Ivan Bunin

Ivan Bunin

Ivan Alekseevich Bunin (1870–1953) was a great Russian writer, the first Russian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the author of the internationally renowned Dark AvenuesRussian: Tyomnye allei or Тёмные аллеи, The Gentleman from San FranciscoRussian: Dzhentlmen iz San-Frantsisko or Джентльмен из Сан-Франциско, Cursed DaysRussian: Okayannye dni or Окаянные дни, The Life of ArsenievRussian: Zhizn Arsenieva or Жизнь Арсеньева, and other works. Moscow is mentioned more often than any other city in Bunin’s works. He shared his memories of the city within his books, creating a literary monument of Moscow of the early 20th century with its gas street lighting, high-end cab drivers, gymnasium girls, gorodovoyslowest-rank police officers, and other vibrant characters.

Bunin was born in Voronezha city and the administrative center of Voronezh Oblast, spent his childhood in family estates, later lived and worked in Orela city located on the Oka River, approximately 360 kilometers south-southwest of Moscow, Poltavaa city located on the Vorskla River in central Ukraine, Moscow, and Odessathe third most populous city of Ukraine for a short period of time. ‘As I recall my homeland, Orel is the first to come to my mind, followed by Moscow, then the great city on the River NevaRussian: Нева, and the whole country after them,’ he recalled. A great number of places in Moscow are associated with Bunin. He never had a place of his own in the city and would always stay in hotels.

One of Bunin’s very first visits to Moscow was in 1894. Back then, he lived in Poltava with his older brother Julius. At the time, Bunin became a Tolstoyan ‘out of love for Tolstoy as an artist’ and went to Moscow in January 1894 to see Leo Tolstoy.


In his memoirs, Ivan Bunin describes his first encounter with the writer (The Liberation of TolstoyRussian: Osvobozhdenie Tolstogo or Освобождение Толстого). He came to Tolstoy’s house by himself and hesitated to enter for a long while. ‘A moonlit, frosty evening. I’ve just run up to the door, standing there, struggling to catch my breath. Everything is deserted and silent, an empty moonlit lane. I can see a gate with the wicket open and a snowy front yard before me. Deep in the yard, on the left, there is a wooden house with some of the windows glowing red. I can see a garden left of the house and adorable, fairytale-like winter stars above it, twinkling quietly from one colour to another. And indeed, everything around is a fairy tale. What a special garden, what an exceptional house, how mysterious and full of meaning these gleaming windows are.’

The first encounter between the two writers was a short one. Tolstoy asked young Bunin if he was married, gave him some advice and encaouraged him to call in the next time he was in Moscow. Bunin would pay his second visit to Tolstoy almost a year later, in March 1895, and later run into him accidentally one winter evening in Old Arbat StreetRussian: ulitsa Staryi Arbat or улица Старый Арбат. The house where Tolstoy lived in 1894 still survives today. Today the house is home to Leo Tolstoy’s Khamovniki Memorial Museum-EstateRussian: Memorial’ny muzey-usad’ba L. N. Tolstogo ‘Hamovniki’ or Мемориальный музей-усадьба Л.Н. Толстого «Хамовники» (21 Lva Tolstogo StRussian: ulitsa Lva Tolstogo or улица Льва Толстого).


Bunin’s first love, his de facto wife Varvara Pashchenko, broke up with him in 1895. He left Poltava, where they had lived for three years together, to go to Saint Petersburg and then to Moscow.

Bunin wrote in his diary in 1895: ‘My first visit to Petersburg this January. Mikhaylovsky, S.N. Krivenko, Zhemchuzhnikov. Then? Moscow. Balmont, Bryusov, Ertel, Chekhov (both at Big Moscow Hotel). March: rooms at the end of Tverskoy Boulevard, with Julius. Sun, puddles.’ (from the book From the Lips of the BuninsRussian: Ustami Buninykh or Устами Буниных). Later on, he would recall the days he spent in Moscow: ‘Old, huge, crowded. This is what Moscow was like on my very first visit and how it has settled in my memory like a complex, gaudy, cumbersome picture—sort of a dream.’

Young Bunin met Chekhov at the Big Moscow HotelRussian: «Bolshaya Moskovskaya» gostinitsa or «Большая Московская» гостиница in December 1895. Later on, Bunin would often call in to see Chekhov, who became his close friend. He would also stay at this hotel himself, participate in carouses organised by him and literary friends, and have dinners with his future wife Vera Muromtseva. In 1909, Bunin would read out the first part of his work, The VillageRussian: Derevnya or Деревня to his friends at the Big Moscow Hotel restaurant.

The Big Moscow Hotel was demolished during the Soviet era to be replaced with Hotel MoscowRussian: gostinitsa «Moskva» or гостиница «Москва», which has been recently reconstructed and renamed the Four Seasons (2 Okhotny Ryad StRussian: ulitsa Ohotnyi ryad or улица Охотный ряд). The photo below demonstrates the short coexistence of the prerevolutionary and Soviet epochs (the already erected building of Moscow Hotel on the left, the former Big Moscow Hotel on the right).


