A collection of about one hundred photographs from Vava Sarkis Khachaturian has recently been processed and is now available for the interested public to view at the Zohrab Information Center. The collection was processed by Linda Smith, a graduate student at Simmons University, pursing a degree in Archives Management and undertaking field experience at the Zohrab Center under the supervision of Dr. Jesse S. Arlen.
Vava Sarkis was born Vardanoush Sarian in Trabzon, Turkey on February 12, 1895. She spent most of her childhood in Batum, Georgia, living with her parents, five sisters, two brothers, and extended family. Vava later lived in Vienna and Paris, where she modeled for several artists including Henri Matisse. She met Sarkis Khachaturian while taking art lessons from him.
Sarkis was a prolific artist who helped create the Armenian Artists’ Association. He studied painting and pedagogy extensively across Europe. He painted works depicting orphans and refugees from the Armenian genocide, as well as painting Armenian churches and religious feast days and themes. Sarkis is well known as the illustrator of Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat. From 1937 to 1941, Sarkis restored and made copies from temple frescoes in India, saving this art from decay.
The couple married in 1920. Vava and Sarkis made extended travels all over the world, and first settled in Tiflis (Tbilisi), Georgia in 1923, where Vava described the city as going through an “Armenian renaissance” in several art forms, including painting, art, singing, theater, and opera. Sarkis and Vava continued traveling for work and pleasure before settling in New York in 1941. That is also the year Vava began painting, with her first one-person exhibition opening in the city in the mid-1940s. The couple never had children; in an interview Vava gave as part of Columbia University’s Armenian oral history archive, she stated that “our children [are] our paintings” which she thought was better “because they are living…for eternity.” You can listen to the entire interview here.
Sarkis died in Paris in 1947 after complications from an appendectomy. Vava remained in New York for the rest of her life, and she continued to paint and attended exhibitions of both her art and Sarkis’ art. Vava died of cancer on February 25, 1984 at the age of 89. Vava’s and Sarkis’ artwork can be seen in the National Gallery of Armenia and private collections across the globe.
This collection provides a valuable picture of the personal life and contributions of two prolific painters and active members of the Armenian community of New York in the early 20th century, as well as other important Armenian figures they knew and loved. This collection of photographs is now available for researchers and visitors to admire and learn from in the Zohrab Information Center’s library. A finding aid of the collection is available to view here.
To see a short blog post about Vava with two photographs of her art and a painting that Sarkis did of her, click here.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art received a donation from Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas William D’Elia in memory of Sarkis Katchadourian in 1949. Click here to view Sarkis’ “Seated man in European Clothes Holding a Bottle.”