Literary Moscow: State Pushkin Museum
by Olivia Kroth
“Pushkin in his time” is a permanent exhibition in the State Pushkin Museum of Moscow, located in a beautiful Empire style building erected for the noble Khrushchev family, in 1816. Alexander P. Khrushchev bought the site, in 1814. It took him two years to renovate the house with park and pavilion. Today, the State Pushkin Museum lies in the busy centre of Moscow, Prechistenka Street 12/2.
State Pushkin Museum
Pretschistenka 12/2, 119034 Moscow
Entrance: 170 rubles
Tuesday to Sunday, 10 to 18 h
119034 Москва, Пречистенка, 12/2
Телефон: +7 (495) 637-56-74
- The first room is called “Prologue”. It shows the poet’s roots. His family begins with Knight Radsha, in the 13th century, and with Abram Petrovich Hannibal from Africa, on his mother’s side. A coloured engraving shows Hannibal fighting on the side of Peter the Great in the “Battle of Lesnaya” (28.09.1709). Hannibal (1696-1781) was brought to Russia as African slave, but won the tsar’s favour and was educated like a nobleman at the imperial court. Later, he earned fame as as a general and statesman. Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837) honoured his African ancestor in an unfinished novel, “Peter the Great’s Negro” (1827).
The author started to work on the novel in his private estate Mikhailovskoe. During his lifetime, two fragments were published: in the literary almanac Severnye Tsvety (1829) and in the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta (March 1830). Alexander Pushkin’s interests in history and genealogy led him to describe the transformation of Russia at the beginning of the 18th century, depicting the manners and customs of this great epoch in Russian history. His work is full of historical colour, sketching the different strata of Russian society: a ball at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and a Boyars’ dinner at Gavrila Rzhevsky’s home.
Tsar Peter the Great:
Rooms 3 to 5 are dedicated to Alexander Pushkin’s childhood in Moscow (1799-1811). An oil painting shows his parents looking serious and stern. Empire-style furniture made of Carelian birch wood, bronze lamps and gilded chimney clocks complement the interior of this noblemen’s home from the 18th century. On the ground floor the tour leads through a pink room, with pretty chairs upholstered in cross-stitch embroidery. An engraving refers to the “Bronze Horseman” in Saint Petersburg, an equestrian statue of Peter the Great. Alexander Pushkin wrote a narrative poem with the same title (1833), The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale (Медный всадник: Петербургская повесть).
The narrative begins with the foundation of Saint Petersburg, in 1703. In the first two stanzas, Peter the Great is standing at the edge of the Neva, thinking about his idea for a city which will threaten the Swedes and open a “window to Europe”. The poem describes the area as a wasteland. There is a lonely boat and some black houses of Finnish farmers. The narrator describes how he loves Petersburg, including the city’s “stern, muscular appearance”, its landmarks, its cold winters and beautiful summers.
The Bronze Horseman:
The following room of the State Pushkin Museum contains life-sized dolls dressed in the clothes of the 18 century: long lace dresses for the ladies, uniform jackets and knee breeches for the gentlemen. From 1820 to 1824, Alexander Pushkin was exiled because of his sympathy for the Decembrists, a secret society of Russian noblemen who wanted to oust the tsar. Their uprising was suppressed by Nicholas I. Alexander Pushkin spent the five years of his banishment in the Caucasus and Crimea. He wrote some of his most beautiful poems during that time.
The Caucasus below me, I am alone on this peak,
Standing on snow, near the ravine;
An eagle from a far-away cliff
Flies his rounds above my head.
From here I can see torrents rise from the ground
And the first slides of avalanches beginning (…)
The Caucasian War (1817 – 1864):
In 1824, Alexander Pushkin withdrew to his country home Mikhailovskoe, where he lived under police surveillance. Here he started writing his verse novel “Eugene Onegin” and his tragedy “Boris Godunov”. The central room of the State Pushkin Museum in Moscow exhibits various publications of “Eugene Onegin” (1823-1831). Portraits of young ladies and gentlemen remind the public of figures in this novel: the cynical dandy Eugene Onegin, the romantic dreamer Vladimir Lensky, the sisters Tatyana and Olga. Glass cases exhibit several original manuscripts of Pushkin’s novel.
The writer’s return to Moscow is the theme of the following room (1826-1831). Tsar Nicolas I allowed him to live in Moscow. Pushkin used the newly gained freedom to travel to Saint Petersburg, Pavlovsk, Tver and Tiflis. The exhibition pieces in the next room show the writer’s novel “Queen of Spades” (1834). Various portraits and publications of the work complete the collection.
The following room deals with Alexander Pushkin’s novel “The Captain’s Daughter” (Капитанская дочка, 1832-1836). This historical novel was first published in the literary journal Sovremennik. The work is a literary account of the Don Cossack Pugachev’s Rebellion, in 1773-1774.
Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev (Емелья́н Ива́нович Пугачёв) lived from 1742 to 1775. He led a Cossack insurrection during the reign of Catherine I. As the son of a Don Cossack landowner he tried to achieve more freedom from the tsarist regime for his people. His public execution in Moscow took place on the 21st of January 1775. Pugachev was decapitated and quartered in Bolotnaya Square, a horrible spectacle for the public. The Pugachev rebellion had a long lasting effect. It caused Catherine I. to drop her attempts to emancipate the peasant serfs of Russia.
The final room of the State Pushkin Museum deals with the author’s “Last Years” (1831-1837). Portraits of people and landscapes are exhibited on the walls. Glass cases show Pushkin’s poems in original handwriting. The poet moved to the Imperial court in Saint Petersburg with his wife Natalya Goncharova, in 1831. However, he did not appreciate living in Saint Petersburg. He found the tsarist nobility superficial and made himself enemies. On the 10th of February 1837, he died in a duel with a French captain who had courted his wife.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: