"My home is always there, in the heaven's vault..." The bicentenary of Mikhail Lermontov's birth
THE YEAR 2014 MARKED THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF MIKHAIL LERMONTOV'S BIRTH. ONE OF THE SERIES OF EVENTS ORGANIZED BY THE STATE A.S. PUSHKIN MUSEUM TO COMMEMORATE THIS IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY IS THE ALL-RUSSIAN EXHIBITION PROJECT, "MY HOME IS ALWAYS THERE, IN THE HEAVEN'S VAULT..." THIS PROJECT RECEIVED FINANCIAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT FROM THE RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND THE MOSCOW CITY DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE, AND INCLUDED 37 PARTICIPANTS, AMONG THEM MAJOR RUSSIAN MUSEUMS AND ARCHIVES, LIBRARIES, THEATRES, AND PRIVATE COLLECTORS. IT WAS THE FIRST EVENT OF SUCH MAGNITUDE IN RUSSIA IN 70 YEARS: IN 1941, WHEN THE COUNTRY WAS PREPARING A FITTING COMMEMORATION OF THE CENTENARY OF THE POET'S DEATH, ALL PLANS HAD TO BE SET ASIDE. EVEN THOUGH A MAJOR ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION OPENED ON JULY 26, ON THE FOLLOWING DAY ITS ORGANIZERS HAD TO START PACKING ITS EXHIBITS TO BE SENT AWAY TO SAFETY.
This work was exhibited at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC in April 2014 on the occasion of the celebration of the bicentenary of Mikhail Lermontov's birth.
It is significant that the exhibition commemorating Lermontov's bicentenary is being held at the Alexander Pushkin Museum. Pushkin and Lermontov, the two great Russian poets of the 19th century, never met one another - but how much their lives had in common! They were both born in Moscow, and both loved the city like devoted sons love their mother. The original Russian capital boasts dozens of places both poets visited, remembered and wrote about - Red Square, the Noblemans' Assembly, the Bolshoi Theatre and Tverskoy Boulevard, Moscow University and, naturally, the Kremlin. We all remember the dramatic account of Pushkin as a small boy climbing to the top of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, as well as Lermontov's description of the rooftop view of Moscow: "He who has never stood on top of the Ivan the Great [Bell Tower], who has never enjoyed the view of our entire ancient capital from end to end, who has never admired this dignified, almost boundless panorama, does not have a clue about Moscow..."
Many locations in St. Petersburg also hold special significance in the lives and legacy of both poets. Pushkin's last home was on the Moika embankment; the School of Cavalry Junkers, where Lermontov was enrolled in 1832, was also located there. In 1811-1817 Pushkin studied at the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. In 1834 Lermontov graduated as a cornet and joined the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment, stationed in Tsarskoye Selo. After Pushkin's death, the poet's friends and literary associates, Zhukovsky, Vyazemsky, Odoevsky, Kireevsky, Pogodin and Pletnev among them, accepted Lermontov into their inner circle; he became a regular guest at the homes of the Karamzins, the Khitrovos, the Vielgorskys, as well as many other contemporaries and admirers of Pushkin. Lermontov knew Pushkin's widow Natalya, and was friends with the poet's younger brother Lev, whom he met in the Caucasus.
Lermontov also wrote much about the Caucasus, an important theme in Pushkin's poetry; this mountainous region, much loved by Lermontov, was to prove fateful in his life. The poet first came there as a nine-year-old boy in 1825 with his grandmother, when they visited relatives in Goryachevodsk, only to return, not of his own will, during his first exile. Already an acclaimed poet, he was again exiled to the Caucasus, which lasted until his death in July of 1841; he had not yet turned 27... Sadly, both celebrated Russian poets were killed in duels - yet another tragic parallel in their lives.
When we planned this exhibition, we aimed not only to show Lermontov's evolution as an artist; we wanted to take a measure of the influence his poetry had on Russian culture of the 19th-21st centuries. The museum's exhibition space was divided into three parts, each dedicated to a certain aspect of the whole show - and the whole story. The exhibition project was designed and realized by Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation Alexander Konov's "MuseiMedia" Creative Art Workshop.
The first part of the exhibition was called "In the Heaven's Vault", dedicated to Lermontov's life and oeuvre. Its concept was biographical - it began its narrative with the poet's birth and ended with his death. Russia of the 1820s-1840s is revealed through watercolours, prints and lithographs. Visitors saw images of Moscow, Lermontov's birthplace, where he became aware of his calling and began his literary career. Then there is Tarkhany, the family estate where he spent his childhood, and his beloved Caucasus; and St. Petersburg, the city where he reached his prime as a man and a poet.
When Pushkin died, it was from St. Petersburg that Lermontov's poem "Death of the Poet" began to spread through the country, on its way to becoming a major event in Russian public life.
The central hall was dedicated solely to this poem; visitors will see the show's most important exhibit there - a copy of the poem in Lermontov's own hand, executed in February 1837. This rare exhibit was made available by the National Library of Russia. Other hand-written copies of the poem, made at the same time or at later dates by persons sometimes known and sometimes not, as well as by clerks imitating Lermontov's handwriting, appeared courtesy of several major national archives, such as the Russian State Archive, the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Historical Museum, and the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art.
Visitors can see another extraordinary exhibit in the same hall - Lermontov's oil portrait by Pyotr Zabolotsky (1837, on loan from the Tretyakov Gallery), where Lermontov is painted wearing the pelisse of the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment. The poet's contemporaries mentioned the portrait's remarkable likeness and realism; Lermontov met Zabolotsky through the Filosofovs, his relatives, and soon after began taking painting lessons from the artist. Zabolotsky painted another portrait of Lermontov, in a dark frock coat with red cuffs: the Pushkin House Museum of Literature lent a copy of this work to the exhibition. The "biographical" section offered other portraits of Lermontov painted during his lifetime, such as Alexander Klunder's portrait of Lieutenant Lermontov (1839-1840, Literary Museum) in a black unbuttoned officer's coat with a red collar and blue lining, and three small stars on the epaulettes.
The portrait of Lermontov in the uniform of the LifeGuard Hussar Regiment holds a special place in the poet's iconography. The identity of the artist remains uncertain to this day; even though there is an ink inscription on the back of the canvas that reads "painted by Budkin in 1834, St. Petersburg", the painting could not have been executed before 1838-1839 - experts were able to date the work more precisely thanks to the details of the uniform, in particular the epaulettes, which were "introduced on December 17 1837". According to Lermontov's fellow student at the School of Cavalry Junkers, the poet's grandmother Yelizaveta Arsenyeva commissioned this portrait after her beloved grandson was awarded the rank of cornet of the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment in 1834. Mikhail Longinov, a bibliophile and distant relative of Lermontov's, wrote about this painting: "We knew Lermontov well and can attest that this portrait was painted in 1839 and bears a great likeness to him (though it is a bit flattering, as usually happens); seeing it is enough to truly know what Lermontov's face looked like." We chose this portrait, housed at the Pushkin House Museum of Literature, as the "face" of our anniversary exhibition project.
The exhibition is replete with portraits of people who were connected to Lermontov's life and work - his fellow officers, exiled Decembrists, literary figures, the addressees of his lyrical poems, friends, relatives, and members of his Moscow, St. Petersburg and Caucasus circles. It would be impossible to list them all, just as it would be impossible to name all those first-class portrait and landscape artists whose works we were able to bring together in one space, thanks to the help of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the Russian Museum, the Literary Museum, the Historical Museum, the Pushkin House Museum of Literature, and the Alexander Pushkin Museum.
