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Dimitri Shevardnadze  (1985 – 1937) 

Dimitri Shevardnadze was a modernist artist who worked as a painter and graphic designer, stage designer, restorer. He founded a program of museum management in Georgia, and was both initiator and participant of the cultural life of Georgia in the 1920s through the ‘30s.

He was born in 1885 in the village of Bakhvi, Georgia. From 1906-1914 he lived in Munich, where he studied at the Art Academy and worked, forging a new professionalism in his art and beginning the process of institutionalizing Georgian modern art in 1918, during the first year of Georgia’s newfound independence from Russia. 

Already in 1916 Shevardnadze initiates the Society of Artists of Georgia

In 1920, he founded the National Art Gallery of Georgia and became its first director. He created the first large-scale exhibition in the National Gallery, which drew upon the resources of the departments of Western Europe, Oriental and Georgian arts. He also founded the library attached to the gallery.

In 1933, Shevardnadze transferred the holdings of the National Gallery to Metekhi castle. He turned Metekhi into the first Georgian museum, on the basis of which later The Georgian State Art Museum and The Institute of Georgian Art History were founded.

Under his initiative “The Society of Georgian Artists” paid great attention to the study and protection of national cultural heritage and modern Georgian art. In the same year, 1916, he organized the expeditions of Georgian artists to work on study of the historical monuments and unique frescos of Nabakhtevi and Davit-Gareja monasteries.

In 1917, together with professor Ekvtime Takaishvili, he organized the scientific-art expedition in South Georgia to study the historical monuments of Tortum-Ispiri Gorge and make the copies of the frescos;

In 1917, he arranged the exhibition of Niko Pirosmanashvili’s works in his own apartment with the assistance of the brothers Ilya and Kirill Zdanevich;

In 1918, under Ivane Javakhishvili’s order, he finished sketches of the seal and coat of arms for the newly opened Georgian university as well as the sketches of the national banknotes and postage stamps;

In 1919, he arranged for the spring and autumn exhibitions of Georgian painters, as well as international painters living and working in Georgia. Using this as a basis, he sent the first group of Georgian artist-scholars to Europe;

In 1922, the Tbilisi State Art Academy was opened with his efforts and participation.

As an artist, he participated in the setting of the first Georgian film, “Kristine.”  In 1928, he worked on the setting of Nikoloz Shengelaia’s film, “Eliso,” and in 1930, he worked on Alexander Tsutsunava’s film: “Who Is Guilty?” In 1937, he was invited as an art director and consultant to work on the film, “Journey to Erzurum,” connected to the jubilee of Alexander Pushkin. He was also in charge of decorating Tbilisi for this event.

He worked on stage design as well: taking a creative role in sets for the opera “Abesalom and Eteri,” adapted by Kote Marjanishvili (1924),  in the stage design for Meliton Balanchivadze’s five-act opera “Tamar the Wise,” and costume design for the new stage production of Dimitri Arakishvili’s opera, “Shota Rustaveli”. In addition, Shevardnadze did costume design for the pantomime, “Mzetamzem,” by the composer Tamar Vakhvakhishvili. The stage design was done by Lado Gudiashvili. The show debuted at the State Studio of Tbilisi Academic Theatre, in 1926.

In 1936, during the period of repressions, Dimitri Shevardnadze was dismissed from his position as director of the “Metekhi” Castle Museum. He said: “I am not afraid of anything because I am not guilty of anything,” pronounced his fearlessness a year prior to his arrest. In spite of his courage, his work was labeled as anti-Soviet, in consequence of his service to the furtherance of Georgian culture.

In 1937, Beria’s decreed that Metekhi Castle and the 12th-century cathedral were to be blown up, and in their place a statue of Shota Rustaveli was to be erected. Beria met explicit resistance from Dimitri Shevardnadze, together with G. Chubinashvili, A. Akhmeteli and M. Javakhishvili. The monument survived, but on June 10, 1937, Dimitri Shevardnadze was arrested as an “enemy of the people” and shot.