Here is one of those moments when you want to strike up singing the old Beatles’ song “With a Little Help from my Friends.” As I walked through Tomsk past this colorful structure bearing the addresses of 11 Kartashov Street on one corner and 20 Kuznetsov Street on the other, I would never have known it was worth stopping and thinking about had it not been for a friend. I was, at the moment, in the hands of my great friend Pavel Rachkovsky, an architect and an expert and activist in the movement to save Tomsk’s spectacular, but dwindling wooden buildings. We were heading towards the childhood home of the great composer Edison Denisov, who grew up just one block from here, but Pavel stopped me here and said, “Now this is one of those places that nobody knows anything about and that’s a real shame. This is where Matisse’s last muse and assistant Lydia Delektorskaya was born and grew up.” Just like that, an attractive but anonymous building suddenly acquired for me a story and a place in history. I must admit I had no idea that someone so important to the great French painter had come from the Siberian city of Tomsk. For all the reading I have done, nothing had brought me to all that has been written about Delektorskaya, including this blog or this blog with some nice photos, artwork and details about her relationship with Matisse and his wife. By all accounts she was a fascinating, independent, resourceful and wise woman.
Rachkovsky, who is an employee of the Tomsk Ministry of Culture and is a fine photographer as well as historian, kept on talking as we walked back and forth around the building. “I have tried to get people interested in putting a memorial plaque or some other form of remembrance on this building, but so far no good,” he said. “But I think it’s pretty extraordinary that a young woman, who grew up right here in this house, made her way in the world after losing both her parents at an early age and got herself to Europe while Russia was going through some difficult years. That says a lot about her character and I think Tomsk should be proud that she began her journey here.” For the record, Delektorskaya was born in 1910 and she died not all that long ago, in 1998. According to a picture in the second blog I mention above, she is buried in the town of Pavlovsk outside of St. Petersburg. As for the home of her birth, I’m with Rachkovsky – this striking wooden home would be all the more beautiful if passersby knew who once lived here. P.S. My wife Oksana Mysina reminded me hours after this post was made that she recorded the voice of Delektorskaya in Olesya Fokina’s documentary film Lydia D., which can be watched in full (in Russian) here.