Without doubt, the paintings by Prince Grigory Gagarin, an artist who was close to Lermontov, proved fascinating to visitors. As a very young man, he studied painting in Italy under Horace Vernet and Karl Bryullov. Gagarin knew Pushkin and illustrated some of his works; he met Lermontov in the 1830s. When the poet was transferred to the Tengin Infantry Regiment in the Caucasus, Gagarin followed him there. As an artist, he sometimes worked independently, and sometimes in cooperation with Lermontov. His watercolours "Incident during the Battle of Valerik" and "Aul of Chirkey. Dagestan", his oil painting "Nizhegorodsky Dragoon Regiment at Summer Camp near Karagach", and his illustration to Lermontov's poem "Dream", which came to the exhibition from the Russian Museum, all tell the story of the dramatic events in the life of Lermontov as a soldier.
Naturally, visitors were drawn to the poet's own drawings and oil paintings. As an artist, Lermontov was represented by "Attack by the Life-Guard Hussars in the Battle of Warsaw on August 26 1831" (1837),"View of the Caucasus with Camels" (18371838), "Memories of the Caucasus" (1838), his watercolour portrait of Varvara Lopukhina (all from the collection of Pushkin House); there were also 23 drawings from Lermontov's album of 1840-1841, complete with his notes and poems, from the album made available to us by the National Library of Russia.
That library also provided another most valuable exhibit, the notebook that Prince Vladimir Odoevsky gave to Lermontov in April 1841 on the eve of the poet's departure for the Caucasus. The notebook was open on the page where Odoevsky wrote: "I present the poet Lermontov with this old favourite notebook of mine, so that he returns it to me in person, having written on its every page!" The notebook found its way to the original owner in the winter of 1843, with Lermontov's last poems written in it, including such masterpieces as "Argument", "Prophet", "Dream", "Tamara", "Leaf", and "Alone I Set Out on the Road."
Lermontov was exceptionally demanding of himself as a poet; consequently, not much of his work was published in his lifetime. However, we were able to include almost all of those publications in this exhibition thanks to the participation of the extraordinarily rich collection of the Literary Museum.
We were also showing some absolutely unique publications: one example was Lermontov's first publication in the Moscow magazine "Athenaeum" in 1830 - the poem "Spring" is signed with the letter "L". There was also the 1835 issue of the "Biblioteka dlya Chteniya" (Reading Library) magazine with Lermontov's poem "Khadji-Abrek", marking the first time that Lermontov's name as a poet was published, albeit without his consent. Both volumes came from the private collection of Mikhail Seslavinsky.
Lermontov's first work that he planned to publish was his poem "Borodino". A copy of the "Sovremennik" (The Contemporary) magazine from 1837 with the printed poem is housed at the Alexander Pushkin Museum. Our collection of printed materials also includes issues of the "Otechestvenniye Zapiski" (Notes of the Fatherland) magazine with Lermontov's poems, two editions of his novel "A Hero of Our Time", dated 1840 and 1841, as well as the volume "Poems by M. Lermontov", published in St. Petersburg in 1840. For this collection, Lermontov chose 26 poems and two narrative poems, "Mtsyri" and "The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov", from the 30 narrative poems and more than 300 poems he had by then written.
There were many biographical documents at the show, including materials from the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents regarding Lermontov's genealogy; "Report to Nicholas I by the Auditor-General on the Military Court Proceedings Regarding Lieutenant of the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment M.Y. Lermontov and E. de Barant...", and the "Service and Conduct Record for the Lieutenant of the Tengin Infantry Regiment M.Y. Lermontov." from the Russian State Archive of Military History; "The Case of the Duel between N.S. Martynov and M.Y. Lermontov" from the National Library of Russia.
The design of our exhibition was notably rounded out by works of decorative and applied arts, everyday household objects and decorations of the 19th century from the collection of our museum and the Lermontov Museum-Reserve "Tarkhany". The poet's military career was not only illustrated with paintings, drawings, and manuscripts, but also with military munitions and outfits, samples of fire-arms and steel weapons, and naturally, a military uniform with a chokha, "the best outfit for a man" in Lermontov's opinion. These exhibits were provided by the Historical Museum.
