Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ivan Goes Home

Secret Departure, Public Return: We Jews, as everyone who has seen Fiddler on the Roof surely recalls, had a blessing for the Tsar of All The Russias:

May God bless and keep the Tsar ... far away from us.

It was therefore a shock, not to mention a surprise, that a recent CNN news story actually had Abq Jew rooting for one of the worst of the Tsars - Ivan the Terrible.

The stolen painting, "Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina"
by Mikhail Panin, was recovered in Connecticut after being missing for decades.

CNN's Mimi Hsin Hsuan Sun reported:
Painting stolen from Ukrainian museum during WWII recovered in Connecticut
(CNN) For 30 years, a large painting of a hunched Russian czar leaving the Kremlin on horseback hung in David Tracy's home. 
Standing over seven feet tall and over eight feet wide, the canvas came into his possession when it was included with a house he bought in Ridgefield, Connecticut, in 1987. 
But when it came time for him and his wife, Gabby, to retire to Maine, they decided to sell the beloved artwork. Little did they know the attempted sale would lead to a meeting with the FBI, a cease-and-desist letter, and an exchange of cultural justice with Ukraine.
The story gets much, much better from there. 

Why does Abq Jew care? See Abq Jew's famous blog posts Adele in Gold and Repent and Return, both of which deal with the return of stolen art.

And no - Abq Jew is not really rooting for Ivan, who really was Terrible. But first - some background.

Ivan the Terrible by Klavdiy Lebedev, 1916

Ivan IV Vasilyevich (25 August 1530 – 28 March [O.S. 18 March] 1584), commonly known as Ivan the Terrible ... was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547, then Tsar of All Rus' until his death in 1584. The last title was used by all his successors. 
During his reign, Russia conquered the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and Sibir, becoming a multiethnic and multicontinental state spanning approximately 1,560,000 sq mi. He exercised autocratic control over Russia's hereditary nobility and developed a bureaucracy to administer the new territories. He transformed Russia from a medieval state into an empire, though at immense cost to its people, and its broader, long-term economy. 
Historic sources present disparate accounts of Ivan's complex personality: he was described as intelligent and devout, given to rages and prone to episodic outbreaks of mental instability that increased with his age.
Sound like anyone we know (that is, except for the "intelligent and devout" part)? And what was this Oprichnina thing that Ivan the T snuck away before?
The oprichnina was a state policy implemented by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in Russia between 1565 and 1572. The policy included mass repressions against, public executions of, and confiscation of land and property from Russian aristocrats. 
The campaign included creation of a special army that at various times included anywhere from 1 to 6000 men called oprichniki, and the term oprichnina applies both to this force and to the corresponding period of Russian history, and to the territory in which, during that period, the Tsar ruled directly and in which his oprichniki operated.

So here is the story behind Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina, the stolen painting. Not literally. Of course. Well, sorta.
On December 3, 1564, Ivan IV departed Moscow on pilgrimage. While such journeys were routine for the throne, Ivan neglected to set the usual arrangements for rule in his absence. Moreover, an unusually large personal guard, a significant number of boyars, and the treasury accompanied him. 
After a month of silence, Ivan finally issued two letters from his fortifications at Aleksandrova Sloboda on January 3. The first addressed the elite of the city and accused them of embezzlement and treason. Further accusations concerned the clergy and their protection of denounced boyars. In conclusion, Ivan announced his abdication. 
The second letter addressed the population of Moscow and claimed “he had no anger against” its citizenry. Divided between Sloboda and Moscow, the boyar court was unable to rule in absence of Ivan and feared the wrath of the Muscovite citizenry. A boyar envoy departed for Aleksandrova Sloboda to beg Ivan to return to the throne. 
Ivan IV agreed to return on condition that he might prosecute people for treason outside legal limitations. He demanded that he might execute and confiscate the land of traitors without interference from the boyar council or church. To pursue his investigations, Ivan decreed the creation of the oprichnina (originally a term for land left to a noble widow, separate from her children's land). He also raised a levy of 100,000 rubles to pay for the oprichnina.
The Oprichniki by Nikolai Nevrev. The painting shows the last minutes of boyarin Feodorov,
arrested for treason. To mock his alleged ambitions on the Tsar's title,
the nobleman was given Tsar's regalia before execution.

