The Ustinov Family

In only two generations, the Ustinov and Benois families (the latter, Sir Peter's maternal side) brought forth over 40 artists, including actors, sculptors, composers, architects; or stage designers. Their roots can be traced back to England, Russia and France, but also to Ethiopia, Italy, today's Israel and Germany. With this multicultural family heritage, cosmopolitanism and the need for artistic expression, one can almost speak of an artistic gene running through their veins. Even a separate wing in the Peterhof Museum in St. Petersburg is dedicated to the cultural heritage of the Benois family.

Nadia Benois

Nadia Benois (1896 – 1975)

Nadia Ustinov, née Benois and mother of Peter Ustinov, spent her childhood and youth in the family villa in St. Petersburg beside the Opera House. Her father Louis Benois was an architect, her uncle Alexandre Benois, a painter and set designer for the famous Ballets Russes and the impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Given the artistic environment in which she grew up, it seemed natural that she would also embark on an artistic career. She had already made a name for herself as a stage designer for the famous Ballets Russes and the theatre of the Russian Czar's Court when she - freshly married - emigrated to the UK. There, among other commissions, she designed costumes and stage sets for the Royal Ballet in London. Her costume designs were featured in Sir Peter's early films "Vice Versa" and "Private Angelo". Her pictures are exhibited at the Tate Gallery, the Carnegie Institute, the Manchester City Art Gallery and in the New Zealand National Gallery.

 

Jonah Ustinov

Jonah, Baron of Ustinov (1892 – 1962)

Jonah Ustinov, also known as "Klop" (Russian for “bed bug”, alluding to his activities as a spy and his reputation as a womanizer) was the father of Sir Peter Ustinov. Born in Jaffa, in the former Ottoman Empire, where his own father Plato ran the Hôtel du Parc. After training in Germany, Switzerland, England and France, he took part in the First World War as a German pilot. His only brother Peter, who was a pilot in the same unit, died in action in 1917. Jonah was later to name his son after him. In 1918, after the war, he worked for several years as a correspondent in Berlin and Amsterdam until he found a job at the German Embassy in London, settling in England after the National Socialists took power in Germany. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited by the British intelligence service MI5. A book was published about this lesser-known family secret was published by the British Biteback publishing house in 2014: Klop: Britain's Most Ingenious Secret Spy.

Klop: Britain’s Most Ingenious Secret Spy

Plato Ustinov

Plato Grigorievich, Baron of Ustinov (1840 – 1918)

The grandfather of Sir Peter Ustinov came from an aristocratic Russian family, whose fortune was mainly based on the salt trade. After a riding accident, but also for reasons of faith, Plato Ustinov quit his service in the Russian cavalry. In 1875, he had converted to Protestantism. His position as a nobleman and lord of the Tsar's court, however, was bound to his affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church. He fled to Wurttemberg, where he was naturalized as a German and married his first wife Marie Metzler, the daughter of a Protestant missionary couple. 

They settled in the pilgrim mission in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv in present-day Israel. Part of his large house served as a hospital for sick pilgrims and was later converted into the luxurious Hôtel du Parc. In 1902, Plato co-founded the American Colony Hotel in order to offer its guests an exquisite accommodation in Jerusalem. At the beginning of the First World War, he joined the Russian forces. He is said to have died of starvation in 1917 or 1918 in the turmoil of the collapsed Tsarist Empire. The Jaffa hotel now serves as a pilgrimage hostel and a mission station to the Church's Ministry of Jewish People (CMJ).

 

 

Alexandre Benois

Alexandre Benois (1870 – 1960)

The uncle of Nadia Ustinov and therefore the great-uncle of Sir Peter Ustinov was a Russian painter, writer, art historian and art critic. Above all, however, he influenced modern ballet with his stage design for the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and the Ballets Russes under Sergei Diaghilev. Together with Diaghilev and Léon Bakst, he was the founder of the movement and eponymous art magazine "Mir Iskusswa" (Russian for "World of Art"). His costumes and sets for productions such as "Les Sylphides" (1909), "Giselle" (1910) and "Petrushka" (1911), have become part of theatre history. As a survivor of the unrest of the 1917 Russian Revolution, he bequeathed the heart of his family's art collection, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, to the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. His son Nicola Alexandrovich Benois, as well as his niece Nadia Benois, successfully continued the artistic tradition of the Benois family as stage and costume designers for opera houses worldwide.

Leonti Nikolajewitsch Benois

Leonti Nikolajewitsch Benois (1856 - 1928)

Leon Benois, Sir Peter Ustinov’s maternal grandfather, was a Russian architect, art teacher and university principal at the Russian Academy of Arts (1903-1906 and 1911-1917). The son of Russian architect and artist Nikolai Leonthewitsch Benois (1813-1898) and Camilla Cavos, daughter of Italian-born architect Albert Katarinovich Cavos, built the Roman Catholic Cathedral Notre-Dame in St. Petersburg and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Warsaw, among other edifices. In Germany, he designed the Russian Chapel in Darmstadt (Mathildenhöhe) and the Russian Chapel in Bad Homburg.