The Picture


The Picture is featured in Kuprin's collection, A Slav Soul and Other Stories (1916).


One evening, at the house of a well-known literary man, after supper, there arose among the company an unusually heated discussion as to whether there could exist in this time of ours, so barren of exalted feelings, a lasting and unalterable friendship. Everyone said that such friendship did not exist; that there were many trials which the friendship of our days was quite unable to support. It was in the statement of the causes through which friendship was broken, that the company disagreed. One said that money stood in the way of friendship; another that woman stood in the way; a third, similarity of character; a fourth, the cares of family life, and so on.

When the talking and shouting had died down, and the people were tired, though nothing had been explained and no conclusion arrived at, one respected guest, who till that moment had not taken part in the discussion, suddenly broke silence and took up the conversation.

"Yes, gentlemen, all that you have said is both weighty and remarkable. Still I could give you an example from life where friendship triumphed over all the obstacles which you have mentioned, and remained inviolate."

"And do you mean," asked the host, "that this friendship endured to the grave?"

"No, not to the grave. But it was broken off for a special reason."

"What sort of a reason?" asked the host.

"A very simple reason, and at the same time an astonishing one. The friendship was broken by St. Barbara."

None of the company could understand how, in our commercial days, St. Barbara could sever a friendship, and they all begged Afanasy Silitch—for such was the respected man's name—to explain his enigmatical words.

Afanasy Silitch smiled as he answered:

"There's nothing enigmatical about the matter. It's a simple and sad story, the story of the suffering of a sick heart. And if you would really like to hear, I'll tell you about it at once with pleasure."

Everyone prepared to listen, and Afanasy Silitch began his tale.


In the beginning of the present century there was a family of princes, Belokon Belonogof, famous on account of their illustrious birth, their riches and their pride. But fate destined this family to die out, so that now there is hardly any remembrance of them. The last of these princes, and he was not of the direct line, finished his worldly career quite lately in the Arzhansky, a well-known night house and gambling den in Moscow, among a set of drunkards, wastrels and thieves. But my story is not about him, but about Prince Andrey Lvovitch, with whom the direct line ended.

During his father's lifetime—this was before the emancipation of the serfs—Prince Andrey had a commission in the Guards, and was looked upon as one of the most brilliant officers. He had plenty of money, was handsome, and a favourite with the ladies, a good dancer, a duellist—and what not besides? But when his father died. Prince Andrey threw up his commission in spite of all entreaties from his comrades to remain. "No," said he, "I shall be lost among you, and I'm curious to know all that fate has in store for me."

He was a strange man, of peculiar and, one might say, fantastic habits. He nattered himself that his every dream could at once be realised. As soon as he had buried his father he took himself off abroad. Astonishing to think of the places he went to! Money was sent to him through every agency and banking house, now in Paris, now in Calcutta, then in New York, then Algiers. I know all this on unimpeachable authority, I must tell you, because my father was the chief steward of his estate of two hundred thousand desiatines.[1]

[1] A desiatin is 2'7 acres.

After four years the prince returned, thin, his face overgrown with a beard and brown from sunburn—it was difficult to recognise him. As soon as he arrived he established himself on his estate at Pneestcheva. He went about in his dressing-gown. He found it very dull on the whole.

I was always welcome in his house at that time, for the prince liked my cheerful disposition, and as I had received some sort of education I could be somewhat of a companion to him. And then again, I was a free person, for my father had been ransomed in the old prince's time.

The prince always greeted me affectionately, and made me sit down with him. He even treated me to cigars. I soon got used to sitting down in his presence, but I could never accustom myself to smoking the cigars—they always gave me a kind of sea-sickness.

I was very curious to see all the things which the prince had brought back with him from his travels. Skins of lions and tigers, curved swords, idols, stuffed animals of all kinds, precious stones and rich stuffs. The prince used to lie on his enormous divan and smoke, and though he laughed at my curiosity he would explain everything I asked about. Then, if he could get himself into the mood, he would begin to talk of his adventures until, as you may well believe, cold shivers ran down my back. He would talk and talk, and then all at once would frown and become silent. I would be silent also. And then he would say, all of a sudden:

"It's dull for me, Afanasy. See, I've been all round the world and seen everything; I've caught wild horses in Mexico and hunted tigers in India; I've journeyed on the sea and been in danger of drowning; I've crossed deserts and been buried in sand—what more is there for me? Nothing, I say; there's nothing new under the sun."

