading and financial activity. He was a director of several firms, including the Russian Steam Navigation and Trade Society, the first Russian insurance society, and a St Petersburg commercial bank. The means earned from such activity allowed him to be very energetic in supporting public initiatives connected with the encouragement and development of young artists. Mr Botkin was an avid art collector and connoisseur, and paintings from his collection were carried by the young artist Aleksandr Benois to many exhibitions in Russia and all over Europe.
Finally, in 1880, Mr Botkin prepared and published an exhaustive monograph on the Russian artist Aleksandr Ivanov entitled Aleksandr Andreyevich Ivanov: His Life and Correspondence [1806-1858]. He obtained the source materials for this work through a bequest in the will of A. A. Ivanov, and the majority of the sketches and studies of Ivanov were passed on to the Rumyantsev Museum after the book was completed.
My Russkie – kakoi vostorg!