Arts & cuture: house museums in tbilisi

by Tamar Esakia

 

Elene Akhvlediani was a woman Georgian artist. Loved by all in Georgia and referred to affectionately as Elichka.

In 1922, Elene Akhvlediani, an oil painting student at the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts, traveled to Europe to continue her education. She spent two years in Italy, followed by Paris. In 1926, her solo exhibition at Quatre Chemins Gallery was praised by French critics. She had the opportunity to exhibit her works in Holland, but due to her mother’s health condition, she had to return to Georgia in 1927.

Shortly thereafter, the founder of modern Georgian theater, director Kote Marjanishvili offered her a stage designer’s job. Eventually, she would later play a tremendous role in the development of Georgian set design.

Among other things, Elene Akhvlediani worked on book design.

Especially noteworthy are her urban scenery images. Instead of looking for iconic examples of architecture, be it in Italy, France, or Georgia, her paintings focus on everyday urban life, such as narrow streets in old neighborhoods, or small houses leaning against centuries-old basilicas.

The urban landscape series created in Paris is one of the best in Akhvlediani’s oeuvre.

Of the colorful images of Tbilisi at that time, many have survived only in Akhvlediani’s paintings. Her works were actively used as samples during the reconstruction of Old Tbilisi in the 1950s-1960s.

Elene Akhvlediani’s House Museum used to be a salon of sorts, where poetry readings, concerts, and solo and group exhibitions were held. The place has also seen performances by Heinrich Neuhaus and Sviatoslav Richter.

The exhibition space with its rich architectural elements, like the traditional Georgian ornamented dedabodzi central pillar and baluster mezzanines, incorporates numerous interesting items, such as Elene Akhvlediani’s oil paintings and graphic works, scenic sketches, and book illustrations. Here you will also hear many exciting stories, including about Akhvlediani meeting with Picasso in Paris. Make sure to include this house museum on your Tbilisi route—here you will find Old Tbilisi in ways already missing outside the building.

 

Elene Akhvlediani House Museum

12 Leo Kiacheli Str.

(+995 32) 2 99 74 12

Open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Tuesday through Friday. Closed on Monday and official holidays.

The museum does not facilitate English-speaking tour guide services. Instead, it offers informative booklets in the English language. Still, it is advisable to hire an interpreter before visiting the museum.

 

Mose Toidze (1871-1953), a professor at the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts, laid the foundation for new Georgian oil painting. In 1922, he initiated the establishment of an artistic studio to prepare human resources for the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts.

When Toidze was 25, he enrolled in the Saint Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. Later, he would go on to work at the studio of Ilya Repin, a celebrated Russian artist. His graduate thesis, Mtskhetoba, depicted large-scale church and folk celebrations in the city of Mtskheta, winning him a scholarship. However, Toidze was soon expelled from the academy for participating in a political demonstration of students, which barred him from continuing his education abroad.

Mose Toidze’s House Museum displays his oil and graphic works, memorial furniture, various personal items, library, and collection of ethnographic artifacts. There are also works by other artists, including his son, prominent painter Irakli Toidze.

The museum also conducts scientific research activities, with frequent presentations and Sunday school classes. It is recommended to book your visit in advance.

 

Mose Toidze House Museum

+995 599 131 931

12 M. Laghidze Street

Open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed on Mondays and official holidays

The museum does not facilitate English-speaking tour guide services. Instead, it offers informative booklets in the English language. Still, it is advisable to hire an interpreter before visiting the museum.

 

Iakob Nikoladze (1876-1951) was the first professional Georgian sculptor and founder of modern Georgian sculpting. After having studied sculpture at Stroganov Art School in Moscow and the Odessa Academy of Fine Arts, a young Iakob traveled to Europe in 1899. From France, he moved to Italy to study Renaissance sculpture. In 1905, he returned to Paris. It was during his second visit to Paris that he was lucky enough to work with the great Auguste Rodin, something that every modern sculptor could have only dreamed about. Later, Toidze would go on to describe his time at the brilliant sculptor’s studio and his 15-month cooperation with Rodin in a memoir book titled, A Year with Rodin.

Iakob Nikoladze was one of the founders of the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts and its first professor. You will encounter his works while walking through Tbilisi, in the Opera House Garden or by the Art Gallery on Rustaveli Avenue, for example. In 1907, he returned to Georgia to create his most famous work, Georgia in Sorrow, the sculpture over the grave of Ilia Chavchavadze, a great Georgian public figure and writer, in the Mtatsminda Pantheon, where Nikoladze himself would later be laid to rest. Some of the sculptor’s works are preserved at the Art Museum of Georgia. More than 100 works, along with the sculptor’s personal items, are displayed at his studio.

