Alexander Pushkin and Spain
The exhibition “Alexander Pushkin and Spain” has been timed to mark the Year of Russian Language and Literature in Spain and the Year of Spanish Language and Literature in Russia, held in the two countries in 2015-2016. Divided into two major sections, it explores respectively the plots and images in Pushkin’s art inspired by Spain, and the periods, and accompanying attitudes, in which Pushkin’s creative works were received by Spanish readers.
The night zephyr
Stirs the air.
Of the Guadalquivir.
Let slip your mantilla, my beloved angel,
And show yourself as bright as the day!
Let your divine little foot
Appear through the iron balustrade!
The night zephyr
Stirs the air.
Of the Guadalquivir *
* Translated by Sheila Sim
One of the earliest examples of a Spanish theme in Pushkin's work is the poem "Spanish Romance (The Night Zephyr)" written in 1824. Three years later it was set to music by the composer Alexei Verstovsky and amateur musician Dmitry Venevitinov. Later, other composers would also write music to the poem - Andrei Esaulov in the early 1830s, Mikhail Glinka and Alexander Dargomyzhsky at the end of that decade. Pauline Viardot, Anton Rubinstein and Alexander Glazunov all found inspiration in the "Night Zephyr". The poem was translated into Spanish and included in anthologies of Russian poetry. The exhibition features illustrations by the artists Jan Martin Schanzer and Pavel Bunin, inspired by the poem.
As his interest in Spanish themes developed, the poet would later address real historic events that took place in Spain in the early 1820s:
Once the Tsar was told that Riego,
The rebellious general, was hanged at last...
This particular epigram refers to Prince Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856), Governor-General of Novorossiya. Pushkin held a public service post in the port of Odessa in 1823-1826 under Vorontsov's authority. A hero of the Napoleonic wars and a well-known liberal by upbringing, views and inclinations, Vorontsov received the poet with open arms. However, in time certain tensions arose
between them. Pushkin would write to his friends: "He sees me merely as a collegiate secretary, while I, to be honest, have a different vision of myself." Pushkin was among the suitors of Yelizabeta Vorontsova, the governor's wife, to whom he dedicated many poems.
The epigram was written in 1825 and inspired by a real event. On October 1 1823, Alexander I received a letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France concerning the arrest of the rebellious Spanish general, Rafael del Riego y Nunez. The Emperor shared the news during a meeting at the palace and Vorontsov replied: "What happy news, Your Majesty."1 As one of his contemporaries recalled, "Such behaviour was obviously inappropriate; he brought much damage to his reputation by replying in such a manner. Indeed, knowing what fate awaited poor Riego, it seemed heartless to rejoice over the news."2 Riego was executed in Madrid in November the same year. The poem was only published in 1861, years after Pushkin's death; before that it only circulated in handwritten copies.
In autumn 1830 Pushkin returned to a Spanish theme once again. In September he headed for his family estate of Boldino, near Nizhny Novgorod, to deal with matters of inheritance and make preparations for his impending wedding. But he was unable to return to his fiancee, Natalya Goncharova, in Moscow - Boldino was ringed by sanitary cordons because of the advancing cholera epidemic. Forced to stay at the estate for a three-month quarantine, Pushkin felt as if he was in exile, but as a result the period later named the "Boldino autumn" by literary historians turned out to be his most artistically productive and successful. Among the many autumn fruits were several "Spanish" poems, the central topic being life-affirming sensual love.
I watch Inesilla
Thy window beneath,
Deep slumbers the villa
In night’s dusky sheath.
Enamoured I linger,
Close mantled, for thee –
With sword and with guitar,
0 look once on me!
Art sleeping? Wilt wake thee
Guitar tones so light?
The argus-eyed greybeard
My swift sword shall smite.
The ladder of ropes
Throw me fearlessly now!
Dost falter? Hast thou, Sweet,
Been false to thy vow?
