Friday, June 27, 2008


In a different country, in another era, Boris Chaliapin (1904-1979) would have been a "fine" artist and portrait painter, selling his paintings in art galleries. The son of Feodor Chaliapin, the great Russian opera singer, Boris was raised in a highly cultured environment. He received classical art training in Russia and Paris. He painted a series of portraits of his father and other luminaries from the world of classical music.

By the 1920s Chaliapin already had a considerable reputation as a portrait artist in Russia. But the market for classical painting was dwindling, and Chaliapin ended up exhibiting his work in the foyer of the London Covent Garden Theatre.

Like most born painters, Chaliapin learned to adapt to reality so that he could continue to create art. Making his way to the United States, he earned a living in New York City following the path of many 20th century artists with technical skill: he became an illustrator, painting more than 400 cover portraits for Time magazine.

Chaliapin is probably my favorite of all the Time Magazine cover illustrators, a sensitive and talented artist. I hope you enjoy his work.


Blogger Scott Allen said...

After looking through Google images for more work, the Grace Kelly cover is equally impressive. Thanks David for introducing another great artist to my favorites.

6/28/2008 7:03 PM  
Blogger RJ said...

David-- excellent stuff, as usual. I have a question, however: what specifically do you mean by referring to Chaliapin as a "born painter"?

6/28/2008 8:58 PM  
Blogger mrs. sarah ott said...

not to get out of context here but I graced a smile with your words here:
"Like most born painters, Chaliapin learned to adapt to reality so that he could continue to create art."
its something bittersweet, it seems. thank you for introducing me to this artist. i recognized the Time covers but didn't know the artist.

6/29/2008 6:29 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Scott, there are a great many wonderful Chaliapin portraits out there; he was wonderful with women, with African Americans, with Asians-- he looked hard when he worked.

RJ, I called Chaliapin a "born painter" because he seemed undeterrable. When he was growing up, he may have expected to earn an excellent living doing portraits and cultured paintings for the wealthy Russian aristocracy. Then a little thing called the Russian revolution came along, and his market disappeared. In England he was an immigrant in a strange land, reduced to exhibiting in theater lobbies for audiences he didn't really understand. And when that didn't work, he moved on to New York and found a niche as an illustrator for Time magazine. It would probably have been easier to find steady work doing other things, but there never seemed to be any question that Chaliapin was going to continue to paint the human face, no matter how many governments or art markets crumbled around him. In fact, if Time magazine had gone bankrupt, you get the impression he would be painting portraits as party favors at childrens' birthday parties if he had to.

Sarah, it's good to hear from you again. Many strugling artists have bittersweet stories. At least this one had a happy ending.

6/29/2008 11:41 PM  
Blogger ces said...

Those are amazing covers!

6/30/2008 10:35 AM  
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6/30/2008 1:55 PM  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

It tells something of the story of the decline of realistic painting in the 20th century.

Today, I don't think it's "dead" or anything. Just another stream amidst plenty of others.

6/30/2008 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

I guess timing is everything. It is bittersweet when a real talent like Chaliapin misses his Era...but fortunately so many of us have enjoyed his illustrations.

7/01/2008 7:44 PM  
Blogger Drifting Along said...

Great work. Reminds me of Norman Rockwell.

7/01/2008 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Adult DVD said...

Good Work

7/05/2008 1:51 PM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

David, do you know where his portrait of Josip Broz Tito was published?

8/17/2008 2:46 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Valentino-- yes, it was on the cover of Time Magazine.

8/17/2008 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

Thanks. Any idea of the publishing date of that issue? At least, the decade...

8/18/2008 10:37 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Valentino, the Tito cover of Time magazine was from the fall of 1944-- either late September or early October. Sorry I can't be more precise than that. You can see it in books that compile the Time covers.

