After all, during the height of Soviet censorship, Savitsky routinely disguised thousands of priceless paintings as mere baggage before loading them onto trains and trucks for “archaeological expeditions” to Nukus, according to the documentary. Even after Stalin and his successors Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin softened, Savitsky regularly put himself in play for his collection. When a Soviet delegation declared that one of Savitsky’s favorite pieces – “Fascism Advances” by Uzbek artist Vladimir Lysenko – was anti-Soviet and therefore “degenerate”, he hid it for a few hours before handing it over. on the wall. âIt was too big a work of art to be hidden,â he wrote at the time.
Savitsky, who came from a wealthy family of lawyers, saw “works by artists who have stayed true to their vision at a terrible price,” says his friend Alla Efunni. âHe had a suit on the hanger for visits to his bosses; the rest did not matter to him: where to live, what to eat, his health, the women, the money. He didn’t care at all except paying the people he bought the art from. Savitsky continued to collect state money for “archaeological expeditions” and gave it to starving widows of artists such as Sergei Bogdanov, a Moscow-trained painter whose self-portraits in “oriental dresses” dazzled Savitsky; Alexander Volkov, whose cotton picker paintings showed despair as the harvest ruined central Uzbekistan; and Lyudmila Bakulina, who represented industrial landscapes.
Ultimately, the “expeditions” that paid for – and covered up – Savitsky’s collection were responsible for his demise. To clean the parts to bring back to Moscow, Savitsky used formaldehyde, which ended up destroying his lungs. Forced to settle in a Moscow hospital, the doctors nonetheless allowed Savitsky to make day trips in the name of art. In the last weeks of his life, Savitsky collected two more containers of paintings and graphics, bringing his total to 44,000. He died in Moscow in 1984 at the age of 69, leaving historians to piece together the account of the Noukous museum from newspapers and letters kept in the state archives and through declassified KGB files.