I watch Inesilla
Thy window beneath,
Deep slumbers the villa
In night’s dusky sheath!*
Another Spain-inspired poem is "Inesilla! I am here..." The first line was taken from the poem of the same title by Barry Cornwall, but that is where the similarities end. The hero in love portrayed by Cornwell is gently praying for his "sweetest girl" to come over to the window. Pushkin's character, in contrast, appears much fuller of life, passion and courage.
In this poem we see the first glimpses of the future Don Juan character so masterfully and vividly portrayed by the poet in his poetic drama "The Stone Guest". Given that that work was written less than a month after "Inesilla!", this very poem seems to be a first effort. It became popular and known to the general public in 1834, through the music written by Mikhail Glinka that was published separately, accompanied by the poem.
Within the history of world literature "The Stone Guest" is better known as one of the four short plays from the cycle "The Little Tragedies" (1830). The story of "The Stone Guest" takes place in Madrid and is an interpretation of the legend of Don Juan, the famous "Seducer of Seville". The title of the tragedy brings to mind the play "The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest" by Tirso de Molina, which Pushkin could have learned about from Voltaire's works. Some literary historians believe that Pushkin became intrigued with the subject after attending the premiere of Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" in the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg. While working on the poetic drama he studied and worked with the libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.
The Russian composer Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813-1869) worked on the opera of "The Stone Guest" after the literary text of Alexander Pushkin from 1866 to 1869. Unfortunately, he died before the work was completed, and in accordance with the composer's will, it was finished by Cesar Cui (1835-1918) while the orchestral score was composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). The premiere was given in February 1872 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. This section of the exhibition shows sketches for the costumes created by Vasily Shukhaev for the characters of Laura and Don Juan from the play "The Stone Guest" staged at the Bolshoi Drama Theatre, the design for the costume of Don Carlos by Boris Ferdinandov and a sketch for the Don Juan costume created by Alexander Golovin for Dargomyzhsky's opera.
(Bryan Waller Procter, 1787-1874)
Inesilla! I am here
Thy own cavalier
Is now beneath thy lattice playing:
Why art thou delaying?
He hath riden many a mile
But to see thy smile:
The young light on the flowers is shining,
Yet he is repining.
What to him is a summer star,
If his love’s afar?
What to him the flowers perfuming,
When his heart's consuming?
Sweetest girl! I why dost thou hide?
Beauty may abide
Even before the eye of morning,
And want no adorning.
Now, upon their paths of lights,
Starry spirits bright
To catch thy brighter glance are staying:
Why art thou delaying ?
Pushkin's play was first translated into Spanish in 1938 by the Soviet prose-writer and translator Ovady Savich together with the Spanish poet Manuel Altolaguirre, and subsequently repeatedly translated and republished both in Russia and Spain.
It is well-known that Pushkin never visited Spain, leaving many readers and researchers wondering how he managed to be so accurate and believable in recreating the country's beauty and features, its "aroma" and scenery. The explanation is that Pushkin wrote almost all of his "Spanish" poems after his talks with Prince Nikolai Yusupov, whose portrait is also featured in the exhibition. Yusupov's memoirs became another source of additional details and finer points for the poet in his creating an image of this fascinating and faraway southern country which had strongly captured his imagination.
Prince Nikolai Yusupov (1750-1831) - diplomat, collector and patron of the arts - was among the first Russian travellers to visit Western Europe, which had begun to attract such figures at the end of the 18th century. In 1772 Yusupov travelled to Europe with letters of recommendation from empress Catherine II and was received by all the monarchs of the time. He also met literary figures like Beaumarchais, Voltaire and Diderot and attended lectures at Leiden University. As an enlightened art-lover and one of the wealthiest men in Russia, during his travels he purchased sculptures and paintings by the most prominent artists, laying the foundation for a unique art collection.