I said to him once, quite simply, "You might get married, prince."

But he only laughed.

"I might marry if I could find the woman whom I could love and honour. I've seen all nations and all classes of women, and since I'm not ugly, not stupid, and I'm a rich man, they have all shown me special attention, but I've never seen the sort of woman that I need. All of them were either mercenary or depraved, or stupid or just a little too much given to good works. But the fact remains, that I feel bored with life. It would be another matter if I had any sort of talent or gift."

And to this I generally used to answer: "But what more talent do you want, prince? Thank God for your good looks, for your land—which, as you say yourself, is more than belongs to any German prince—and for the powers with which God has blessed you. I shouldn't ask for any other talent."

The prince laughed at this, and said: "You're a stupid, Afanasy, and much too young as yet. Live a little longer, and if you don't become an utter scoundrel, you'll remember these words of mine."


Prince Andrey had, however, a gift of his own, in my opinion, a very great gift, for painting, which had been evident even in his childhood. During his stay abroad he had lived for nearly a year in Rome, and had there learnt to paint pictures. He had even thought at one time, he told me, that he might become a real artist, but for some reason he had given up the idea, or he had become idle. Now he was living on his estate at Pneestcheva, he called to mind his former occupation and took to painting pictures again. He painted the river, the mill, an ikon of St. Nicholas for the church—and painted them very well.

Besides this occupation the prince had one other diversion—bear hunting. In our neighbourhood there were a fearful number of these animals. He always went as a mouzhik, with hunting pole and knife, and only took with him the village hunter Nikita Dranny. They called him Dranny because on one occasion a bear had torn a portion of his scalp from his skull, and his head had remained ragged ever since.[1]

[1] "Dranny," means torn or ragged.

With the peasants the prince was quite simple and friendly. He was so easy to approach that if a man wanted wood for his cottage, or if his horse had had an accident, all he had to do was to go straight to the prince and ask for what he wanted. He knew that he would not be refused. The only things the prince could not stand were servility and lying. He never forgave a lie.

And, moreover, the serfs loved him because he made no scandals with their women folk. The maids of our countryside had a name for their good looks, and there were landowners in those days who lived worse than Turks, with a harem for themselves and for their friends. But with us, no—no, nothing of that sort. That is, of course, nothing scandalous. There were occasions, as there always must be, man being so weak, but these were quiet and gentle affairs of the heart, and no one was offended.

But though Prince Andrey was simple and friendly towards his inferiors, he was proud and insolent in his bearing towards his equals and to those in authority, even needlessly so. He especially disliked officials. Sometimes an official would come to our estate to see about the farming arrangements, or in connection with the police or with the excise department—at that time the nobility reckoned any kind of service, except military service, as a degradation—and he would act as a person new to office sometimes does: he would strut about with an air of importance, and ask " Why aren't things so and so?" The steward would inform him politely that everything was in accordance with the prince's orders and mustn't be altered. That meant, of course—You take your regulation bribe and be off with you. But the official would not be daunted. "And what's your prince to me?" he would say. "I'm the representative of the law here." And he would order the steward to take him at once to the prince. My father would warn him out of pity. "Our prince," he would say, "has rather a heavy hand." But the official would not listen. "Where is the prince?" he would cry. And he would rush into the prince's presence exclaiming, "Mercy on us, what's all this disorder on your estate! Where else can one see such a state of things? I ... we ..." The prince would let him go on, and say nothing, then suddenly his face would become purple and his eyes would flash—he was terrible to look at when he was angry. "Take the scoundrel to the stables!" he would cry. And then the official would naturally receive a flogging. At that time many landowners approved of this, and for some reason or other the floggings always took place in the stables, according to the custom of their ancestors. But after two or three days the prince would secretly send my father into the town with a packet of bank-notes for the official who had been chastised. I used to dare to say to him sometimes, "You know, prince, the official will complain about you, and you'll have to answer for your doings." And he would say:

"Well, how can that be? Let me be brought to account before God and my Emperor, but I'm bound to punish impudence."

But better than this, if you please, was his behaviour towards the Governor at one time. One day a workman from the ferry came running up to him to tell him that the Governor was on the other side of the river.

