Some months back I wondered what happened to a portrait of Count Tolstoy by Jean Mannheim I had seen years ago. It has reappeared. A man walked it in through the door a few weeks ago and you can see it on this page.
It shows Tolstoy standing before a darkened forest in a peasant's tunic, his right hand tucked into his belt, his eyes looking out at us. In the upper right corner of the oil painting one can make out fieldworkers in the distance. One assumes the location is Tolstoy's estate Yasnaya Polyana.
As I wrote several months ago, I thought it was a wonderful painting but imagined it to be a copy of a scene the artist had seen in a photograph or in a painting by another artist, because Mannheim was a German, not Russian, and, born in 1861, was much younger than Tolstoy.
But looking into Mannheim's past indicates that just possibly the painting was done from life. Mannheim was drafted into the German army, but deserted and fled to Paris where he studied art. This was around 1879 or so.
It seems to me that any young man who did this kind of thing might have had an adventurous spirit and could have taken a side trip into Russia where he might very well have looked for Tolstoy, who would have been past fifty about this time.
Someone recently told me that traveling back then from Germany to Russia would be unlikely for a nineteen- or twenty-year-old on the loose. I disagree. I hitchhiked back and forth across the United States several times before I was twenty. Once I made it from Los Aneles to New York in less than three days. Surely Mannheim could have made it to Yasnaya Polyana in three or four weeks time or perhaps ``no longer'' than a few months if by horse or more modern conveyance.
In any case, the young are less intimdated by distance – I remember Tennessee Williams writing about hitchhiking from St. Louis to Southern California and then into Mexico – and perhaps Mannheim, worried or feeling guilty about deserting the German army, wanted to talk with the great writer of ``War and Peace.'' What might he think of what Mannheim had done?
OK, I know this probably didn't happen, that the painting was probably taken from a photograph. And there is a fine 1901 painting of a barefoot Tolstoy in peasant's tunic by Ilya Repin that could have inspired Mannheim. There are similarities, but then Tolstoy liked that look and was often seen that way, and there are differences in Mannheim's and Repin's paintings, so, still . . .
Even if Mannheim did base his painting on another artist's image, I find it moving because I imagine Tolstoy must have meant a lot to Mannheim. Incidentally, there is also a pastel study of Tolstoy by Mannheim. So he thought about it, it meant a lot to him. Tolstoy meant a lot to him.
Mannheim soon came to the United States and gained fame as a Southern Caifornia plein air impressionist. Richard Reitzell has done a fine book on him, ``From a Versatile Brush: The Life and Art of Jean Mannheim.''
When I queried Reitzell about Mannheim and Tolstoy, he said, ``I am not aware of a Tolstoy connection. However, his (Mannheim's) time and journeys within Europe are sparsely chronicled or documented. Lot of mystery on the Continent.''
So a journey into Russia – and perhaps time with Tolstoy – cannot be ruled out altogether . . .
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City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...