8/20/2008 12:25 AM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

Thank you. I wonder what reference Chaliapin had for this assignment. I mean, he surely did not made it from life in the midst of the war operations in Balkans. He must have had some b/w photography of Tito, which were also rather hard to get in those war years.

8/20/2008 6:09 AM  
OpenID dassia2 said...

I was delighted to see your Boris Chaliapin post. I am doing a lot of research on him right now, as fate would have it. A couple of facts you might be interested in: he exhibited at Covent Garden Theatre not because that was not prestigious, but because it was. Also, his father was perfoming there at the time. He did have a great deal of success as an art-gallery artist, not just as an illustrator. has an online archive where you can search back covers by artist and view all 413 Chaliapin covers. The National Portrait Gallery also holds over 200 of his works, including some lovely non-Time portraits, my favorite being his painting of dancer Katherine Dunham. Boris did not paint all his Time covers onsite, and did often work from photographs provided by the Time research department. Theolonius Monk and Ben Gurion did sit for him, though, among others. There will be an exhibit of Boris's unpublished Time covers at the gallery at the Greenwich Library in Greenwich CT next March. Hope you enjoy, and I am so glad to see that his work still touches people.

8/24/2008 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David, Just came across your site. My Mom was a personal friend of Boris Chaliapin and his wife. I have a beautiful portrait he did of her in 1940. He made women look amazing. I have some letters and other stuff he sent her too.
I don't think he has really gotten the appreciation his talent truly deserves.

9/02/2008 2:42 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

dassia2, thank you so much for the information about Chaliapin. That's wonderful news about the exhibition next March. I hope you will write back and give us details when the time comes.

Renee, if you ever care to share images of the Chaliapin materials you describe, I would love to see them.

9/02/2008 5:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am actually Boris's grand-niece and am working on a biography of him. I'd love to talk about your family's connection with him and Helcia, especially since it seems you all know him so soon after he came to the US. Email me if you like:
I will post again once I have the specifics on the exhibit next spring.

9/13/2008 3:41 PM  
Blogger kelli said...

I recently received several pieces or art both original and prints from Litchfield County Auction House as a donation to my church's upcoming Silent Auction. One original is a pencil portrait by Boris Chaliapin of Norman Rockwell. Any idea on value? Kelli

2/18/2009 9:50 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kelli, Chaliapin's work rarely comes on the market, so it is difficult to get a good "market price." You might try asking the Illustration House gallery in NY. I believe the Hertitage Auction House in Dallas has a painting in their current auction of illustration art. They have a great web site.

2/18/2009 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Updating those interested, as promised, on the upcoming exhibit of Boris Chaliapin's unpublished TIME covers. The show will run from march 19 to May 6 at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, CY. See

To the person who posted about Boris's Norman Rockwell sketch. I would love to get a photograph of it for the biography of Boris that I am working on. I'm also happy to talk offlist about contacts for estimating its value.

3/05/2009 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boris Chaliapin drew a portrait of my mother, Katherine DeMille in Beverly Hills, California in 1943. I have the portrait hanging on my wall today. It is a lovely illustration of my mother and now I hope to find someone who may be interested in purchasing this framed drawing. This may not be the forum to ask such a question but perhaps someone here knows where I might find an interested party. I came across this blog when researching Boris on the internet. Thanks for wonderful information. V.Q.

5/17/2010 12:41 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

I loved the Lombardi cover - one of my all time favorites... Is there anywhere other than the Time reprints that one could get a respectable print of this cover?

8/25/2010 9:34 AM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

This site is wonderful. I am one of his nieces and I have a couple portraits he did of my mother Dassia and a pencil sketch of me.

3/31/2011 10:27 PM  
Blogger Christian Tardivon said...

Perheaps you know that Boris Chaliapine was living in Paris in 1936
11 bis rue Schoelcher 75014 in a building of artists (i live here).
Lee Miller was also at this adress and later Simone de Beauvoir Pierre Soulage and many others
Christian Tardivon

10/08/2011 10:50 AM  

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