Yusupov visited Spain in 1776. He did not leave any published or handwritten memoirs about that journey and his stay in the country became widely known only through Pushkin's poetic message. In 1827 the poet visited Nikolai yusupov at his country residence in Arkhangelskoye near Moscow: the poet would listen to the stories of the great veteran about his journeys abroad and study the handwritten red morocco-bound album titled "Autographs of Yusupov's friends". Among other records, this album contained autographs by two Spaniards, one belonging to Pedro Franco Davila, dated Madrid, August 22 1776.
A poem written in 1830, "To the Nobleman", had Pushkin reflecting upon his impressions about his meetings with Yusupov. Addressed personally to Yusupov, it draws an extended image of the 18th century enlightened man. When creating it, Pushkin borrowed some of the actual facts and events from Yusupov's life, including his European journey. Many lines of the poem are dedicated to Spain.
Another source of inspiration on Spanish themes were the Spanish playwrights, in whose works Pushkin first became interested in the mid-1820s. The poet did not know Spanish at that time, and as his father, Sergei Pushkin, wrote, had only learned this language "in adulthood".3 In the years 1831-1832 Pushkin translated a small excerpt from the novel "The Little Gipsy Girl" by Miguel de Cervantes into French. Pushkin had the original 1816 Spanish edition of "Novelas ejemplares''2 in his personal library.
Pushkin's knowledge of Spanish literature was quite extensive. His library contained books about Spain and the English, German and French translations of works by Spanish authors. There were not only publications in Spanish, but dictionaries composed by Giuseppe Marc' Antonio Baretti, Jacques-Louis-Barthele-my Cormon and Claude-Marie Gattel, a reference book on the Spanish language by Abbot A.-JI. Josse, as well as a Spanish language textbook "Nouvelle methode, contenant en abrege tous les principes de la langue espagnole" (Paris, 1764), presented to Pushkin by his close friend Sergei Sobolevsky (1803-1870), a bibliophile and bibliographer, one of the prominent hispanophiles of his time.
Sobolevsky, whose portrait is featured at the exhibition, knew several European languages including Spanish and Portuguese. In 1849 he made a long journey across Spain visiting Castile, Andalusia, Valencia and Catalonia, and meeting many prominent Spanish scholars, including Agustin Duran (1789-1862). Sobolevsky was a great admirer of Spanish culture who wrote a series of articles about Spanish bibliophiles.
In the autumn of 1856 in St. Petersburg, Sobolevsky met Juan Valera, a Spanish writer and diplomat, who handed him a letter of introduction from the French writer Prosper Merimee, an old friend of Sobolevsky with whom he was an active correspondent. Merimee knew Russian and had read many works by Pushkin, Gogol and Turgenev in the original language. He made one of the first translations of Pushkin's novel "The Queen of Spades" into French in 1849; it was Merimee's French translation, widely known in Spain, that was later translated into Spanish.
In 1834, Pushkin was working on "The Tale of the Golden Cockerel", with a short story by the American writer Washington Irving, the "Legend of the Arabian Astrologer", serving as one of the literary sources for the tale. This novella was part of the book "Tales of the Alhambra" published in America in 1832, and Pushkin had its French edition, published in Paris in the same year, in his library.
Irving was Pushkin's older contemporary. He lived in Spain for several years in the early 1830s, doing research on the manuscripts and books about the discovery of America. The result was the multi-volume "History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus", the "Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada" and the "Tales of the Alhambra". The latter volume was a collection of stories and legends telling the history of the most famous Moorish palace in Granada. The plot of the "Legend of the Arabian Astrologer", with which Pushkin became very intrigued, was based on a story Irving heard during his Spanish sojourn.
The exhibition presents a series of illustrations for "The Tale of the Golden Cockerel" by 19th and 20th century artists including Fyodor Sologub, Tatyana Mavrina, Genrikh Stopa and many others; there is also a reproduction of the title page for the fairy tale created by the poet himself.