The poet's personal belongings hold a special place among such historical objects. One example is his travel box, catalogued in the "Inventory of Personal Possessions Left Behind by Lieutenant Lermontov of the Tengin Infantry Regiment, Shot Dead at a Duel" made out in July 1841, now in the collection of Lermontov Museum-Reserve "Tarkhany". There are also Lermontov's slippers, traditional men's footwear in the Caucasus; they were provided by the Pushkin House Museum of Literature. The poet's silver teaspoon was returned to Russia in 2000 after many years at the museum of the Russian cultural and philanthropic society "Rodina" (Motherland) in the USA; the Russian Cultural Foundation made the spoon available to our exhibition.
The exhibition used a multimedia approach to devote more attention to certain periods in Lermontov's life, to give visitors a chance to take a good look at his manuscripts and drawings, and to bring pages of historical documents of his short and tragic life closer to the viewer.
Lermontov's poetry has become an integral part of Russian culture and found further expression in painting, the graphic arts, music, theatre and cinema, which became the subject of the second section of our show, set in the mezzanine. Here, visitors could see theatre and cinema-related exhibits, including those related to Lermontov's drama "Masquerade", his narrative poem "Demon", and his novel "A Hero of Our Time" - set and costume designs, photographs of actors, and sheets of music. The illustrations to these literary works on display included pieces by various artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Viktor Zamirailo, Mihaly Zichy, Mikhail Vrubel, Eugene Lanceray, Fyodor Konstantinov, Tatiana Mavrina, Nikolai Kuzmin, V. Kobelev, Stanislav Filenko, Xenia Klementieva, and others. Every one of these artists has strong, sharp powers of observation and the ability to portray fictional characters as real, emotionally complicated living people. That said, all these works reflect their time, since every historical era has so far found something new and vital, something that resonates with it, in Lermontov's poetry. In this section visitors can see a watercolour drawing by Mikhail Vrubel from the collection of the Alexander Pushkin Museum. This illustration to Lermontov's "Demon" was a gift from Sergei Prokofiev, the composer's grandson who resides in Switzerland; the museum received it in 2014, shortly before our exhibition opened.
The third section was located in the halls of the museum's ground floor, and was dedicated to those places in Russia that are linked to Lermontov's life and poetry - Moscow and St. Petersburg, Tarkhany and Serednikovo, Taman and Pyatigorsk. The first monument dedicated to Lermontov was by the sculptor Alexander Opekushin, erected in Pyatigorsk in 1889. Fundraising began in July 1871 and lasted for 18 years. The first museum dedicated to Lermontov was opened in St. Petersburg at the Nikolaevsky School of Cavalry Junkers in 1883, initiated by the school's director, Major General Alexander von Bilderling. In 1917 this museum's collection was transferred to the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Our exhibition offered a chance to learn about the history and collections of such museums as the Lermontov Museum-Reserve "Tarkhany", the Lermontov Museum-Reserve in Pyatigorsk, Lermontov's Memorial House in Taman (a branch of the E.D. Filitsyn Krasnodar Museum-Reserve of History and Archaeology), Lermontov's Memorial House in Moscow (a branch of the Literary Museum ). Recently, the new National Lermontov Centre "Serednikovo" opened its doors in the Moscow region - the poet was a frequent guest at the Serednikovo estate, and many of his lyrical creations were associated with it.
Works by contemporary artists displayed proved testament to the fact that to this day we are looking for new means of expression, new creative approaches, and new ways to understand
Mikhail Lermontov’s legacy.
This anniversary project, alongside the exhibition, offered a whole programme of events – musical performances, excursions, meetings with colleagues from various Russian museums and art magazines, research conferences, book discussions and presentations. The theatre production “Lermontov. Selected Works” premiered on the opening night of the exhibition and continued on the stage of the Prechistenka Concert Hall throughout the duration of the “My home is always there, in the heaven’s vault…” exhibition.
The Alexander Pushkin Museum expresses its deep gratitude to those who prepared sets of materials on Lermontov for the exhibition: the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (184 exhibits), the Literary Museum (144 exhibits), the Lermontov Museum-Reserve “Tarkhany” (135 exhibits), and the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (75 exhibits.) We also convey our appreciation to all who participated in this exhibition project, who came forward and made available unique materials from their collections.