The AbramtsevoRussian: Абрамцево Museum Reserve is one of the most famous memorial and art museums in Russia, a symbol of estate culture throughout generations. Abramtsevo is the birthplace of the Russian version of Art Nouveau, the ‘national-romantic style’ which assimilated the best of folk art. The history of Abramtsevo is associated with the names of Sergey Aksakov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Vrubel, Ilya Repin, Vasily Polenov, Valentin Serov, and Savva Mamontov. Dozens of paintings which are now internationally treasured were created there, including Bogatyrsa stock character in medieval East Slavic legends (Three Heroes) by Viktor Vasnetsov and Girl with Peaches by Valentin Serov.
Abramtsevo is located 60 kilometres away from Moscow, near the famous Trinity Lavra of St. SergiusRussian: Troitse-Sergieva lavra or Троице-Сергиева лавра, the Khotkovsky ConventRussian: Khot’kovskiy monastyr’ or Хотьковский монастырь, the village of RadonezhRussian: село Радонеж where St. Sergiusa spiritual leader and monastic reformer of medieval Russia was born, and the Muranovo EstateRussian: usad'ba Muranovo or усадьба Мураново.
History of Abramtsevo museum
Abramtsevo was founded in the 18th century and was originally called AbramkovoRussian: Абрамково. Back then, it was owned by Fyodor Golovinthe last Russian boyar and the first Chancellor of the Russian Empire, field marshal, general admiral, Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725’s supporter. He had the estate arranged in the style typical of all noble estates. The oak tree planted at the time of the first owners is still there; it is now over 300 years old. After the death of writer Sergey Aksakova 19th-century Russian literary figure remembered for his semi-autobiographical tales of family life, who bought the estate from Golovin’s heirs, Abramtsevo fell into a state of disrepair. However, in 1870 the estate was purchased by Savva Mamontov, a well-known Moscow entrepreneur and the president of the Moscow–Yaroslavl–Arkhangelsk RailwayRussian: Moskovsko-Yaroslavsko-Arhangelskaya zheleznaya doroga or Московско-Ярославско-Архангельская железная дорога. The estate came into its own when Mamontov lived there: it acquired a bathhouse (banya), a sculpting studio, the unique building of the Church of the Saviour Not-Made-by-HandsRussian: hram Spasa Nerukotvornogo or храм Спаса Нерукотворного (designed by Viktor Vasnetsov and Vasily PolenovRussian famous artists), and a summerhouse built to Vasnetsov’s design, jokingly referred to as the “Hut on Chicken LegsRussian: Izbushka na kurih nozhkah or Избушка на курьих ножках”.
Savva Mamontov was a renowned patron of the arts. His sponsorship opened the door to great art for many aspiring artists. A widely known phenomenon in the history of Russian culture was the so-called Abramtsevo CircleRussian: Abramtsevskiy kruzhok or Абрамцевский кружок, a community of artists who would come to Abramtsevo for support in creating their paintings. Its members included Repin, Polenov, Nesterov, Chaliapin, the Vasnetsov brothers, Vrubel, Surikov, Korovin, Trubetskoy, Ostroukhov, and Levitan at different periods of time.
museum The estate was nationalised in the Soviet era and was transformed into the House of Rest for Creative WorkersRussian: dom otdyiha rabotnikov iskusstv or дом отдыха работников искусств in 1923. At present, the reserve includes not only the estate but also the former hospital of a health resort (The Department for Soviet Artists in AbramtsevoRussian: otdel «Sovetskie hudozhniki v Abramtseve» or отдел «Советские художники в Абрамцеве»), a department of arts and crafts, and the former Abramtsevo House of RestRussian: byivshiy dom otdyiha «Abramtsevo» or бывший дом отдыха «Абрамцево». The museum reserve covers an area of 50 hectares, which includes the park, and it can take a whole day to have a good look around. The museum collection has almost 25,000 exhibits related to the history of Abramtsevo’s owners as well as the artists and writers who used to stay there.
The mansion of museum
The mansion is located in the very centre of Abramtsevo. It was built in the first half of the 19th century and later carefully reconstructed and extended by Mamontov. Today it houses two permanent exhibitions: The Aksakovs and People around Them and Mamontov Art Circle.
Sergey Aksakov’s study is one of Abramtsevo’s main attractions. It was restored in the 1870s during Mamontov’s reconstruction of the house. The objects displayed here were collected by the Mamontovs from antique stores and junk shops.
It is believed that A Family Chronicle, The Childhood Years of Bagrov (Grandson), The Scarlet Flower, and Notes of a Rifle Hunter of Orenburg Gubernia were written by Aksakov here, at this desk. On the desk, under glass, you can see Aksakov’s papers, an album with autographs, and the eye umbrella Aksakov had to use due to an eye disease he suffered from in late life. This is Russia’s only museum dedicated to the great writer.
