Pushkin’s Moscow is a special period in the literary life of Russian’s capital, full of the charm of a bygone era. Visitors to Moscow should therefore see as many places associated with Pushkin as possible, at the same time plunging into ancient Moscow, a truly Russian, almost provincial, city which was eclipsed by St. Petersburg in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the remarkable Moscow sights reminiscent of this era is the museum dedicated to Vasily Pushkin, the uncle of renowned Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.
A visit to this house will give you a clear picture of what life was like in Moscow two centuries ago. A cozy and poetic atmosphere prevails throughout the house where Vasily Pushkin once lived. The museum itself is not very old, however almost all of the items on display date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Not far from the memorial house is the magnificent Epiphany CathedralRussian: Bogoyavlenskiy kafedralnyi sobor or Богоявленский кафедральный собор, which was the main cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church for several decades. Little Alexander Pushkin was baptized in this cathedral in 1799.
WHO IS VASILY PUSHKIN?
Vasily Pushkin (1766–1830) was Alexander Pushkin’s uncle and a well-known writer and gentleman. His remarkable taste in poetry, knowledge of Russian and European literature and progressive political views earned him recognition among his contemporaries. His nephew, the renowned poet Alexander Pushkin, called him his ‘Parnassian uncle’, meaning that it was Vasily who became his first literary mentor and critic. His uncle introduced Alexander Pushkin to other writers in Moscow, such as Nikolay Karamzin, Vasily Zhukovsky and Konstantin Batyushkov. Vasily Pushkin’s creative work also had an important influence on the development of 19th-century Russian literature, albeit to a lesser degree than the work of his famous nephew. Vasily Pushkin participated in writers’ debates on the future of the Russian language, directed the ArzamasRussian: Арзамас literary society and wrote a popular poem entitled Dangerous NeighbourRussian: Opasnyi sosed or Опасный сосед. Kind, hospitable and witty, Vasily was one of Moscow’s darlings, and Alexander Pushkin spoke of him as ‘the most amiable of all uncle-poets’.
HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM
The building accommodating the museum was constructed in 1820 on Staraya BasmannayaRussian: Старая Басманная Street on the site of a neighbourhood that had burned down during the war against Napoleonin 1812. The wooden house was constructed on an older stone foundation. You see its age as soon as you enter it, since its entrance lies on a stone basement. A relatively small exhibition presents archaeological finds from this site, mainly ceramics, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
The building has never been renovated since Alexander Pushkin’s times – it is therefore a rare example of 19th-century Moscow wooden architecture, which is almost non-existent today. When approaching the building, you will see a most interesting fence surrounding it – this is how people in the old days protected their houses from the eyes of passersby. In addition to the reconstructed fence surrounding the mansion, you will see genuine heating stoves built into the corners of the living room, paneled doors and pieces of oak hardwood flooring.
Vasily Pushkin’s house is a very old building, but it was only converted into a museum in 2013 after long and painstaking restoration works were completed. In 2013, the restoration team won a state award for their exemplary work on this project.
VISITING VASILY PUSHKIN
In September 1824, Vasily Pushkin rented this house and lived in it for several years. His friends and relatives lived nearby, including his sister Anna, A. Musin-Pushkin, N. Karamzin, P. Chaadayev, the Muravyov and the Kurakin families. Alexander Pushkin visited this house for the first time on 8 September, 1826 upon his return from exile. Pushkin had no place of his own at the time, so he came to his uncle’s right after his audience with Emperor Nicholas Ithe Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855 in the Kremlin.
The museum has only eight exhibition rooms, occupying two floors. The anteroom is furnished with a couch, a coat rack, a mirror, and a small table by the mirror displaying visiting cards of Vasily’s guests. Hanging on the wall is the 600-year-old family tree of the Pushkin family.
From this room, visitors proceed to the lounge, a vast, sunlit room decorated with mirrors and 18th and 19th century portraits – Vasily Pushkin’s occupies a place of honour. You will also see a unique canvas by Fyodor Alexeyev entitled View of the Boyar Platform in the Moscow KremlinRussian: Vid boyarskoy ploschadki v Kremle or Вид боярской площадки в Кремле, showing us a romantic image of the Russian capital. On a small table is an album containing drawings by Konstantin Batyushkova Russian poet, essayist and translator of the Romantic era.
Next is the living room, a venue used for literary readings back in Pushkin’s days. In this well-lit room, authors recited their new literary works and held heated discussions about poetry and the latest issues in the literary world. Alexander Pushkin recited excerpts from Journey to ArzrumRussian: Puteshestvie v Arzrum or Путешествие в Арзрум here. Regular guests included Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky, Anton Delvig, Sergey Sobolevsky, Ivan Dmitriev, Prince Pyotr Shalikov, Adam Mickiewicz, and many others.
Take a look at the piano: you will see that there are scores of a musical piece inspired by, and composed for, Vasily Pushkin’s poem To the Residents of Nizhny NovgorodRussian: K zhitelyam Nizhnego Novgoroda or К жителям Нижнего Новгорода (1812), in which he conveyed his confidence in the coming victory over Napoleon. Interestingly, Vasily Pushkin knew the emperor of France personally, because in 1803–1804 he travelled to Europe, where he was introduced to Napoleon.
In the dining room, the interior of the mansion of a 19th-century wealthy noble family is worth a glance. On a table filled with fine tableware stand glasses that seem to be filled up with champagne. Various items representative of noble life – family silverware, a huge goose on a platter and an elegant samovar – are also on display here. The goose symbolizes the Arzamas poetic society headed by V. Pushkin.
One section of the exhibition is related to Vasily Pushkin’s satirical poem Dangerous Neighbour (1811). The poem is not part of the school curriculum in Russia despite its huge popularity in its time. This is perhaps due to the fact that it gives a satirical description of a visit to a brothel (‘a merry house’). To illustrate the poem, the museum chose well-known engravings by W. Hogarth on a similar subject. You will see a joyful rakish young man and other characters standing on a small stage surrounded by arrows, symbolizing the 19th-century literary confrontation between patriots and ‘westernizers’two contrasting Russian philosophical camps that took shape in the early 19th century (zapadnikiRussian: западники).
The next room – the study of Vasily Pushkin – is the most important room in the house. Behind a small screen is his bed, and the study is filled with books, dominated by a collection of works by Voltaire. A member of the Society of Lovers of Russian LiteratureRussian: Obschestvo lubiteley rossiyskoy slovesnosti or Общество любителей российской словесности, Vasily Pushkin was an avid book collector, and his library was famous across Moscow.
On top of his desk is an edition of one of his nephew’s poems. The story goes that it was here, by the fireplace, that Vasily and Alexander Pushkin talked about literature. Quite remarkable is the LibraryRussian: Biblioteka or Библиотека clock by French clockmaker Louis Ravrio, a gift from the Moscow English ClubRussian: Angliyskiy klub or Английский клуб. Time seems to have stopped in this house, preserving the colour and atmosphere of the bygone era.
If you go to the second floor, past the restroom, to the attic, you will see exhibits associated with Alexander Pushkin. This part of the museum recreates the world of Alexander’s childhood. On display is a tiny shirt he wore as a baby, his toys, paintings and books. Alexander Pushkin is thought to have stayed here on his visits to his uncle. The poet’s corner featuring a couch and a desk occupies the middle of the room. On top of the desk lies Boris GodunovRussian: Борис Годунов, Pushkin’s poem about Russian history and the relations between the people and the government. This work, which became incredibly well-known in Russia , is still relevant to present-day Russian society.© 2016-2020 moscovery.com