Another important topic explored in the exhibition is the wars with Napoleon. The events of 1812 hold special significance in Pushkin's life, and were a source of artistic inspiration and deep reflection on the destiny of mankind, his homeland and the world. A number of his works address this period, closely remembered by the Russian people, either directly or indirectly. His circle of acquaintances and friends consisted largely of those who participated in the heroic campaigns of 1812-1815. Many of his friends and literary mentors - Vasily Zhukovsky, Pyotr Vyazemsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, Denis Davydov - fought in its battles. Pushkin was acquainted with the legendary generals of the Russian army - Alexei Yermolov, Nikolai Raevsky, Mikhail Vorontsov - and genuinely fascinated by the characters of the war's commanders, among them Mikhail Golenischev-Kutuzov, Michael Barclay de Tolly and, of course, Napoleon and Alexander I. After the death of the French Emperor, Pushkin tried to fully comprehend the story of Napoleon's life and appraise the impact he made in world history in the 1821 poem "Napoleon".
Spain entered the war with France years before the Russian Empire - it started in Madrid on May 2 1808, when a popular uprising was brutally suppressed by the troops of the French marshal Joachim Murat. A wave of protests across all the provinces led to the beginning of a considerable guerrilla movement, and within ten days the whole of Spain had risen against the French. From that moment on, until 1814, Spain was fighting fierce battles, culminating in the defeat of the French troops.
At the end of 1808, after defeating the resistance of the Spanish army, French troops entered Madrid. One of the most tragic episodes of the war was the siege of Zaragoza which lasted from 1808 to 1809. More than 50,000 defenders of the city were killed during the assault and the siege, including many civilians, women and children.
Years of such warfare across Spain gradually exhausted Napoleon and his army. The French troops would often win the battles, but their supply lines were frequently cut off by the guerrillas, making it difficult to proceed with further military operations. Although the French defeated the regular Spanish army and pushed it to the country's borders, it was not entirely destroyed and continued resistance. The Spanish War of Independence was one of the first national wars during which guerrilla units - guerrilleros- were widely used.
Russian newspapers of the time often covered the Franco-Spanish war and were filled with chronicles of contemporary Spanish political life and historical events, as well as poems and novels related to Spain. A whole generation of the Russian aristocratic intelligentsia acclaimed the Spanish people for courageously repelling Napoleon's troops.
Juan Valera (1824-1905), a writer and diplomat, was one of the first Spaniards to become acquainted with the works of Pushkin. Following the resumption of diplomatic relations between Russia and Spain in 1856, a Spanish diplomatic mission was established in St. Petersburg and Valera appointed its secretary. Throughout his service there he would write detailed letters to his homeland, mostly addressed to his close friend Don Leopoldo Augusto de Cueto, an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first letter sent from St. Petersburg to Madrid was dated December 10 1856, the last sent on May 18 1857. Their correspondence referred not only to private matters - they also exchanged certain official information as well as their personal observations, concerns and projections. The letters were published and reprinted by all newspapers, even by the advertising press.
In his letter dated February 5 1857, Valera writes about Russian literature: "A great number of books written in the Russian language remain an enigma for me.
I can only learn about the names of the authors and have a general idea of their works from a brief dictionary of Russian writers, compiled by the German doctor Federico Otto, with more than 600 articles dedicated to about the same number of authors."4 He later continues: "I'll have a fully-formed opinion of the other Russian writers, both the earlier ones and the contemporary, of the local folk songs and ballads (a genre similar to our romances) after I master the language. Today I am only certain about Pushkin and Lermontov. Bodenshtedt's translation of their poems into German is so good it makes one feel as if one is reading them in Russian."5
The first translation of Pushkin's works into Spanish dates to 1847, when the short story "The Blizzard" was published in Valencia (it was a translation of a French edition of the story published in 1843). From that moment onwards, and until the end of the 19th century, when Spain became acquainted with the works of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Pushkin remained the most widely translated and published Russian author in the country.
