The Name of Pushkin House

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It might seem that Saint Petersburg is overfilled with sculptural monuments. However, compared to other capital and major cities of the world, they are not so numerous. But what matters is that the monuments of Peter’s city possess a special quality of memorability, they are forever ingrained in the mind of anyone who sees them (and probably even of those who have never seen them in person) and in the Russian national spirit. That is why their second birth and immortalizing, not in stone but in spirit, often seems so natural.skatov.jpg

 Pushkin in his eponymous poem has figuratively cast The Bronze Horseman anew and gave the monument to Peter the Great the name that has become symbolic. The «Alexander Column» has become known thusly from Pushkin’s verse as well…

When people came to think, at last, of the necessity to immortalize Pushkin in the form of a monument, the Moscow unveiling of the sculpture made by A.M. Opekushin in 1880 appeared the moment of the highest and truly spiritual nature – a moment (alas, then only a moment) of national settlement and peace. The «Pushkin Festival» that accompanied the inauguration of the monument also became a spiritual stadium of sorts with the participation of such outstanding Russian public figures as Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Aksakov and Alexander Ostrovsky. The absolute winner was Fedor Dostoevsky who presented his famous revelation – the «Pushkin Speech».

That is why when in the process of preparations for the centenary anniversary of the great Russian poet’s birth (1899) they raised an issue of putting a new Pushkin monument in St. Petersburg. It became clear that there was hardly any sense in competing with Moscow in the field of traditional sculptural commemoration. The modest monument to the poet placed on Pushkinskaya Street in Petersburg served only to highlight this fact. While M.Y.Villiye, professor of the Academy of Arts expressed it in a rather reserved way, saying that this figure is not adequate either to the poet or to the capital city, A.I.Kuprin, the writer, gave way to his rage, «We must tell the truth: this is not a monument but a shame. They managed to put the most philistine, pitiful, cachetic monument imaginable to the greatest poet of the enormous country, its ardent, noble, pure heart, its best son, our primary pride and our justification. The offense is not in its small size. The problem is its moral pettiness».

There was in the air the idea of some absolutely different and novel tribute to the poet that would correspond not only to his constantly increasing significance in Russian life but might itself have a potential for growing.

A Committee for the organization of the celebrations in honor of the centenial anniversary of Pushkin’s birthday was formed under the aegis of the Academy of Sciences. It was headed by the president of the Imperial Academy of Sciences the Great Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich – a poet, known under the pseudonym K.R., one of the best educated people of his time, a refined connoisseur of art, musician and translator. The Committee also included writers, (D.V.Grigorovich), composers, (N.A.Rimsky-Korsakov), state figures, (S.Y.Vitte), academicians, (A.N. Veselovsky, A.A.Shakhmatov), along with representatives of the Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg University and other institutions.

«We must design an institution unprecedented in Russia, an institution to which all Russian reading public could contribute, that would be adequate to the sublime role of the great poet. I would say this could be an Odeon bearing the name of Pushkin. A new building constructed specifically for this purpose in the central part of Petersburg. In the future it could become the location of annual competitions at which poets would present their verses in the face of the whole nation and receive their awards. It could be the stage for dramatic performances of Pushkin’s works», wrote in December 1898 the warden of the Orenburg educational region I.Y.Rostovtsev to the member of Pushkin Jubilee Committee academician L.N.Maikov.

Poet K.K.Sluchevsky, also a Committee member, put forward the idea of necessity «to attend to institution of something that in its specificity and unity would not only remain the eternal memory of the celebration but would also have potential for development».

«I do realize my importunity», wrote another member of the Committee V.A.Ryshkov to the famous singer L.V.Sobinov. «I do realize that I can provoke vexation, but the issue that forces me to bother the people who stand above the crowd is so high and noble! This reason would protect and justify me in your eyes. Naturally I am talking about our greatest Pushkin … The idea of Pushkin House, the house of the coryphae of literature that would concentrate everything refering to these leading figures, fascinates me immensely…»

This idea also fascinated Leonid Sobinov who gave several concerts for the benefit of Pushkinsky Dom. And he was not alone – among those who performed for this case were Fedor Shaliapin, Vera Komissarzhevskaya, Konstantin Varlamov and many others.

