Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Chaliapin Family Papers

"The acquisition of the Chaliapin Family papers by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library is an important addition to the very rich collection of Russian materials in the Bakhmeteff Archive," said Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier, Resident Scholar and Adjunct Professor at Columbia's Harriman Institute. "It offers valuable information and sources (ranging from photos and correspondence to paintings) in three areas: the extraordinary efflorescence of Russian culture on the eve of World War I (known as the Silver Age); the contribution of the Russian diaspora to European and American culture after the 1917 Revolution; and the role of Russians in American journalism as well as in Hollywood between the wars."

Fiodor Chaliapin was the foremost Russian opera singer of the 20th century. Largely self-taught, Chaliapin began his career in provincial touring companies of Czarist Russia, then joined the Bolshoi in 1899 where he played Boris Godunov, the role he would be most associated with. He made his European debut in Milan in 1902 and his New York debut in 1907. Chaliapin remained in Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917, but eventually emigrated to Paris. He died in Paris in 1938.

Fiodor’s son, Boris, received his art education in Russia and Paris and first exhibited his work in the foyer of London’s Royal Opera House in 1927. Boris Chaliapin painted a series of pictures of his father both on and off the stage and in the 1920 and 1930s had a considerable reputation for portrait painting in Russia. He then moved to New York City where he supported himself as an illustrator. Between 1939 and 1970, Boris Chaliapin painted about 400 portraits for the cover of Time magazine.

The collection includes photographs inscribed by prominent contemporaries to Fiodor Chaliapin, as well as concert and theater fliers and posters documenting his career. The archive also features Boris Chaliapin’s series of letters from the Korovine family in emigration, Sergei Rakhmaninov and Theodor Dreiser, letters from Akim and Tamara Tamirova discussing film projects with Orson Welles, hundreds of letters detailing the process of creating a Time magazine cover; a sketchbook regarding the U.S. release of the 1933 film Don Quixote, starring Fiodor Chaliapin, hundreds of news clippings, mainly about Boris and his father, Time/Life photos from Boris's 1960 trip to the Soviet Union, and many original works of art.

Named for Boris A. Bakhmeteff (d.1951), the last ambassador of the Russian Provisional Government to the United States and a longtime professor at Columbia, the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian & East European Culture is the second largest (after California’s Hoover Institution) repository of manuscripts, printed and visual materials related to the Russian and Eastern European émigré communities outside of the homelands. The Archive includes almost 1,000 processed collections with more than 1.5 million individual items, including letters, documents, manuscripts, photographs, prints, clippings, artworks, and ephemera.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children‘s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For more information, please see:

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: