Vol. 43 (2023)
Literary Meridians

Georgia in Emile-François Dessain’s Recollections and Paintings

Rusudan Turnava
Shota Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Published 2023-12-14


  • a work in the genre of travel,
  • manuscript,
  • pictures by Dessain,
  • Giorgi XII and his progeny,
  • Georgian aristocrats in 1850-1851,
  • French- Georgian literary-cultural relations,
  • new historical information,
  • comparative analysis
  • ...More

How to Cite

Turnava, R. (2023). Georgia in Emile-François Dessain’s Recollections and Paintings. Literary Researches, 43, 231–249. https://doi.org/10.62119/lr.43.2023.7765


“Quelques Souvenirs d’un voyage au Caucase”(Some Recollections of a journey through the Caucasus) by Emile-François Dessain, painter, engraver and lithographer, is preserved as a manuscript made by the end of 19th century in a French city of Valenciennes. It contains 148 pages. The artist tells us his journey from Russia to the Caucasus and Georgia where he lived in 1850-1851. The recollections were recorded by Edouard Desiré Fromantin, his biographer, shotly prior to the artist’s deth and handed to the Municipal Library of Valenciennes in 1910. The manuscript is not studied in Georgian scholarship.

This is interesting material about the life of the family of Giorgi XII, the last king of Georgia, at court of Nicholas I, Russian emperor. The recollections provide important history of creating the portraits of the last queen of Georgia, Mariam Tsitsishvili and her progeny. Dessain’s narrative shows us his close relations with Georgian aristocrats in 1850-1851, after he came to Georgia.

The Recollections reflect Georgian character seen by French artist and Georgia’s socio-political and cultural life in the mentioned period. Dessain is trying to render the exotic of the Caucasus and Georgia, where aristocratism of high society is strangely connected with the local traditions deeply rooted in culture. He recalls the situation and people at that time with mild irony and evaluates people’s warmth, cheerfulness and hospitality; tells about M. Vorontsov and Georgian nobles: Iliko Orbeliani, Nino Chavchavadze, David and Ekaterine Dadiani. He sarcastically mentions the French consul Edmond de Barrerre and traditions of the French colony in Tbilisi. The months spent in Georgia he recalls the brightest and most interesting period in his creative life.

Dessain’s recollections are considered as a work in the genre of travel literature which deserves a due attention by its artistic level with reference to other French travelers( Jean Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Jean-Pierre Moynet, Henri Pharamond Blanchard). There is pointed out the artist’s perfect aesthetic sense, refined humour and ability of a psychologist. It is worthy of note his benevolent and at the same time critical opinions. The pictures created by Dessain are kept in Zugdidi, in Dadiani Palace, Shalva
Amiranashvili National Museum of Fine Arts and in other museums abroad.

Using historical-systematic, chronologic, imagological, biographic and comparative methods of studies, we are able to analyze questions in many aspects overview the role of socio-cultural context.

As a result of our scientific research a vivacious picture of French-Georgian literary-cultural relations in the 1850s is retrieved. New historical information and the features of French-Georgian crosscultural dialogue are revealed. The results of research are worthy for the specialists of literary criticism, historiography, archival studies, art criticism and for the general public concerned with questions of literature and culture.