So the idea of the House of Pushkin was from its very beginning organically linked with the Academy of Sciences, with Russian intellectual elite.

Many years later Alexander Blok commemorated this event for posterity in his famous verses «To the Pushkin House» that have become a poetic formula:

  The name of Pushkin House
  In the Academy of Sciences!
The clear and familiar sound,
  Not an empty sound for one’s heart!<...>

Pushkin! Secret freedom
  We sang following you!
Give us a hand in the foul weather,
   Help us in our mute struggle!

Was not it the sweetness of your sounds
   That inspired us in those years?
Was not it your, Pushkin, joy
   That lent wings to us then?

That is why this is such a familiar
   And native sound for the heart –
The name of Pushkin House
  In the Academy of Sciences.

That is why in the sunset hours
   Heading into the night darkness
С From the white square of the Senate
   I quietly bow to it.

This poem, the last one written by Blok, appeared prophetic. The poet greeted the Pushkin House from the «white square of the Senate» (now Decembrists Square), because that is where it was then located, in the main building of the Academy of Sciences. A short time would pass, and Pushkin House would accept into its depository Blok’s archive – manuscripts and library, that became memorial items.

The process of setting the institution that was to become the proper Pushkin House proceeded consistently and gradually, so to say, historically. Its pre-history includes, first of all, Pushkin Exhibition organized and carried out by the Academy of Sciences. The exhibition was opened in the large conference hall of the Academy of Sciences main building in May of the jubilee year 1899. The abundant exhibition material comprising documents, books, diverse iconography and memorabilia, elicited from numerous institutions and private collections, professionally organized and represented (under the guidance of academician L.N.Maikov and B.L.Modzalevsky), made it possible to see more clearly the future outlines of Pushkin House. And naturally everybody then felt the urge to preserve this grandiose collection, essential for the study and dissemination of Pushkin heritage.

Alas, these dawning contours of the new institution were then diffused and eroded; after the exhibition was closed, the exhibits were returned to different places. However, this initial though temporal realization of the idea of a unified Pushkin center that could encompass all this wealth grew stronger in the minds of different people. As a famous Pushkin scholar N.V.Izmailov correctly remarked Pushkin House had been practically formed even before the initial idea of the house-monument was realized, and this fact served an indication of organic vital public necessity to create such a permanent institution.

In the jubilee year of 1899 another committee was formed, also under the aegis of the Academy of Sciences, headed by its president, the Great Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. This time it was the Committee for the erection of the monument proper to the poet, and it also eventually arrived at the idea of a new, uncommon Pushkin monument.

Initially there was a plan to erect a monument that would be a peculiar combination of sculpture and building placed at the embankment, between Troitsky and Sampsonievsky bridges, also there was an idea to give this part of the Neva embankment Pushkin’s name. However, the City Hall declined the proposal and the embankment was named Petrovskaya (after Peter the Great). There was also another eventually unrealized idea to erect the monument in the corner Kamennoostrovsky prospect and Peter the Great embankment, in the vicinity of Troitskaya Square.

It was clear even then that an extraordinary monument to Pushkin as a forefather of new Russian literature would also become a monument in honor of Russian literature as a whole and the center of its study. Pushkin House, as M.D.Belyaev, its future curator wrote, «realized its specific essence in the context of other academic institutions as an Institute of new Russian literature». These words were pronounced long before Pushkin House acquired the status of such an institution.