Ivan Bunin’s older brother Julius moved to Moscow in 1897. He settled in one of the lanes in Old Arbat, which probably prompted Ivan to get to know this part of the city very well. Julius got a job as the managing editor at Vestnik vospitaniyaRussian: Вестника воспитания journal. The editors office was located at 32 Starokonyushenny LaneRussian: Starokonyushennyi pereulok or Староконюшенный переулок (the building no longer exists), and Julius lived close by. He was Ivan’s closest friend. Whenever the writer happened to visit Moscow between his periods of wandering, he rushed to Julius, trying to attend every single tea party with their mutual friends.

In 1898, 1902 and probably during other years as well, Bunin lived in Old Arbat, in furnished rooms in the Capital HotelRussian: gostinitsa «Stolitsa» or гостиница «Столица» (4 Old Arbat St – the building still exists). He would later write about this period in his novel MuseRussian: Muza or Муза: ‘I lived in the Capital Hotel in Arbat, close to Prague Restaurant. I worked during the day and often spent my evenings in cheap restaurants with newly met bohemians, young and old, but equally devoted to billiard, lobsters and beer… An unpleasant and boring life it was! …that gloomy Capital… I can still remember: it snows night and day, horse cars are ringing and rattling indistinctly along the Arbat, the dimly-lit restaurant stinks of sour beer and gas in the evening…’ Bunin would also describe Arbat in his novels Long GoneRussian: Dalyokoe or ДалёкоеRiverside InnRussian: Rechnoy traktir or Речной трактир and Kazimir StanislavovichRussian: Казимир Станиславович as well as in his poems.

In 1897–1898, Bunin was in love with young writer Yekaterina Lopatina and visited her family estate at 15/7 Gagarinsky LaneRussian: Gagarinskiy pereulok or Гагаринский переулок. Yekaterina was the daughter of judge Mikhail Lopatin, who organised ‘Lopatin’s WednesdaysRussian: Lopatinskie sredy or Лопатинские среды’ at home. She recalls: ‘We would walk along the Arbat, him in high overshoes, in a shabby coat with an astrakhan collar and in a high karakul hat, and he would say: ‘Fine, you all laugh and you don’t believe me, but I will be world-famous, you’ll see!’ So funny, I thought to myself…’

The writer also visited Prague RestaurantRussian: restoran «Praga» or ресторан «Прага» with Yekaterina. He would later frequent this restaurant increasingly often, even celebrating the receipt of his Pushkin Prize here in 1909 (the restaurant building at 2 Old Arbat still exists).

Bunin also stayed in Anatoly Gunst’s furnished rooms in 1903 and 1906 – perhaps even during other times, too. The rooms were located in an outbuilding of the estate that still stands at 4 Starokonyushenny Lane. Vera Muromtseva-Bunina recalls: ‘His room was on the upper floor. There was no elevator. The room itself was spacious, rather dark, with one window facing the courtyard. There was a large desk near the window, close to the wall, with an armchair behind it. A pile of freshly published books in light-green covers was lying on the desk: his third volume in Znaniya. Along the same wall, there was a huge sofa.’

Along with the heritage of world-famous people and great museums, there are many attractions in Moscow, which are not so popular, but still very remarkable. Beautiful temples in the Orthodox style, the unusual architecture of the Russian Middle Ages or the recent Soviet era, ballet and drama theaters – on our website you can learn more about Moscow sights.


In Moscow, Bunin was a member of the literary circle SredaRussian: Среда organised by his friend, writer Nikolai Teleshov. At first, the circle gathered in Kuleshov’s first-floor apartment at 21 Chistoprudny BlvdRussian: Chistoprudnyi bulvar or Чистопрудный бульвар; in 1904, it moved to the neighbouring building (23 Chistoprudny Blvd) together with Kuleshov. Gatherings were attended by realist writers (Veresaev, Bunin, Andreev, Chekhov, Gorky, Korolenko, and others). A letter from 1901 has survived, where Bunin invites Feodor Chaliapina Russian opera singer to their Wednesday meetings. The Teleshovs moved to the house at 16–18 Pokrovsky BlvdRussian: Pokrovskiy bulvar or Покровский бульвар in 1913.


Through Chekhov, Bunin’s life was closely connected to the Art TheatreRussian: Khudozhestvennyi teatr or Художественный театр (now Chekhov Moscow Art TheatreRussian: MKhT im. A.P. Chekhova or МХТ им. А.П. Чехова). The theatre operated in a rented building in the Hermitage TheatreRussian: teatr «Ermitazh» or театр «Эрмитаж» during its first seasons (the building still exists, at 12 Karetny RyadRussian: Каретный ряд). This is where Bunin saw the premiere of Chekhov’s The SeagullRussian: Chayka or Чайка in 1898.

