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Andrey Avinoff (14 February 1884, Tulchin, Volhynia - 16 July 1949, New York City) sometimes referred to as Andrej Nikolajewitsch Avinoff or Andrei Avinoff, was a Russian entomologist and painter who became Director of the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. He was especially interested in Lepidoptera among many, many other interests. He was the brother of the famous portrait painter Elizabeth Shoumatoff who most-famously was painting Frankin Delano Roosevelt when he died, and was a highly skilled artist himself who usually painted images of flora or fauna, or paintings with deep meanings with themes of religious or apocalyptic nature.

Avinoff, who was from wealthy family while in Russia with ties to nobility, and who served a diplomatic role in the Tsar's court as an "adviser to the Tzar," left Russia after the Revolution. In 1924, he was hired as an assistant curator of entomology at The Carnegie Museum; he was promoted to director of the Museum in 1926 which he remained through 1946. He was also a trustee of the American Museum.

One of his most famous series of paintings depict the The Fall of Atlantis, a poem by George V. Golokhvastoff, published in limited edition in 1938 [1]. The Birth of Atlantis, illustrated in his series of paintings, exemplifies the Art Deco style popular in the 1930s. The image is of a young male figure rising out of the sea, symbolic of the legendary island said by Plato to have later disappeared beneath the waves during an earthquake. Avinoff, a naturalist, was also known for his paintings of flowers, and 350 of his works illustrate Wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin.

Born in the Ukraine, Avinoff's early interest was in entomological fauna. His work as a Russian diplomat led him to immigrate to the United States in 1917 following the Communist Revolution. Whilst resident in the United States, Avinoff made six trips to Jamaica which he described as "a dreamland of tropical splendor" between 1926 and 1940, five of them with Nicholas Shoumatoff, the son of his sister whose father had died in his arms at the age of 12 from a downing at Jones Beach, New York, and who Avinoff largely served as a father figure for. Shoumatoff would eventually become a well-traveled engineer who may have been responsible for the development of up to 50% of the world's paper mills, and eventually became a president of the New York Entomological Society, traveled to Jamaica several times himself, and became an expert in mountainous alpine climates and mountain ranges including the Swiss Alps and the Himilayas. The two caught more than fourteen thousand bots (butterflies and moths in Jamaican patois), doubling the number of known species on the island to more than a thousand, including the Shoumatoff Hairstreak, a rare butterfly that they had discovered together (see picture below).

His associates at the Carnegie Museum included William P. Comstock and E. Irving Huntington, Cyril F. dos Passos and Vladimir Nabokov.

Avinoff's collection of Rhopalocera from the Pamirs and Central Asia is in the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg. This collection of some eighty thousand specimens was appropriated by the Soviet Government. Following World War II, the Mellon family planned to retrieve the collection, but this was refused. Through trading and purchase Avinoff managed to build up a near duplicate collection, most of which was donated to the Carnegie Museum. Much of his work still exists at the Carnegie Museum and several specimen of the Shoumatoff's Hairstreak still exist at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Avinoff generally lived a secluded but socially correct lifesyle in the upper class of Pittsburgh, which was a popular and thriving metropolis at the time, with a strong elitist social society. He never had children and it was widely speculated that he may have perhaps been homosexual, which may or may not have been true.

He was also close friends with Alfred Kinsey, who was chronicled in the widely popular American film in 2004, "Kinsey," and a number of his collections are available and stored at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana.

The Shoumatoff's Hair Streak, a butterfly from Jamaica captured and named by Avinoff and Nicholas Shoumatoff


Partial list

  • 1946, with N. Shoumatoff, "An Annotated List of the Butterflies of Jamaica." Ann. Carnegie Museum, vol. 2O: pp. 263–295, pi. I
  • 1950, An Analysis of Color and Pattern in Butterflies of the Asiatic genus Karanasa. 10 p. 2 plates.
  • 1951, with Swedner, "The Karanasa butterflies, a study in evolution". Ann. Carnegie Mus., 32:1-250. (Also Monograph of the Satyrids of Central Asia)


  • Osborn, H. 1937: Fragments of Entomological History Including Some Personal Recollections of Men and Events. Columbus, Ohio, Published by the Author 1 1-394, 47 portraits.
  • Osborn, H. 1952: A Brief History of Entomology Including Time of Demosthenes and Aristotle to Modern Times with over Five Hundred Portraits.. Columbus, Ohio, The Spahr & Glenn Company : 1-303.

External links



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