by Genrietta MEDYNTSEVA, State Literary Museum, Moscow, Russia
The Central Museum of Literature, Criticism and Journalism (founded in Leningrad in 1930) and the Literary Museum set up under the auspices of the Lenin All-Union Library in Moscow (1924) merged into one museum based in Moscow (1934). Today this is one of the world's largest repositories of cultural values. The keynote of the recent exposition held late in 2009 and early 2010 on its premises was "Silent Eloquence of Things..." Things that are part and parcel of our national heritage.
The leitmotif and message of this exposition is the intimate union of the national cultural heritage and family values, a typical Russian phenomenon taking in every kind of memorabilia and keepsakes (mementoes, family relics, portraits, autographed books, manuscripts, and so forth) as well as authorial archives passed over by writers' descendants or relations. These are also eyewitness accounts and chronicles of contemporaries.
We are greatly indebted to Pavel Vyazemsky, son of Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky (1792-1878), an eminent poet and literary critic of the day, and a friend of Pushkin's. We also owe much to the true helpmeets of the great
writers and thinkers Feodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)–Anna Grigoryevna and Sofia Andreevna, respectively; to Alexei Bogolyubov, an artist and grandson of the poet, writer and philosopher Alexander Radishchev (1749-1802). Such men and women collected a priceless wealth of materials: family chronicles that cannot be divorced from literary evidence provide a broad panorama of society and its generations, the fathers and the sons, a perennial subject.
Ours was a personalistic approach. That is we tried to view each hero of our exhibition from different angles. In his work a writer is represented by his manuscripts, pen and other paraphernalia like desk, chair and so on; in his domestic life, his household belongings, clothes, family portraits, albums and home estate may speak volumes. In his literary pursuits his associations with fellow men of letters are likewise eloquent, as seen in books, inscribed photos and group photographs, literary salons... Documents and other pieces of material evidence furnish a historical background.
The first, opening hall of our exhibition takes us to the Pushkin time, the Golden Age of Russian letters (1810s, 1820s and 1830s). It is ushered in by the painting Saturday at Zhukovsky's (unknown artist of the 19th century, after a canvas that belonged to the brush of one of the Alexei Venetsianov school, 1836). Portraying a group of eminent authors of the day, it takes us back to the literary fraternity of the day. The older of the bunch are 18th-century enlighteners and poets, among them the dean of Russian poetry Gavriil Derzhavin (1743-1816) as well as Vassily Zhukovsky, a poet, prose writer and tutor of the heir to the throne; a go-between and intermediary between Russian and Western literature, and full member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
The best part of this exposition is under materials on Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)* featured in great abundance– so much so that we can make an outline of the
* See: V. Nepomnyashchy, "The Pushkin Phenomenon Through the Obvious", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1999.–Ed.
poet's biography. Editions of his works Count Nulin (1827), Boris Godunov (1831) and Eugene Onegin (1833) are placed side by side with the sheet music of Mikhail Yakovlev's romance Winter Evening to the Pushkin lyrics. All this is illustrated with sights of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Pushkin portraits and those of his friends. Close by is a photograph of his wife Natalia Nikolayevna (née Goncharova) years after the poet's death (1837), made in Dresden, Germany, around 1860. There are books inscribed personally by her as being in her ownership and last, a copy of the Pushkin biography by Pavel Vyazemsky (a period between 1816 and 1825), published in St. Petersburg in 1880.
The great Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841)*, a poet of the younger breed of the Pushkin time, was featured in his three hypostases: as an army officer, poet and artist. Our guests could see two portraits–Lermontov in his service coat, and together with his fellow officers of the Life-Guards of a Hussar Regiment. Also shown were the only lifetime edition of his poems and the first edition of his novel The Hero of Our Time, both off the press in 1840; sketches with sights of the Caucasus he did in 1837, during his first exile for the short caustic poem Death of the Poet, written on Pushkin's death (1837).
As a matter of fact, drawings, largely landscapes, were given broad coverage, each showing this or that facet of the authors' personality and talent, and the geography of their joumeyings and peregrinations–the Caucasus, Crimea, Siberia... Sketches with views of country estates as well as pictures in the genre-painting style come as an apt illustration. These drawings are part of the perennial theme, that of a "Russian Wanderer" as personified by Vassily Zhukovsky, Pyotr Vyazemsky, Alexander Gribo-yedov (1795-1824), a diplomat and poet slain in Persia..., by Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov and other writers exiled to outlying regions.
Some objects became real symbols of the exposition–like Gavriil Derzhavin's portfolio with a monogram; or a unique copy of the travelogue A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow by Alexander Radishchev, published in 1790; or the first edition of Letters of a Russian Traveler (1792) by Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826), a prose writer and historian, and honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences... We might as well mention other memorabilia: the traveling casket of the poet Constantine Batyushkov (1787-1855) among other precious items which, remarkable for their exquisite grace and elegance, are also a side-line character trait of their owners. Another curious article: the traveling papers** of the early 19th century signed by Emperor Alexander I and his omnipotent favorite, Alexei Arakcheyev.