"Well, what of it?" said the prince.

"He wants the ferry-boat, your Excellency," said the peasant. He was a sensible man, and knew the prince's character.

"How did he ask for it?" said the prince.

"The captain of the police sent to say that the ferry-boat was wanted immediately."

The prince at once gave the order:

"Don't let him have it."

And he didn't. Then the Governor guessed what had happened, and he wrote a little note and sent it, asking dear Andrey Lvovitch—they were really distant cousins—to be so kind as to let him use the ferry, and signing the note simply with his Christian and surname. On this the prince himself kindly went down to the river to meet the Governor, and gave him such a feast in welcome that he couldn't get away from Pneestcheva for a whole week.

To people of his own class, even to the most impoverished of them, the prince never refused to "give satisfaction" in cases where a misunderstanding had arisen. But people were generally on their guard, knowing his indomitable character and that he had fought in his time eighteen duels. Duels among the aristocracy were very common at that time.


The prince lived in this way on his estate at Pneestcheva for more than two years. Then the Tsar sent out his manifesto granting freedom to the serfs, and there commenced a time of alarm and disturbance among the landowners. Many of them were not at all pleased about it, and sat at home on their far-away estates and took to writing reports on the matter. Others, more avaricious and far-sighted, were on the watch with the freed peasants, trying to turn everything to their own advantage. And some were very much afraid of a rising of the peasants, and applied to the authorities for any kind of troops to defend their estates.

When the manifesto arrived, Prince Andrey called his peasants together and explained the matter to them in very simple words, without any insinuations. "You," he said, "are now free, as free as I am. And this is a good thing to have happened. But don't use your freedom to do wrong, because the authorities will always keep an eye on you. And, remember, that as I have helped you in the past I shall continue to do so. And take as much land as you can cultivate for your ransom."

Then he suddenly left the place and went off to Petersburg.

I think you know very well what happened at that time, gentlemen, both in Moscow and in Petersburg. The aristocracy turned up immediately, with piles of money, and went on the spree. The farmers and the holders of concessions and the bankers had amazed all Russia, but they were only as children or puppies in comparison with the landowners. It's terrible to think what took place. Many a time a man's whole fortune was thrown to the winds for one supper.

Prince Andrey fell into this very whirlpool, and began to whirl about. Added to that, he fell in again with his old regimental friends, and then he let himself go altogether. However, he didn't stay long in Petersburg, for he was quickly forced to leave the city against his will. It was all because of some horses.


He was having supper one evening with his officer friends in one of the most fashionable restaurants. They had had very much to drink, champagne above all. Suddenly the talk turned on horses—it's well known to be an eternal subject of conversation with officers—as to who owned the most spirited team in Petersburg. One Cossack—I don't remember his name, I only know that he was one of the reigning princes in the Caucasus—said that at that time the most spirited horses were a pair of black stallions belonging to ——, and he named a lady in an extremely high position.

"They are not horses," said he, "but wild things. It's only Ilya who can manage them, and they won't allow themselves to be out-distanced."

But Prince Andrey laughed at this.

"I'd pass them with my bays."

"No, you wouldn't," said the Cossack.

"Yes, I would."

"You wouldn't race them."

"Yes, I would."

"Well, in that case," said the Cossack, "we'll lay a wager about it at once."

And the wager was laid. It was agreed that if Prince Andrey were put to shame he should give the Cossack his pair of bay horses, and with them a sledge and a carriage with silver harness, and if the prince got in front of Ilya's team, then the Cossack would buy up all the tickets in the theatre for an opera when Madame Barba was to sing, so that they could walk about in the gallery and not allow anyone else in the theatre. At that time Madame Barba had captivated all the beau-monde.

Very well, then. On the next day, when the prince woke up, he ordered the bay horses to be put into the carriage. The horses were not very much to look at, hairy country horses, but they were sufficiently fast goers; the most important thing about them was that they liked to get in front of other horses, and they were exceptionally long-winded.

As soon as his companions saw that the prince was really in earnest about the matter, they tried to dissuade him. "Give up this wager," urged they, "you can't escape getting into some trouble over it." But the prince would not listen, and ordered his coachman, Bartholomew, to be called.