Iakob Nikoladze House Museum

+995 599 131 931

6 A. Rodin Street

Open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed on Mondays and official holidays

The museum does not facilitate English-speaking tour guide services. Sculptor Guram Nikoladze, Iakob’s grandson, works in the studio. It is advisable to book your visit in advance.

 

The sign by the house’s front entrance reads The Memorial Museum of Ilia Chavchavadze, though this historical building with its quaint courtyard undoubtedly reflects an entire era.

This building, in 1889-1902, was the home of prominent Georgian writer and political and public figure Ilia Chavchavadze. One of the leaders of the national liberation movement, he was also among the founders of the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians.

At his initiative, the newspaper Iveria was published from 1877. After the only Georgian-language daily periodical Droeba was shut down in 1886, Iveria switched to a daily format. Given the Russification policy raging at that time, when even the word Georgia was banned from the press, Iveria played a vital role in promoting national identity. Thematically, it was quite diverse, with a special emphasis on popular education, schools, and state educational policy. Equally far-reaching was the newspaper’s impact on the development of Georgian literature as it collaborated with pretty much every reputable Georgian author and litterateur. The editorial office was housed in the same building, a place bringing together writers and critics to discuss, above all else, the country’s development and future.

The house has, to some extent, kept its 19th century interior, including wallpapers, floors, and furniture. Here you will find historical documents, photos, manuscripts, and personal correspondence. One of the rooms displays his funeral ribbon with an inscription that adorned the wreaths at Ilia’s burial. Interestingly, one wing in this building was once occupied by prominent physician Mikheil Gedevanishvili, one of the pioneers of X-ray technology in Georgia. He used an imported X-ray machine to serve his patients in this building.

Ilia Chavchavadze Literary Memorial Museum

7 I. Javakhishvili Street

(+995 32) 2 95 72 68

Open 11 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. Closed on Sundays, Mondays, and official holidays.

 

In 2018, Niko Pirosmani’s paintings were on display at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, and one of his works, A Woman with a Headscarf, was auctioned for 2,230,000 pounds at Sotheby’s. The artist, whose works are exhibited throughout the world to mesmerize and inspire the multitudes, lived in extreme poverty, painting shop signs to make a living. He died a lonely man, and his final resting place remains a mystery.

Niko Pirosmani (Pirosmanishvili) was a self-taught artist who drew solely on his creative intuition and natural talent for his work. Though not a professionally trained painter, today he is the most celebrated Georgian artist who surely deserves to be called a genius.

For a while, he worked at the railroad. Later, he opened a tavern, and even tried his luck in trade. With his business endeavors collapsing, he ended up seeking shelter in Tbilisi tavern basements and painting for their owners. It was in one such tavern that Pirosmani was “discovered” by brothers Ilia and Kiril Zdanevich, who became the first collectors of his works. They even held a one-day exhibition for Pirosmani at their home.

146 of Pirosmani’s works, including portraits, landscapes, and animalistic paintings, are currently preserved at the Georgian National Museum.

A museum operates in the house in the village of Mirzaani, Kakheti, where the artist was born. None of the taverns painted by Nikala—the affectionate name used by his contemporaries—have survived in Tbilisi. The only place tied to his name is the house at 29 Pirosmani Street, near the Railroad Station, where, in the final years of his life, he rented a dark room with a low ceiling under the entrance hall staircase. His entire possessions consisted of a table, a couch, modest kitchenware, and a piece of tapestry embroidered by his mother.

Niko Pirosmani Museum

29 Niko Pirosmani Street

+995 32 2 95 53 90, +995 577 25 33 16

Open from 10 AM to 6 PM. Closed on Mondays and official holidays

The museum offers English-language tour guide services. It is advisable to book your visit in advance.

 

Author Mikheil Javakhishvili (1880-1937) holds a special place in Georgian literature of the 20th century. His vast literary legacy encompasses fictions, feature writing and critical reviews, essays, memoirs, and translations. In 1933-1934, a four-volume collection of his works was published, though his direct opposition with Soviet ideology cost him dearly. In 1937, Javakhishvili was executed and his works were banned for more than 20 years.

The museum does not have an English-language tour guide. However, if you are interested in the era of Soviet repressions in the late 1930s—when Javakhishvili lived and worked—we advise you to hire a translator before your visit. The museum describes the relations between Mikheil Javakhishvili and the Soviet leader Lavrentiy Beria, who lived across the street from him, the details of the writer’s personal life and career, his arrest and labeling as a public enemy—along with his cynical rehabilitation years later—and also the stories of other members of society who shared the same fate as Javakhishvili. All these exhibitions will help you draw a broader picture of the totalitarian state of that period.

The museum displays the author’s archive, personal effects, library, photo materials, and other documents. The museum frequently hosts educational programs, which is why we recommend booking your visit in advance.

Mikheil Javakhishvili Museum

21 M. Javakhishvili Street

(+995 32) 2 92 03 67

Open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays and official holidays