Nikolai Dmitrievich Stakheev, Shishkin’s nephew and the original owner of At the Edge of the Pine Forest, which features in the Russian Pictures sale on 7 June in London, is thought to have been the prototype for the character of Ippolit in Mel Brooks’ 1970 film The Twelve Chairs.


IVAN IVANOVICH SHISHKIN, AT THE EDGE OF THE PINE FOREST, ESTIMATE £500,000–700,000.

The movie was adapted from the 1928 satirical novel The Twelve Chairs by Ilya ‘Ilf’ Feinsilberg and Evgeny Petrov, a pair of Odessa-born journalists and humourists who met whilst working on the central railway workers’ newspaper Gudok (The Whistle).

In the novel, Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov or Kisa, is a former provincial aristocrat now reduced to the status of low-level bureaucrat. His mother-in-law reveals on her deathbed that the family jewels are hidden in the upholstery of one of the twelve dining chairs which were expropriated by the Bolsheviks, along with the family’s other possessions, after the Revolution.

After failing to buy the chairs back at auction, Kisa, the hapless aristocrat, teams up with wily con artist and NEP-man, Ostap Bender and the two embark on a picaresque journey to track them down which takes them all over Russia. On the way the myriad characters and situations they encounter reveal all the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in Soviet society under Lenin’s New Economic Policy.


RON MOODY (RIGHT) AS IPPOLIT IN THE TWELVE CHAIRS © AF ARCHIVE/ALAMY

When Kisa tracks down the twelfth and final chair at the House of the Railway Workers in Moscow, he learns that not only have the diamonds already been found, but they have been used to build the very building.

Ilf and Petrov first had the idea for the plot when they learnt of the story of Shishkin’s nephew Stakheev in the offices of Gudok.

The Stakheev family emigrated to France before the war, taking with them the Shishkin and returned to Russia after the Revolution in an ill-fated attempt to rescue the family jewels and silver from their hiding places. On approaching the family residence, Stakheev was immediately arrested and questioned by the secret police. Stakheev, who was descended from a long line of merchants and had been one of Russia’s most successful businessmen, managed to strike a deal whereby in return for revealing the location of the valuables he would be allowed to escape and return to France and would continue to receive a state pension for the rest of his days.

From the proceeds of Stakheev’s confiscated property the Central House of Culture of Railway Workers was built by Shchusev, the architect of Lenin’s mausoleum, next to Kazan Station. Not only were Stakheev’s possessions sold off to benefit the railway workers, but the magnificent residence he had built on Novaya Basmannaya for the princely sum of 1 million rubles became the Dzerzhinsky Recreation Club for Railway Workers.


MEL BROOKS ON THE SET OF THE TWELVE CHAIRS © AF ARCHIVE/ALAMY

Ilf and Petrov’s novel is considered a classic in Russia and has been adapted for the cinema and TV more than 20 times, the most high profile of which is the Mel Brooks version. The movie, which was acclaimed by critics, stars Ron Moody as Ippolit.

The Russian Pictures sale is in London on 7 June.