Text Box: PIANIST autographs


Phone: 212-860-5541  *  Fax: 917-677-8247


Price: $350.00


Original lacquer technique cabinet photograph by Konstantin Shapiro, c. 1889.

Likely the most important photograph taken of the pianist, composer and founder of the Russian conservatory system.  He personally selected the image for the frontispiece of the first edition of his 1889 autobiography.  The image is rarely available in its’ original format as an antiquity, though variants generally in half tone and postcards can be found.

The photographer Konstantin Shapiro (1841-1900, though birthdate according to various sources varies from 1839-1841) was the most important photographer operating in St. Petersburg during the 4th quarter of the 19th Century.  He was a leading Yiddish poet of his time in Russia as well, which is something of a paradox as he converted to Christianity.  Needless to say, his photography business paid the rent. 

Shapiro was born in Grodno in Belarus to an orthodox Jewish family.  He attended Yeshiva and studied photography as a means to make a living.  His parents forced him to marry at the age of fifteen.  Unhappy in his marriage, it was annulled and angry with his family he left Grodno to study photography, first in Bialystok and then in Vienna.  He returned to Russia for further study in St. Petersburg.  The poet enrolled in the Academy of Art to study writing and withdrew to open his studio, where he was the chief competitor of the slightly older Charles Bergamasco.  Shapiro’s work would eventually rival and exceed that of Bergamasco. During his first years in St. Petersburg, he was taken in by a well to do family, however, they were Russian Orthodox Christians.  After becoming attached to their daughter, she became pregnant. Shapiro contracted typhus and was near death.  To spare the family and child the “shame” of a half Jewish fatherless child, he made a sick bed conversion to Christianity and married the daughter.  He survived and it was his constant shame for the rest of his life.  He was torn in the middle as the Jews in St. Petersburg no longer accepted him and he was still Jewish to the Christians.  The one silver lining is that he received a royal warrant from Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich as photographer to the royal family.  His guilt and shame haunted him throughout the rest of his life and he never stopped writing poetry in Yiddish and many of his poems reflected his shame.   

While Shapiro’s personal life was difficult, his life as a photographer was anything but.  In addition to the royal warrant, he also became the “official” photographer of writers, poets, composers, musicians and government officials in St. Petersburg.  The anti-Semitic Leo Tolstoy would not have Shapiro to his home, however, he would visit his studio and he became Tolstoy’s favorite photographer.  In addition to Anton Rubinstein, Shapiro was a frequent photographer of the composers and musicians in the city including Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, Glazunov, Tanayev and others.  His photographs of writers included Burenin, Chekov, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, Grigorovich, Ostrovsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Turgenev, Uspensky and Zweifel.  He also photographed other famous people of note including, scientists, physicians, politicians and the royal family including Alexander III who awarded him a silver medal at a St. Petersburg photography exposition in 1883.  Shapiro was one of the first photographers in Russia commissioned to produce photographs for a book, the volume was a new luxury edition of Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” also in 1883. 

Shapiro, despite his conversion wrote Jewish poetry throughout his life, including a long poem about the Dreyfus Affair.  An ardent Zionist throughout his life, he left the bulk of his estate to Zionist causes.