The coachman, Bartholomew, was a gloomy and, so to speak, absent-minded man. God had endowed him with such extraordinary strength that he could even stop a troika when the horses were going at full gallop. The horses would fall back on their hind legs. He drank terribly, had no liking for conversation with anyone, and, though he adored the prince with all his soul, he was rude and supercilious towards him, so that he sometimes had to receive a flogging. The prince called Bartholomew to him and said: "Do you think, Bartholomew, you could race another pair of horses with our bays?"

"Which pair?" asked Bartholomew.

The prince told him which horses they were. Bartholomew scratched the back of his head.

"I know that pair," he said, "and I know Ilya, their driver, pretty well. He's a dangerous man. However, if your Excellency wishes it, we can race them. Only, if the bay horses are ruined, don't be angry."

"Very well," said the prince. "And now, how much vodka shall we pour down your throat?"

But Bartholomew wouldn't have any vodka.

"I can't manage the horses if I'm drunk," said he.

The prince got in the carriage, and they started. They took up their position at the end of the Nevsky Prospect, and waited. It was known beforehand that the important personage would drive out at midday. And so it happened. At twelve o'clock the pair of black horses were seen. Ilya was driving, and the lady was in the sledge.

The prince let them just get in front, and then he said to the coachman:

"Drive away!"

Bartholomew let the horses go. As soon as Ilya heard the tramping of the horses behind, he turned round; the lady looked round also. Ilya gave his horses the reins, and Bartholomew also whipped up his. But the owner of the blacks was a woman of an ardent and fearless temperament, and she had a passion for horses. She said to Ilya, "Don't dare to let that scoundrel pass us!"

What began to happen then I can't describe. Both the coachmen and the horses were as if mad; the snow rose up above them in clouds as they raced along. At first the blacks seemed to be gaining, but they couldn't last out for a long time, they got tired. The prince's horses went ahead. Near the railway station, Prince Andrey jumped out of his carriage, and the personage threatened him angrily with her finger.

Next day the governor of Petersburg—His Serene Highness Prince Suvorof—sent for the prince, and said to him:

"You must leave Petersburg at once, prince. If you're not punished and made an example of, it's only because the lady whom you treated in such a daring fashion yesterday has a great partiality for bold and desperate characters. And she knows also about your wager. But don't put your foot in Petersburg again, and thank the Lord that you've got off so cheaply."

But, gentlemen, I've been gossiping about Prince Andrey and I haven't yet touched on what I promised to tell you. However, I'm soon coming to the end of my story. And, though it has been in rather a disjointed fashion, I have described the personality of the prince as best I can.


After his famous race the prince went off to Moscow, and there continued to behave as he had done in Petersburg, only on a larger scale. At one time the whole town talked of nothing but his caprices. And it was there that something happened to him which caused all the folks at Pneestcheva to mock. A woman came into his life.

But I must tell you what sort of a woman she was. A queen of women! There are none like her in these days. Of a most marvellous beauty.... She had formerly been an actress, then she had married a merchant millionaire, and when he died—she didn't want to marry anyone else—she said that she preferred to be free.

What specially attracted the prince to her was her carelessness. She didn't wish to know anyone, neither rich nor illustrious people, and she seemed to think nothing of her own great wealth. As soon as Prince Andrey saw her he fell in love with her. He was used to having women run after him, and so he had very little respect for them. But in this case the lady paid him no special attention at all. She was gay and affable, she accepted his bouquets and his presents, but directly he spoke of his feelings she laughed at him. The prince was stung by this treatment. He nearly went out of his mind.

Once the prince went with Marya Gavrilovna—that was the lady's name—to the Yar, to hear some gipsy singers. The party numbered fifteen. At that time the prince was surrounded and fawned upon by a whole crowd of hangers-on—his Belonogof company, as he called them—his own name was Belonogof. They were all seated at a table drinking wine, and the gipsies were singing and dancing. Suddenly, Marya Gavrilovna wanted to smoke. She took a packetoska—the sort of twisted straw cigarette they used to smoke in those days—and looked round for a light. The prince noticed this, and in a moment he pulled out a bank-note for a thousand roubles, lighted it at a candle and handed it to her. Everybody in the company exclaimed; the gipsies even stopped singing, and their eyes gleamed with greed. And then someone at a neighbouring table said, not very loudly, but with sufficient distinctness, "Fool!"

