The Gorki Estate and Its Collection

Tamara Shubina

Article: 
MUSEUMS OF RUSSIA
Magazine issue: 
#3 2006 (12)

 

“The same familiar scene of peace and calm:
Tall trees with whispering boughs beside a dam,
A lake before a house, a garden in the grounds,
A stream and leafy grove with ancient burial mounds.”

Pyotr Vyazemski

One of the oldest estates in the environs of Moscow, Gorki is first mentioned in a 16th-century source. The estate’s history is long and varied, comprising periods of flourishing growth as well as decline and stagnation. Some years saw the erection of new and beautiful buildings and the appearance of leafy parks, whilst others witnessed the house falling into disrepair, weeds smothering the lawns and the grounds being sold off to holiday-makers. Originally the Spasitelev family estate, Gorki later boasted a whole string of wealthy owners from families such as the Naumovs, Beloselskys, Buturlins, Beketovs, Durasovs and Lopukhins.

Although penned in his beloved village of Ostafievo, these lines by the famous poet could equally have referred to the old Gorki estate near Moscow. For many years Gorki was famous both in the USSR and abroad as the house in which Vladimir Lenin spent the final years of his life. The recent revival of interest in old Russian estates, however, has allowed enthusiasts to rediscover Gorki as a reminder of bygone days - an entrancing haven steeped in the atmosphere of old Russian life. More fortunate than most Russian country estates, Gorki escaped the pillaging and destruction which ruined many similar residences after the revolution. The works of art housed here were kept intact, the architecture was not spoilt by the addition of modern annexes and the old park escaped deforestation. Today, Gorki remains a highly impressive architectural complex boasting well-preserved grounds and a unique collection of objets d'art.

The Gorki Estate
The Gorki Estate

In 1824, the estate was purchased by lieutenant-general Alexander Pisarev - a senator, trustee of Moscow University and man of letters. A well-known statesman and public figure, Pisarev had fought in the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon. The buildings and park at Gorki, typical of a medium-size estate from the first half of the 19th century, were created by Pisarev and still survive today. Designed in the classical style, the house with its two outbuildings occupied a favourable position on the high bank of the forest river Turovka, a tributary of the Pakhra. The nearby Kashira road offers a splendid view of the estate. Owing to the local landscape, the park at Gorki is divided into two parts. The lower park descends the sloping river bank, steep and picturesque, whilst the upper part, situated behind the house, presents a more regular, traditional view.

Investing much of his energy and money in the development of this wonderful spot, Alexander Pisarev enjoyed visiting Gorki. He came frequently for long visits, often inviting friends, of whom he had many. He was proud of the place, where "both hearts and doors were truly open wide.”[1]

From the second half of the 19th century Gorki was no longer in the possession of noblemen, but of merchants. Among its owners were members of well- known merchant families such as the Sushkins, Prokofievs, Shibaevs and Gerasimovs. The brothers Gerasimov purchased the estate at the beginning of the 20th century. In keeping with the then- current trend of putting land and property to commercial use, the owners decided to divide the park up into allotments. Thanks to their efforts, a new station was opened on the nearby railway. (The route linking Ryazan to the Urals. Situated within three miles of the estate, the station was named Gerasimovka.) Naturally, improved access increased the demand for allotments in the area, and the brothers were able to sell and rent out a large portion of the grounds. The south-eastern part of the estate was gradually built up with dachas: the Gerasimovs were more concerned with making money than preserving the atmosphere of the estate: never-ending pecuniary difficulties prevented them from investing properly in its development and upkeep. Nevertheless, in their own way they were fond of Gorki, and although they never lived there fulltime, would usually spend the summer on the estate with their families. Finally, however, they were forced to sell Gorki. Indeed, this fascinating spot seemed destined to change hands frequently, yet never did it fall into complete decay and disrepair. In 1909 Gorki was bought from the Gerasimovs by Zinaida Morozova- Reinbot.

Born in Orekhovo-Zuyevo in 1867, the daughter of second-guild merchant Grigory Zimin, Zinaida was a talented and unconventional woman. Contemporaries called her a "real Russian character”: despite a number of shocking and traumatic events in her life, she enjoyed a great deal of love and respect as well as wealth, and knew a great many interesting people. Her second husband, Savva Morozov, was one of the most successful Russian industrialists and a patron of the arts. Following his tragic suicide, Zinaida inherited an immense fortune. In 1907, she married major-general Anatoly Reinbot - the mayor of Moscow and an important courtier. Two months after the wedding, however, Reinbot was accused of embezzlement and removed from his high-ranking position. It seemed that only yesterday the capital was busy discussing the reasons behind Morozov's suicide: now Moscow buzzed with rumours about the trial of Zinaida's second husband.

A proud and independent woman, Morozova-Reinbot strove as always to find a way out of this intolerable situation. Selling her splendid residence in Spiri- donovka Street to Mikhail Ryabushinsky, she left behind the social gatherings, receptions and balls to which she had been so accustomed, retiring instead to Gorki. Her country estate Pokrovskoye-Rubtsovo, situated in the environs of Moscow near Zvenigorod, was left to her oldest son Timofey. Gorki became Zinaida's refuge from the worldly gossip of the capital - a safe haven where she could find peace of mind and start life afresh. Her visits to Moscow were few and far between, mainly in connection with her charitable activities[2] and the development of Gorki.