* See: L. Morozova, "A Guest Invited or Guest Sudden, He's Visited this Wondrous World...", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2005.–Ed.
** Traveling papers (traveling order for fresh horses, a relay)–a document entitling one, according to rank and position, to a definite number of horses changed at posting stations. It was a must for those "traveling post".–Ed.
The dominant figure of the second hall was Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)*, the idol of the reading public of the 1840s, who eclipsed even such prominent men of letters as Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Mikhail Pogodin (1800-1875), the critic Vissarion Belinsky (1811-1848) and Sergei Aksakov (1791-1859), a prose writer and Slavophil**. Our guests could see Gogolian portraits–first, in his salad days, upbeat and dandyfied, and then in his last days, just before his death–stern and sad (lithograph by Alexei Venetsianov, anno 1834, and crayons by Emmanuel Dmitriev-Mamonov of the late 1840 and early 1850s).
Everything breathed love for Gogol, who had no home of his own and had to shift places. Portraits of women lend a touch of love and affection: that of Maria Ivanovna, the writer's mother; of Alexandra Smirnova-Rosset (1809-1882), maid of honor of H.M. court, a friend of Pushkin's, Zhukovsky's, Gogol's, Lermontov's and other giants. This woman, remarkable in many ways, exhibited literary talents, for one, in her reminiscences about Russia's beau monde of the first half of the 19th century. Three portraits show images of the mother, wife and daughter of the Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Vladimir Dahl (1801-1872), a scholar, man of letters and the maker of the famous Dictionary of the Russian Language. Next came what we regarded as one of the gems of our museum–a portrait of Ernestine, married to the poet Feodor Tyutchev (1803-1873). Painted by Friedrich Dürk of Germany, her image is truly captivating and enchanting.
Now let's stroll about the third hall of our museum taking in a rather long period, from the end of the 1840s to the 1910s. In a way, this is the climacteric stretch of our exhibition. First comes the almanac Sovremennik (Contemporary) founded in 1836 by Alexander Pushkin in St. Petersburg. This literary journal that also dealt with
* See: "Gogol Birth Bicentennial", Science in Russia No. 2, 2009.–Ed.
** Slavophils–of the nationalistic movement of the Russian social and philosophical thought in the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s. Slavophils came out for cultural and political unity of Slav peoples under Russian guidance and under the banner of Christian Orthodoxy.–Ed.
social and political issues brought together writers of several generations, "the fathers and the sons". Here our guests could learn more about such men of letters and publishers as Pavel Annenkov (1812-1887), Dmitry Grigorovich (1822-1898), Ivan Panayev (1812-1862), and Nikolai Nekrasov (1821-1877), a great Russian national poet.
Exhibited here was a copy of the last issue of Sovremennik published in Pushkin's lifetime and its follow-up numbers published by Nekrasov and Panayev who resumed its publication in 1846. A volume of Pushkin's works comes as a good supplement: apart from the poet's biography, it carries autographs of a dozen Russian authors who inscribed it to Pavel Annenkov, the first biographer and the posthumous publisher of the great poet. Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)*, another literary giant, autographed a copy of the first edition of his novel Fathers and Sons for Annenkov.
Now, the first photograph of a group of Russian authors made in 1856–Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Dmitry Grigorovich, Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886), Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891), and Alexander Druzhinin (1824-1864), the translator of Byron and Shakespeare; some of these men cooperated with Sovremennik.
There is a self-portrait drawn by Grigorovich and his drawing of the dacha of Nekrasov and Panayev which he autographed and presented to Panayev in 1858. It is there, in this summer cottage, that Ivan Turgenev read out his long story A Lull in 1854 which the hosts, Nekrasov and Panayev, liked very much. It is to this dacha that Grigorovich brought Alexandre Dumas (père, 1802-1870) during his tour of Russia in 1858– Grigorovich accompanied the great French author on that tour; in his reminiscences Dumas mentioned his visit to the dacha. Our guests could see a photo of Alexei Bogolyubov, the artist who founded a museum in Saratov commemorating his grandfather, Alexander Radishchev; part of this museum was devoted to Ivan Turgenev; it was the first Turgenev exposition in Russia. Some of our heroes appear before us in a different light showing their best sides as fathers and family men rather than preachers and prophets–like Feodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy do. Most of the things put on display were portraits of writers and their next of kin, autographed books and every kind of chattels: for instance, tableware from Dostoyevsky's parental home at Bozhedomka in Moscow; his hat and tobacco box; a quill with an image of Napoleon on it. Leo Tolstoy is alive in family photographs made by his wife Sofia Tolstaya, an ardent photographer that she was; there is also a big case for photos, along with other memorabilia. It is proceeding from family tradition that these two great authors, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, addressed global problems. The same is likewise true of other leading
* See: G. Medyntseva, "Ivan Turgenev's Two Homelands", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2009.–Ed.
lights and their family background: Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Herzen (1812-1870), Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826-1889), Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895)...