The prince jumped up as if he had been shot. At the other table sat a small sickly-looking man, who looked straight at the prince in the calmest manner possible. The prince went over to him at once.

"How dare you call me a fool? Who are you?"

The little man regarded him very coolly.

"I," said he, "am the artist Rozanof. And I called you a fool because, with that money you burnt just to show off, you might have paid for the support of four sick people in the hospital for a whole year."

Everybody sat and waited for what would happen. The unrestrained character of the prince was well known. Would he at once chastise the little man, or call him out to a duel, or simply order him to be whipped?

But, after a little silence, the prince suddenly turned to the artist with these unexpected words:

"You're quite right, Mr. Rozanof. I did indeed act as a fool before this crowd. But now if you don't at once give me your hand, and accept five thousand roubles for the Marinskaya Hospital, I shall be deeply offended."

And Rozanof answered: "I'll take the money, and I'll give you my hand with equal pleasure."

Then Marya Gavrilovna whispered to the prince, "Ask the artist to come and talk to us, and send away these friends of yours."

The prince turned politely to Rozanof and begged him to join them, and then he turned to the officers and said, "Be off with you!"


From that time the prince and Rozanof were bound together in a close friendship. They couldn't spend a day without seeing one another. Either the artist came to visit the prince or Prince Andrey went to see the artist. Rozanof was living then in two rooms on the fourth floor of a house in Mestchanskaya Street—one he used as a studio, the other was his bedroom. The prince invited the artist to come and live with him, but Rozanof refused. "You are very dear to me," said he, "but in wealthy surroundings I might be idle and forget my art." So he wouldn't make any change.

They were interested in everything that concerned one another. Rozanof would begin to talk of painting, of various pictures, of the lives of great artists—and the prince would listen and not utter a word. Then afterwards he would tell about his adventures in wild countries, and the artist's eyes would glisten.

"Wait a little," he would say. "I think I shall soon paint a great picture. Then I shall have plenty of money, and we'll go abroad together."

"But why do you want money?" asked the prince. "If you like, we can go to-morrow. Everything I have I will share with you."

But the artist remained firm.

"No, wait a little," said he. "I'll paint the picture and then we can talk about it."

There was a real friendship between them. It was even marvellous—for Rozanof had such an influence over the prince that he restrained him from many of the impetuous and thoughtless actions to which, with his fiery temperament, he was specially prone.


The prince's love for Marya Gavrilovna did not become less, it even increased in fervency, but he had no success with the lady. He pressed his hands to his heart, and went down on his knees to her many times, but she had only one answer for him: "But what can I do if I don't love you?" "Well, don't love me," said the prince; "perhaps you will love me by and by, but I can't be happy without you." Then she would say, "I'm very sorry for you, but I can't help your unhappiness." "You love someone else, perhaps," said the prince. "Perhaps I love someone else," said she, and she laughed.

The prince grew very sad about it. He would lie at home on the sofa, gloomy and silent, turn his face to the wall, and even refuse to take any food. Everybody in the house went about on tip-toe.... One day Rozanof called when the prince was in this state, and he too looked out of sorts. He came into the prince's room, said "Good morning," and nothing more. They were both silent. At length the artist pulled himself together and said to the prince, "Listen, Andrey Lvovitch. I'm very sorry that with my friendly hand I have got to deal you a blow."

The prince, who was lying with his face to the wall, said, "Please come straight to the point without any introduction."

Then the artist explained what he meant.

"Marya Gavrilovna is going to live with me as my wife," said he.

"You're going out of your mind," said the prince.

"No," said the artist, "I'm not going out of my mind. I have loved Marya Gavrilovna for a long time, but I never dared tell her so. But to-day she said to me: 'Why do we hide things from one another? I've seen for a long time that you love me, and I also love you. I won't marry you, but we can live together....'"

The artist told the whole story, and the prince lay on the sofa neither moving nor saying a word. Rozanof sat there and looked at him, and presently he went quietly away.


However, after a week, the prince overcame his feelings, though it cost him a good deal, for his hair had begun to turn grey. He went to Rozanof and said:

"I see love can't be forced, but I don't want to lose my only friend for the sake of a woman."

Rozanof put his arms about his friend and wept. And Marya Gavrilovna gave him her hand—she was there at the time—and said:

"I admire you very much, Andrey Lvovitch, and I also want to be your friend."