The House of Pushkin was established only in 1905. The Committee for the erection of the monument (that had already begun to raise the funds) at last addressed the Russian public with a question, «Would not it be better to construct a monument to Pushkin not in the form of a statue but by building a special museum? This museum that should be given the name of Pushkin, the fore-father of our bélles- léttres, will concentrate everything referring to our outstanding literature artists, i.e. manuscripts, objects, editions of books, and so on». The proposal was supported by Russian press and public. The universally agreed issue was finally settled on the Committee session on December 15, 1905. In February 1907 the same Committee changed the nearly accepted name The House of Pushkin for Pushkin House (Pushkinsky Dom) and signed a Statute that declared that Pushkinsky Dom is «a state property and is subjected to the authority of the Imperial Academy of Sciences».

However, due to the efforts of such enthusiastic workers like B.L.Modzalevsky the creation of Pushkinsky Dom had begun even before it was officially established. As early as in the jubilee year 1899 the vice-president of the Academy of Sciences, an outstanding Pushkin scholar academician L.N.Maikov proposed the idea of acquiring Pushkin’s library. In 1900 it was Modzalevsky who studied this book collection and brought it from the village Ivanovskoe of Moscow region, where it had been kept in the estate of the poet’s grandson Alexandr Alexandrovich, to Petersburg, to the Library of the Academy of Sciences. Then the purpose of the transition was just to preserve it in a safe place.

«The acquisition of the poet’s library», wrote in February 1906 one of the organizers of the future museum V.A.Ryshkov to count I.I.Tolstoy, «into the property of the museum would make its precious foundation, worthy of Pushkin’s great name. On the one hand, we will thus secure the future of this valuable collection and, on the other hand, this would allow the poet’s grandson to escape the uneasy situation, into which he had been thrown, among other reasons, as a landowner, this act would give him a feeling that, in spite of the hardships and notwithstanding other profitable offers that he, according to his attorney, had received from foreign book-sellers, his grandfather’s library will forever remain the property of Russian society».

In April 1906 the government allocated the necessary funds, and quite a fair amount – 18,000 rubles – for the purchase of the library, that was given to Pushkinsky Dom and in fact financed its initial foundation.

Now the priceless book collection consisting of 3,700 volumes (1523 titles) in 14 languages is preserved at the Manuscript Department of Pushkinsky Dom (while the famous house on 12 Moika, the poet’s last apartment, exhibits the duplicates).

In 1907 the Minister of Finance Count V.N.Kokovtsev initiated the idea of acquisition of the famous A.F.Onegin’s Paris collection-museum. There are speculations that Onegin, whose social status according to his passport was a «Petersburg’s petty bourgeois», was in fact an illegitimate offspring of a dynastic family. He was brought up by his godmother and, although she did not adopt him officially, he had borne her name – Otto until 1890, when by the decree of Emperor Alexander III he was given the right to call himself Onegin. However, unofficially and alluding to Pushkin he had called himself so since 1866.

Since 1879 when he left Russia for good, A.F.Onegin devoted his whole life to creation of Pushkin Museum. His Paris flat became a kind of Pushkin House in France. He collected literally everything pertaining to the great poet’s life and art – from rare autographs, books, memorabilia to all sorts of calendars, postcards, perfumes, textbooks and the like.

In the early 1880s his friend, son of Vasily Andreevich Zhukovsky, Pavel Vasiljevich presented Onegin with sixty Pushkin’s manuscripts: the first redaction of «Count Nulin», fragments of «The Egyptian Nights», Boldino autograph of «To Voevoda» and some other items. Later he also moved to Onegin’s flat the papers concerning the history of Pushkin’s duel and death, a great number of documents and abundant Pushkin iconography. Pavel Vasilijevich Zhukovsky also donated his father’s archive and 400 volumes from his library. Little by little different people who possessed and kept valuables referring to Russian and European cultures transferred them to the collector. Onegin’s collection included autographs of Lermontov and Gogol, Gertsen and Turgenev, I.Aksakov and Y.Polonsky.

There were also many items that Onegin discovered and purchased himself. The museum, which occupied all the three rooms of his Paris apartment, was preserved in perfect order. For many emigrants in the first years after the Revolution of 1917 it served a spiritual refuge and a symbol of Russia. The whole life of A.F.Onegin was selflessly devoted to creation and supporting of his unique collections.

