Out of Russia
Avinoff
Biographical Sketch

Andrey Avinoff was born in the agricultural town of Tulchin in Ukraine, but he did not come from humble origins. His father was a lieutenant-general in the Russian army, and his grandfather had served as an officer with Admiral Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. Avinoff spent much of his childhood at his motherís ancestral estate, which had been presented to her family by Catherine the Great in the 18th century. The grand house was filled with Old Master canvases, Persian rugs, painted icons, and a substantial library. The Avinoffs had their own Russian Orthodox priest to conduct services in their private chapel.

As a child, Avinoff enjoyed painting and collecting butterfly specimens, but at university he temporarily put these pursuits aside to earn a law degree at the University of Moscow. He accepted a position in the government of Nicholas II, and in 1911 he was appointed gentleman-in-waiting to the Czar. When World War I began three years later, Avinoff was unable to serve as a soldier due to bad eyesight. Instead he was sent to the United States to purchase supplies for the Russian army. When he was asked to perform this duty again in 1917, Avinoff realized that this was his opportunity to escape the perils of war and revolution.

Avinoff's talent as an artist enabled him to earn a living as a commercial illustrator soon after his arrival in the United States. He later illustrated a book on wild flowers, painted portraits, and was an authority on Russian icons. As a painter, he enjoyed working in a variety of styles, from the exact representation necessary for botanical illustrations to the Cubism of Picasso. His passion for butterflies took him to places around the globe in search of rare specimens to add to his collection. His work as an entomologist also led him to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, where he served as director for 19 years.

When poor health forced Avinoff to retire from the museum in 1945, he moved to New York to be near his sister, the portrait painter Elizabeth Shoumatoff. He was able to devote more time to his painting and to writing articles on entomology. Avinoff had never married, and he was very discreet about his sexual life. However, in 1948 he and his friend Alfred Kinsey began discussing the possibility of collaborating on a book on the history of erotic art. Sadly, it was not to be. The following year Avinoff went into the hospital for surgery, and died shortly afterward at the age of 65.



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