Then the prince was quite cheered up, and his face brightened. "Confess now," said he, "if Rozanof hadn't called me a fool that time in the Yar, you wouldn't have fallen in love with him?"

She only smiled.

"That's very probable," said she.

Then, in another week, something else happened. Prince Andrey came in one day, dull and absent-minded. He spoke of one thing and another, but always as if he had some persistent idea in the background. The artist, who knew his character, asked what was the matter.

"Oh, nothing," said the prince.

"Well, but all the same, what is it?"

"Oh, it's nothing, I tell you. The stupid bank in which my money is...."


"It's failed. And now I've nothing of all my property except what I have here with me."

"Oh, that's really nothing," said Rozanof, and he at once called Marya Gavrilovna, and they had the upper part of their house put in order so that the prince might come and live with them.


So the prince settled down to live with Rozanof. He used to lie on the sofa all day, read French novels and polish his nails. But he soon got tired of this, and one day he said to his friend:

"Do you know, I once learnt to paint!"

Rozanof was surprised. "No, did you?"

"Yes, I did. I can even show you some of my pictures."

Rozanof looked at them, and then he said:

"You have very good capabilities, but you have been taught in a stupid school."

The prince was delighted.

"Well," he asked, "if I began to study now, do you think I should ever paint anything good?"

"I think it's very probable indeed."

"Even if I've been an idler up till now?"

"Oh, that's nothing. You can overcome it by work."

"When my hair is grey?"

"That doesn't matter either. Other people have begun later than you. If you like, I'll give you lessons myself."

So they began to work together. Rozanof could only marvel at the great gift for painting which the prince displayed. And the prince was so taken up by his work that he never wanted to leave it, and had to be dragged away by force.

Five months passed. Then, one day, Rozanof came to the prince and said:

"Well, my colleague, you are ripening in your art, and you already understand what a drawing is and the school. Formerly you were a savage, but now you have developed a refined taste. Come with me and I will show you the picture I once gave you a hint about. Until now I've kept it a secret from everybody, but now I'll show you, and you can tell me your opinion of it."

He led the prince into his studio, placed him in a corner from whence he could get a good view, and drew a curtain which hung in front of the picture. It represented St. Barbara washing the sores on the feet of lepers.

The prince stood for a long time and looked at the picture, and his face became gloomy as if it had been darkened.

"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Rozanof.

"This——" answered the prince, with rancour, "that I shall never touch a paint-brush again."


Rozanof's picture was the outcome of the highest inspiration and art. It showed St. Barbara kneeling before the lepers and bathing their terrible feet, her face radiant and joyful, and of an unearthly beauty. The lepers looked at her in prayerful ecstasy and inexpressible gratitude. The picture was a marvel. Rozanof had designed it for an exhibition, but the newspapers proclaimed its fame beforehand. The public nocked to the artist's studio. People came, looked at St. Barbara and the lepers, and stood there for an hour or more. And even those who knew nothing about art were moved to tears. An English-man, who was in Moscow at the time, a Mr. Bradley, offered fifteen thousand roubles for the picture as soon as he looked at it. Rozanof, however, would not agree to sell it.

But something strange was happening to the prince at that time. He went about with a sullen look, seemed to get thinner, and talked to no one. He took to drink. Rozanof tried to get him to talk, but he only got rude answers, and when the public had left the studio, the prince would seat himself before the easel and remain there for hours, immovable, gazing at the holy Barbara, gazing....

So it went on for more than a fortnight, and then something Unexpected happened—to tell the truth, something dreadful.

Rozanof came home one day and asked if Prince Andrey were in. The servant said that the prince had gone out very early that morning, and had left a note.

The artist took the note and read it. And this was what was written. "Forgive my terrible action. I was mad, and in a moment I have repented of my deed. I am going away, never to return, because I haven't strength to kill myself." The note was signed with his name.

Then the artist understood it all. He rushed into his studio and found his divine work lying on the floor, torn to pieces, trampled upon, cut into shreds with a knife....

Then he began to weep, and said:

"I'm not sorry for the picture, but for him. Why couldn't he tell me what was in his mind? I would have sold the picture at once, or given it away to someone."

But nothing more was ever heard of Prince Andrey, and no one knew how he lived after his mad deed.


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