Nikolai Gogolthe famous Russian dramatist of Ukrainian origin, a close friend of Aksakov’s, stayed in the estate several times. Abramtsevo was also visited by other famous people of the time: the writer and director of the Moscow Imperial TheatresRussian: Imperatorskie Moskovskie teatry or Императорские Московские театры Mikhail Zagoskin, the writer Ivan Turgenev, the young author Leo Tolstoy, the poet Fyodor Tyutchev, historians Mikhail Pogodin and Timofey Granovsky and the philosopher and anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Each of these names represents an era in Russian literature, philosophy, historical science and theatrical arts.
The Mamontov Art Circle permanent exhibition includes portraits of the members of Mamontov’s family and the participants’ families as well as books, photographs, landscape paintings of Abramtsevo, and furnishings preserved from those times. The famous Russian glazed tile bed-stove created by Mikhail VrubelRussian painter of the Symbolist movement and of Art Nouveau is another object which immediately grasps attention.
Art Studio museum of Abramtsevo
The art studio was built in 1872 by architect Viktor Hartmanna Russian architect and painter to be used by visiting artists. The building represents a log hut (izbaa traditional Russian countryside dwelling) decorated in the pseudo-Russian style. Its decoration (wood carving) is unequalled among the Abramtsevo structures. Hartmann lavishly decorated the studio with fretwork patterns borrowed from traditional peasant embroidery. As critic Vladimir Stasova prominent figure in mid-19th-century Russian culture wrote, “The most genuine Russian architectural motifs, still in use and created by people in their huts, on their crockery, utensils, and hundreds of household objects, come into play here.”
Truly, this is a work of art: the art studio became the first building in Russia designed in the neo-Russian style. This one-level building does not have a ceiling, which is very convenient for artists, as there is natural light most of the day. There are two rooms, a senia kind of inner porch and the studio itself, as well as an extension housing a sculpting studio.
This is where famous individuals such as Mark Antokolsky, Viktor Vasnetsov and Ilya Repin worked, Valentin Serov and Ilya Ostroukhov stayed, and artist Pyotr Konchalovsky’s family lived at different times. The permanent exhibition in the studio displays famous works of Russian arts and crafts; the main part of the exhibition is composed of Mikhail Vrubel’s works.
CHURCH OF THE SAVIOUR NOT-MADE-BY-HANDS
The Church of the Saviour Not-Made-by-Hands (1881–1883, architect Pavel Samarin) was built to the design of famous artist Viktor Vasnetsov, who used a sketch by Vasily Polenov as its basis. This church looks as if it has ascended from the pages of epics and fairy tales. The 12th-century Church of the Saviour on NereditsaRussian: hram Spasa na Nereditse or храм Спаса на Нередице in Novgorodduring the 14th century, the city was the capital of the Novgorod Republic and one of Europe's largest cities served as its architectural prototype. Members of Mamontov’s, Repin’s, and Polenov’s families contributed to the design and construction of the church. “We drew façades, ornaments, created decorative patterns, and painted icons, while the ladies embroidered church banners and veils and even carved ornaments in stone, standing on the scaffolding around the church, much like real stonemasons,” Vasnetsov recalled.
Polenov is the artist behind most of the artwork and design features of the church. The two-tier iconostasis, reliquaries, lampstands, altar cross, chandelier, wedding wreaths, banners and other church objects were created to his sketches. The iconostasis holds The Saviour Not-Made-by-Hands by Ilya Repin, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker by artist Nikolai Nevrev, St. Sergius of Radonezh and Mother of God by Vasily Vasnetsov and Annunciation by Vasily Polenov. You will also see The Head of St. John the Baptist by sculptor Mark Antokolsky and the icon of Saints Prince Theodorea saint of the Russian Orthodox Church and a ruler of Smolensk and Yaroslavl cities and His Sons David and Constantine by Yelena Polenovaa Russian painter and graphic artist in the Art Nouveau style. Vasnetsov painted the church choirs with flowers and butterfly patterns. The mosaic floor featuring a stylized flower and depicting the construction date also deserves special attention. The church stove was created in 1892 by Mikhail Vrubel.
Vera Mamontova (1907), Yelizaveta Mamontova (1908), Vera’s son Sergey (1913), and Savva Mamontov, the owner of Abramtsevo (1918), are buried by the walls of the Church of the Saviour, which is still in use today.
What not to miss
The building which used to be a kitchen now houses an exhibition of Russian folk art amassed by Yelena Polenova (the artist Polenov’s sister) and her friends. It displays objects of peasant furniture and everyday life, embroidery, fabrics, and wood carving decorations of peasant houses. Mamontov opened a carpentry training workshop in the 1880s, and these items served as models for the wonderful oeuvres of the craftsmen who worked there.