And this concludes today's lesson in Russian history.

You're welcome!

OK ... so - back to CNN's Mimi Hsin Hsuan Sun's story about David and Gabby Tracy and the stolen painting. Which Abq Jew provides in its entirety, so you, his loyal readers, don't have to click.
The oil painting they planned to auction off turned out to be an original 1911 painting by Mikhail Panin, titled "Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina," that disappeared from the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum in Ukraine during World War II, according to a press release from the US Attorney's Office in Washington. 
It depicts the former Russian ruler and his loyal followers secretly leaving the Kremlin for another Russian city. 
The Tracys were notified after the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum contacted the Washington-based auction house they hired to facilitate the sale. They were asked to immediately stop the auction because the painting was stolen property. 
"It was a big shock. At first I thought it wasn't necessarily true," Gabby Tracy, 84, told CNN Monday. 
After the FBI confirmed to the Tracys that the painting was authentic, they decided to return it to its rightful owners. 
"It was never a question in our mind that we have to do the right patriotic thing," said Gabby, a Holocaust survivor from Slovakia. 
"The fact that it was stolen from a legitimate institution, we're happy to do the right thing."
When David Tracy bought the Ridgefield house in 1987, Gabby, then a friend of his, was the realtor who facilitated the sale. 
Two paintings came with it, one of which was the Panin piece. Years later, when they got married and moved to another house, they couldn't leave it behind. Gabby said they spent $37,000 to build a display area in their new home, designated for the Russian czar they had come to cherish dearly. 
"At many points we could have sold it, but we didn't," Gabby said. "He seems sad, but we learned to love him." 
Gabby said several family reunions and functions were held in front of the painting, and whenever people came into the house, they would be charmed by it, and the Tracys would have a story to tell. 
Authorities have determined that a former member of the Swiss Army had previously owned the house. 
Federal agents say that the Swiss man, who has not been publicly identified, emigrated to the United States in 1947, and then sold the house with the painting to a couple in 1962. That couple eventually moved to Arizona, leaving the painting to David in the Ridgefield house. According to the US Attorney's Office, the Swiss man died in 1986 with no descendants. 
"The recovery of this art looted during World War II reflects the commitment of this office to pursue justice for victims of crime here and abroad," said US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu. "The looting of cultural heritage during World War II was tragic, and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners."
The Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, expressed gratitude to the Tracys in a Facebook post, characterizing their willingness to return the painting as a vivid demonstration of the friendship between the US and the Ukrainian people. 
In a written statement, the Ukrainian Embassy said that the repatriation of the painting "sets the first example of achievement of the US-Ukraine cooperation on the official level in returning illegally exported cultural objects." 
Having agreed to waive any claims to the painting, David and Gabby hope to visit it again one day. 
"It would be lovely to go to Ukraine to see it back to the museum where it belongs," Gabby said, adding that she hopes the Ukrainian people appreciate its recovery. 
CNN's Laura Ly contributed to this report.
A photograph of the painting “Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina”
by Mikhail N. Panin in situ at the Dnepropetrovsk State Art Museum c. 1929 in the Ukraine.
The painting went missing in World War II and was recovered when consigned to auction.
(U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District)

The Washington Post (of course) also covered this story, adding a bit more information:
Gabby Tracy is a Holocaust survivor. 
She was born in Slovakia and taken to a Jewish ghetto in Budapest when she was about 9 years old. 
Her father, Samuel Weiss, perished in a concentration camp; she was liberated at war’s end.

As we follow our fortunes into the year 2019 of the Common Era,
let us remember the forces for good in our world.
May they ascend and triumph.

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