V.N.Kokovtsev negotiated with Onegin about the possibility of the Imperial Academy of Sciences purchasing the collection. The collector reserved for himself the right to have unlimited access to his collection for life. According to the signed agreement he received 10,000 gold rubles in a lump and 6,000 annually for the stocking of his collection. These links were severed by the Revolution of 1917, but were re-established in 1919. Onegin passed away in 1925. After complicated judicial issues were settled, his collection began to be transferred to Pushkinsky Dom of the Academy of Sciences in dozens of containers: furniture, books, bronze, canvases, and plasters. Part of the collection, primarily Pushkin’s manuscripts, was even sent with diplomatic couriers.

However, in defiance of the will of the collector and of Pushkinsky Dom staff, it began to be dispersed (and at the same time plundered). Many items never reached the destination and were taken over by other museums. At present a number of memorial and fine arts exhibits are in the All-Russian A.S.Pushkin Museum. The Hermitage received the collection of coins. Pushkinsky Dom keeps the manuscript collection and the library. In 1997 the materials from A.F.Onegin’s museum formed the exhibition entitled «Pushkin’ shadow adopted me…».

It should be noted that Soviet government protected, took care of and financially supported Pushkinsky Dom. Among its directors we see the names of famous state figures and writers – A.V.Lunacharsky, L.B.Kamenev. Maxim Gorky… For many years Pushkinsky Dom was headed by well-known Soviet literature scholars –academician A.S. Bushmin, fellow-correspondent of the USSR Academy of Sciences V.G.Bazanov. The latest major state acquisition was Pushkin’s letters to his bride Natalia Nikolaevna, nee Goncharov, from Serge Lifar’s collection. According to Lifar’s testament, they were, prior to going to the auction, offered to Pushkinsky Dom.

Let us return to history. In 1918 according to the Decree of the Conference of Russian Academy of Sciences Pushkinsky Dom as a «national museum of a special kind» was given the formal status of an academic institution. However, because of wars, devastation and disorder the idea of the construction of a new building, the Odeon, was never realized. The sub-commission for establishing Pushkinsky Dom (it was created within Committee for erection of the monument to the poet that included, apart from «file and rank» workers, also V.A.Ryshkov and B.L.Modzalevsky, academicians S.F.Oldenburg, A.A.Shakhmatov, N.A.Kotlyarevsky) expressed a wish that Pushkinsky Dom in its dominant features would be constructed in Empire style and would have special rooms allocated for collections, a large hall for public meetings and enough space for research staff.

It was only in 1927 that Pushkinsky Dom, after long wanderings all over the city, found its permanent place – the building erected according to the design of architect I.F.Lukini with a classic eight-column portico and bronze sculptures of Mercury, Neptune and Ceres over the pediment, the former building of main Naval Customs House (Russian Empire style, the 1830s). The legend says that Pushkin has been in this house.

In terms of scale and structure this building on Makarov Embankment even surpassed the original idea. Collections, that had been previously dispersed and broken, were at least fused into some sort of a unified whole. This made it possible to structure the exposition according to a historic principle, with natural accents motivated by the specifics and volume of the materials available. Gradually this aspect of the project came to the fore in the museum – the general literature process ceased being the main theme of the exposition. Now it acquired primarily what may be called monographic character.

In the jubilee year 1999 in front of Pushkinsky Dom there was erected or, to be more exact, restored the classic bust of the poet, created by sculptor I.N.Shreder, which once had stood on Kamennoostrovsky Avenue in front of the building of the Tsarskoselsky, later Alexandrovsky Lyceum. Also in the court there was constructed a modern archive building. It cannot be seen from the façade part which is linked to the main house with a glass-covered passage.

In 1930 Pushkinsky Dom was named the academic Institute of Russian Literature (abbreviated as IRLI), retaining its first-born name – Pushkinsky Dom. The institution became a unique example of a complex museum-research structure.

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