A park bench decorated with stunningly beautiful majolica tiles, called Vrubel BenchRussian: Skamya Vrubelya or Скамья Врубеля, was created in the Abramtsevo ceramics workshops. Today, you cannot sit down on this bench as there is a glass shelter protecting it from snow and rain.
The love for Russian folk art has found a vibrant expression in the “Hut on Chicken Legs” built in 1883 to Vasily Vasnetsov’s sketches. Vasnetsov might have been personally involved in its construction. The hut is made of thick logs laid on stumps. The roof ridge deserves special attention: it is shaped as a horse head. Images of an owl and a bat can be seen on the pediment.
Banya-TeremokRussian: Баня-Теремок (Teremok Bathhouse) is a toy-like building in the neo-Russian style constructed in 1877–1878 to the design of architect Ivan Ropet (Petrov) on the site of Aksakov’s old bathhouse. Traditionally, the centre is occupied by a furnace decorated with tiles to Mikhail Vrubel’s drawings. During the Mamontovs’ times, the bathhouse was first used for its intended purpose and was later converted to a guest house. The exhibition it houses today includes some items produced in the Abramtsevo carpentry shops such as furniture and household items made to Yelena Polenova and her colleagues’ drawings.
Polenov’s DachaRussian: Поленовская дача (summer house) was constructed in 1882 for Polenov and his wife, who had just got married in the Abramtsevo church. The studio of Vasily Polenov was located there. He lived, worked, and staged home performances in this small house. Nowadays, the building houses temporary museum exhibitions.
The former hospital of the health resort is now home to the 20th Century Russian Artists in Abramtsevo exhibition as well as works of art created by Soviet painters. The hospital is a pseudo-classical building constructed in front of the mansion in 1938. The department collection comprises artwork by members of the Jack of Diamonds artist groupa group of avant-garde artists founded in 1910 in Moscow as well as Igor Grabar, Yevgeniya Maleina, Dementy Shmarinov, Nadezhda Udaltsova, sculptors Vera Mukhina and Boris Korolev.
Traces of Abramtsevo in the Russian culture
Gogol’s Pine and Gogol’s AlleyRussian: Gogolevskaya alleya or Гоголевская аллея are located within the estate. In 1849, Gogol read some chapters of the second volume of Dead Souls in Abramtsevo. The museum displays a copy of the first edition of the poem presented to Aksakov’s son Konstantin.
The landscapes of Abramtsevo inspired paintings by Vasily Polenov, Ilya Ostroukhov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Konstantin Korovin, and Mikhail Nesterov. Nesterova Russian painter, one of the first exponents of Symbolist art in Russia is believed to have created his main oeuvre The Vision to the Youth Bartholomew in Abramtsevo. The painting depicts a boy, the would-be Saint Sergius. In the background, you can see the edge of the Abramtsevo forest and the river VoryaRussian: reka Vorya or река Воря. Viktor Vasnetsov’s Alyonushka features a pond in the village of AkhtyrkaRussian: Ахтырка neighbouring Abramtsevo; it was in Abramtsevo too that the painter created his famous Bogatyrs (Three Heroes), which has become a symbol of Russia. Ilya Repina Russian realist painter, the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century worked on studies for his famous paintings Religious Procession in Kursk Provincea city located in the western part of the Russian Empire and The Recruit Farewell in Abramtsevo. One day, a report was read at the estate telling about the legendary Cossacksa group of predominantly East Slavic-speaking people who became known as members of democratic, self-governing, semi-military communities’ correspondence with the Sultan. Repin heard it, which gave him the idea for his well-known painting Reply of the Zaporozhian CossacksCossacks who lived beyond the rapids of the Dnieper River, the land also known under the historical term Wild Fields in today's Central Ukraine. It was also in Abramtsevo that Repin painted the famous Summer Landscape (Vera Repinathe artist's wife on a Bridge in Abramtsevo).
Renowned painter Valentin Serova Russian painter, and one of the premier portrait artists of his era frequented the Abramtsevo mansion. In 1887, he accidentally found the estate owner’s daughter Vera Mamontova in the dining room; there were peaches on the table. During a friendly conversation, Serov made the first sketches of twelve-year-old Vera. Nearly a month of work resulted in Valentin Serov’s best-known painting Girl with Peaches. It is a recognized masterpiece of Russian fine art and Serov’s signature painting. These days, Abramtsevo dining room fully recreates the scene depicted in this painting. There is the same plate hanging on the wall, the same chairs and the same window—all the genuine furnishings of the room where Valentin Serov painted the portrait.
The Abramtsevo Museum Reserve is famed for its exhibitions and guided tours. Abramtsevo is not merely an important destination to stop by on a journey around the Moscow suburbs. It is a must-visit place for anyone who is deeply interested in the Russian culture. It is in Abramtsevo, in its beautiful buildings, works of art and memorabilia that Savva Mamontov’s appeal is embodied: “Let’s show the poetry of our domestic life and our nearest and dearest.”