His works were mainly published in periodicals such as "El Fenix", "La Revista Hispanoamericana", "El Museo Universal", "El Diario de Barcelona", "La Revista Europea", "La Revista Contemporanea" and other magazines. During the second half of the 19th century, the "The Belkin Tales" and "The Captain's Daughter", "Boris Godunov", "The Miserly Knight", "Mozart and Salieri" and "The Mermaid" were all published in Spanish at least three times. Of course, all those publications were translations from French: all of Pushkin's poetic works were either translated into prose or simply retold.
At the beginning of the 20th century Pushkin was rarely published in Spain. His poetical works were not translated into Spanish up until the 1930s, when the Cervantes publishing house in Barcelona issued the first collection of Pushkin's poetry. The first direct translations from Russian to Spanish were accomplished by the Russian immigrants G. Portnov, R. Slaby and A. Markov during the 1920s-1940s. The exhibition features covers of such 20th century Spanish-language publications of the writer's works.
Today Pushkin's prose, poetry and drama are being constantly translated, accompanied by extensive research into his life and literary legacy. The exhibition presents a wealth of graphic material from the State A.S. Pushkin Museum collection - illustrations to his "Spanish" poetry, scenic drafts for the stage productions of "The Stone Guest" and "The Golden Cockerel", the poet's manuscripts and drawings, portraits of his contemporaries, images of Spain and the Spanish people, and objects of decorative art - all revealing how Spanish and Russian cultures mutually enriched and influenced each other. With the support of the Federal Agency for the CIS, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), the exhibition was presented in several cities in Spain, in the process acquainting many visitors with the work of the great Russian poet.
All Illustrations from the collection of the State A.S. Pushkin Museum, Moscow
- Arinstein, L. "Secondary Memoiristics in Comments: (On Pushkin's epigram "Once the King was told...") // Chronicle of Pushkin Commission, 1981 / USSR Academy of Science. Literature and Language Department. Pushkin Commission. Leningrad, 1985. P 6.
- Pushkin, A. Cervantes "La Gitanilla": [Translation]: ("En pauvre finit le dernier vers...") // In Pushkin's Own Hand: Unassembled and Unpublished Texts. Moscow; Leningrad: Academia, 1935. P 86.
- Juan, Valera. Letters from Russia / Supplement to almanac "Kanun" ("Eve"). Series "Library of Spanish Literature". St. Petersburg: "Cervantes" Foundation, 2001. P 152.
- Ibid. P 154.
Oil on canvas. 60 × 42.5 cm
Lithography. 16.8 × 15.5 cm
Colour stipple and line engraving, watercolour. 42 × 30 cm
Etching, watercolour. 31.4 × 45.9 cm
Lithography, watercolour, whitewash, gold and silver paint on paper, embossing; wood carving. Outer slat height 28.7 cm. Screen height 11.7 cm. Fan total width 55.4 cm
Whitewash, gouache, gold paint on paper; mother-of-pearl, carving, engraving. Outer slat height 26.7 cm. Screen height 10.7 cm. Fan total width 50.7 cm
Ink, pen, watercolour on paper. 46.5 × 27.1 cm
Gouache, whitewash on cardboard. 14 × 26 cm
Illustrations to A.S. Pushkin’s tragedy The Stone Guest. Ink on cardboard. 36.5 × 28 cm
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard. 26 × 21.5 cm
Illustrations to A.S. Pushkin’s tragedy The Stone Guest. Woodcut. 15.4 × 15.3 cm
Watercolour, whitewash, gold paint on paper. 32 × 21.8 cm
Watercolour, ink, gold paint, pencil on paper. 31.8 × 22 cm
Ink, watercolour, whitewash, pencil on paper. 36 × 26 cm
Ink, tempera, gold paint, whitewash on paper. 39.5 × 29 cm
Watercolour, ink on paper. 25 × 17.2 cm
Coloured linocut. 51.5 × 40.7 cm
Coloured linocut. 51.7 × 39.7 cm
Gouache, ink, pen, applique on cardboard. 52 × 34.5 cm