Yet another set of personal memorabilia featured at our exposition showed a wealth of prodigal talents within just one family. These are miniatures, photos, manuscripts, books, personal items and drawings of the Sukhovo-Kobylins: those belonging to playwright Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin (1817-1903), his sister Sofia, a professional artist (1825-1867) who painted a sketch of her brother in his study. Another prodigy of this family was Elizabeth Salias de Tournemir (Eugenia Tour, 1815-1892), the hostess of a literary salon. Her son, Eugene Salias (1840/42-1908), made his way as a man of letters... Displayed among the family relics of the writer Gleb Uspensky (1843-1902) were lovely twin portraits of his parents, photographs of his grandparents, and of the author himself; also, an embroidery made by his mother in childhood and inscribed, "to my dear pa".
Ivan Turgenev cut a dashing figure at our exposition. He was imaged the way he was in his youth and in the afternoon of his days, changing outwardly and spiritually. One could see many of his friends and acquaintances (for a sociable man Turgenev was), among them his flame, the French songstress Pauline Viardot-Garcia pictured in three wonderful portraits. There were photos, too–that of Alexei Bogolyubov, the artist, and a landscape he painted in oils depicting his country estate (1869).
Part of our exhibition was set aside for Alexander Ostrovsky and what he is remembered by: a desk and a huge case for an album with photos of Alexandrine Theater actors in St. Petersburg (a gift of St. Petersburg actors), together with a little album in the showcase–the playwright made the cover for this album with his own hands; a velvet paper-case embroidered with gold and satin, and carrying an A.O. (Alexander Ostrovsky) monogram, all that against a backdrop of portraits of his own self, and his next of kin and friends.
The middle of this hall features Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)*: his memorabilia, the richest in the museum, made the beginning of the entire collection–such little precious things as a toilet-case, bow-tie, cloth-cap, cap-and-saucer, playing-cards, hautboy, box of medical drugs, and other mementos passed over to us by his sister, Maria Pavlovna, and his wife, actress Olga Knipper-Chekhova. We might as well mention a blotting-pad and landscapes painted by the great Russian artist Isaac Levitan**, a close friend of Chekhov's.
* See: "Life Portraitist"; Yu. Balabanova. "Seven Years in Melikhovo"; M. Saprykina, "Medicine, My Lawful Wife"; V. Vasilyev, "In Time All My Works Shall See the Light...", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2010.–Ed.
** See: O. Bazanova, "Russia Alone Can Beget a True Landscape Painter", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2008.–Ed.
All these exhibits are interlinked by illustrative materials–those endless dialogs of writers, autographed books and letters, too, that bring together so many authors, different as they were, into one close-knit literary community.
Next, we enter the fourth hall, one on the Silver Age of Russian letters*. Aesthetically, our transition is prepared by previous collections on Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, for these giants of the 19th century cannot be confined to that century alone, they make a stride well into a new age. Much to our surprise and joy, we could see at first hand the phenomenal wealth of our museum. Although many items are kept in many of our daughter depositaries, there is still much more to our collections! Many other curiosities are in our upkeep: the pipe of Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919) shaped like Napoleon's head; the hat of Ivan Bunin (1870-1953); portraits of both writers by Vladimir Rossinsky; landscapes wrought by Maximilien Voloshin (1877-1932); personal things of the poet Valery Bryusov (1873-1924); also, his card-table, tails, and bow-tie. The toilet-case of Anna Akhmatova (1889-1969) is also in this stock. Quite a list! We might as well add manuscripts, documents, inscribed books, portraits and photographs...
The closing part of the exposition stands out in bold contrast. As the erstwhile family of writers fell apart, other authors moved in, such as Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925), Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), Boris Paster-
* See: M. Shaposhnikov, "Pushkin! Our Coveted Liberty We Praised After Thee", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2004.–Ed.
nаk (1890-1960; Nobel Prize in literature, 1958), Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941), Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), Alexei Tolstoy (1882-1945).
The black-lined banner "On the Memory of Sergei Yesenin" carried during the poet's funeral in 1925 injected a sad note in the coda of the memorial exposition. There is also an air of tragedy about Marina Tsvetayeva and what belonged to her–a traveling box, her plaid, kerchief and plenty of eloquent little trifles like playing-cards and beads. Living half her life in emigration, the poetess laid hands on herself in 1941...
Quite nearby, a homey littler nook dedicated to Alexei Tolstoy, a prominent Soviet prose writer. It displays a parade of antiquaries. All of the exposition was permeated with a sense of poignant nostalgia for the bygone days of the Golden and Silver Ages of Russian culture.
Опубликовано 01 сентября 2021 года
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