As Bunin had become close friends with Chekhov, he frequented the theatre at 3 Kamergersky LaneRussian: Kamergerskiy pereulok or Камергерский переулок as an insider. He attended rehearsals of Chekhov’s plays and was well-acquainted with the directors and actors. The theatre was going to stage Byron’s Cain and Wilde’s Salomé using the translation by Bunin, but this initiative wasn’t approved. Bunin continued visiting the Art Theatre after Chekhov’s death in 1904. Both before and after his death, he would often come to the apartment at Bld. 5, 19 PetrovkaRussian: Петровка St, where Chekhov’s wife Olga Knipper rented an apartment in 1903–1904. Vera Muromtseva-Bunina recalls: ‘After returning to Moscow, he lived under the stress of Anton Pavlovich’s death, paid regular visits to Olga Leonardovna and Marya Pavlovna, and haunted the Art Theatre, where everyone was deeply distressed as well.’ Bunin also visited Chekhov’s grave in Novodevichy CemeteryRussian: Novodeviche kladbische or Новодевичье кладбище a number of times in order to pay his respects.

In 1910, Bunin performed in the theatre during a literary matinee in memory of Chekhov. His performance was a great success, and Konstantin Stanislavski invited him to join the Art Theatre company. For the 25th anniversary of Bunin’s literary career (1912), Stanislavski presented him, on behalf of the theatre, a golden medal with the Roman numeral ‘XXV’ made of diamonds and the theatre emblem of a seagull.


Bunin was 36 and Muromtseva was 25 when they met in a rented apartment belonging to young writer Boris Zaytsev, located in a house on the corner of Spiridonovka StreetRussian: ulitsa Spiridonovka or улица Спиридоновка and Granatny LaneRussian: Granatnyi pereulok or Гранатный переулок (9/2 Spiridonovka St). This 3rd floor apartment hosted the Sreda gatherings at the time. This is how Vera Nikolaevna describes their encounter: ‘I was lost in thought: maybe I should go home now? Bunin appeared in the doorway. “How did you get here?” he asked. I got into a temper but answered calmly: “The same way you did.” “But who are you!?” “A human.” “What do you do?” “I’m a chemist.” “What is your last name?” “Muromtseva.” “But where can I see you again?” “Only at our place. We have visitors on Saturdays.”’


After that encounter, Bunin paid a visit to the Muromtsevs. They had an apartment at 11 Stolovy LaneRussian: Stolovyi pereulok or Столовый переулок (the building no longer exists), a five-minute walk from Zaytsev’s apartment where they first met. Ivan and Vera became friends, and this was followed by a romantic relationship. They would meet every day, have breakfast together, and go to exhibitions and concerts. Vera Nikolaevna became Bunin’s de facto wife in 1907. After travelling around the Holy Land, they lived in Stolovy Lane in 1907 and stayed there a number of times afterwards. The Muromtsevs’ apartment was where Bunin wrote the first draft of The Village in September 1909.


The Moscow literary community decided to celebrate 25 years of Bunin’s literary activity in October 1912. Celebrations continued for five days. First, Bunin was congratulated in the grand hall of the Literature and Art CircleRussian: Literaturno-khudozhestvennyi kruzhok or Литературно-художественный кружок (15a Bolshaya DmitrovkaRussian: Большая Дмитровка St), familiar to any Moscow intellectual of the early 20th century. Bunin had attended a number of sessions and celebrations there.

The next evening was a gala night in the grand hall of the Polytechnic MuseumRussian: Politekhnicheskiy muzey or Политехнический музей during a session of the Association of Periodical Editors and Literary MenRussian: Obschestvo deyateley periodicheskoy pechati i literatury or Общество деятелей периодической печати и литературы (3/4 Novaya PloshchadRussian: Новая площадь St). After that, Bunin was congratulated at the Moscow UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy universitet or Московский университет (9 MokhovayaRussian: Моховая St) from the Russian Literature SocietyRussian: Obschestvo lyubiteley russkoy slovesnosti or Общество любителей русской словесности, whose sessions the writer had attended a number of times. At those sessions, Bunin read his poems and new novels ScreamRussian: Krik or Крик and DeathRussian: Smert' or Смерть aloud. His works were also read out by other famous artists of the time.


26 Povarskaya StRussian: Povarskaya ulitsa or Поварская улица became the last address where the writer and his wife lived in Vera’s parents’ apartment from 26 October 1917 until they went abroad. His work, Cursed Days was created here. Bunin left Moscow forever on 21 May 1918. His brother Julius and Gorkya Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the socialist realism literary method’s wife Yekaterina Peshkova saw him off at Savelovsky Railway StationRussian: Savyolovskiy vokzal or Савёловский вокзал.

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