Thus began a new period in the history of the Gorki estate. Zinaida Morozova-Reinbot was destined to become the last owner of this fascinating spot and, fittingly, the years spent by her in Gorki proved a period of exceptionally active growth. Morozova succeeded in creating a handsome and comfortable bourgeois estate with all the latest fittings, furnished in accordance with contemporary tastes. Few Russian estates could boast such modern "trimmings”, and this was largely why Gorki not only survived the difficult years which followed, but went on to become a major museum of 19th- and early 20th-century Russian estate culture.

Of course, a country house offers its owner not only a place of residence, but also an opportunity for creative fulfilment. Zinaida Morozova had long desired to be the mistress of an old Russian estate. In Gorki, this wealthy and ambitious woman found much to do. Buying back several allotments with dachas, Morozova had all the main estate buildings repaired and established a profitable smallholding furnished with the latest equipment. New conservatories and hothouses were built, as well as a water-tower and power-station to provide water and electricity. On the riverbank, by the road leading to the north gate, the Church of the Protective Veil of the Holy Virgin rose up, decorated, it was noted, "with great merit”.[3]

It is widely accepted that the reconstruction of Gorki was conducted by the eminent Russian architect Fyodor Shekhtel, an old friend of the Morozovs.[4] Thanks to Shekhtel, the main part of the estate, consisting of the house with its two outbuildings, wooden porches and verandas, was transformed from something resembling a dacha into a stately, palatial residence. Fyodor Kolbe, another famous Moscow architect, was in charge of the building work and, most likely, designed some of the smaller buildings. Two singlestorey annexes were added to the main two-storey house, previously a somewhat severe rectangular construction. Extending out from the sides, these were of different size: to the north, a winter garden with glass semi-rotunda, and to the south, a veranda with windows of coloured glass. The flat rooftops of the annexes were turned into open terraces with balustrades. The western, main facade of the house, which faced the park descending towards the river, was decorated with a six-column portico of the Ionic order. On the snow-white staircase, two large marble vases were erected. The eastern facade giving onto the regular park behind the house was decorated with a Tuscan colonnade. A frieze depicting mythical scenes wound around the second-floor windows. Those facing west had mirror panes, whilst the eastern facade boasted handsome three-part Venetian windows. The semi-rotunda and central window of the winter garden bore bas- reliefs, whilst the transom above the glass door to the garden was ornamented with a moulded archivolt. The two outbuildings were decorated with elegant semi-rotundas built onto the side facing the river, their main entrances acquiring four-column Doric porticos with balconies. The nature of these changes was such as to preserve the architectural unity of the complex, whilst the neoclassical design of the facades lent the rather severe classical architecture a light, elegant air.

The reconstruction of Gorki involved extensive work not merely on the buildings themselves, but also on their interiors. If Gorki could be said to form a single architectural complex, the decor of the rooms likewise adhered to a common pattern. In the main house and outbuildings, the atmosphere of an old Russian country estate is preserved, blended miraculously with all the attributes of modern comfort. The estate is decorated with exquisite furniture, paintings and objets d'art dating from the 17th to the 20th century. Some of these originally stood in Morozova's residence in Spiridonovka, others were brought from the estate at Pokrovskoye- Rubtsovo. Many were purchased or made specially for Gorki in some of the finest shops and studios of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Naturally, the zealous mistress did not fail to attend to the grounds of her new estate. The upper lime park had long held a mysterious charm due to its 12th- century burial mounds dating back to the days of the Viatichi, an ancient Slavic people. Now, new avenues were created and decorative bridges built with handrails and balusters. The centre of the park was enlivened by a large flowerbed with a marble vase on a tall pedestal. In keeping with the times, Morozova even introduced a tennis court and croquet lawn. The lower park, occupying the steep bank between the house and river, likewise saw a number of improvements.

In the main courtyard, a fountain was built, surrounded by flowerbeds. A semicircular balustrade with decorative vases separated the courtyard from the lower park. Together with the balustrades running around the terraces and balconies of the main house and outbuildings, this formed an ornamental ring around the estate - a pleasant and striking feature.

As a result of the extensive reconstruction, Gorki developed into a magnificent neoclassical estate - a wonderful example of late 18th-early 19th-century Russian classicism. Following the October revolution of 1917, when the majority of estates were plundered or destroyed, Gorki survived: Morozova was able to mobilise her workers to protect the estate. In the summer of 1918, Gorki came under the management of the Moscow Guberniya Commissariat of Agriculture. At the local peasants' request, the deed contained a special clause stating that "the citizens of Gorki village did not cause the estate of Gorki any damage”.[5]

On 10 March 1918, the Gorki estate was nationalised and passed into the management of the Sukhanov Volost Land Committee. Zinaida Morozova was forced to leave her home. Her good relationship with former workers and her steward Zandovsky allowed her to stay in touch with the estate. She visited frequently and hoped in time to be permitted to rent the Gorki smallholding, which would allow her to live on the estate and play a part in its management.[6] In April 1918, Morozova persuaded the Commission for the Preservation of Historic and Artistic Monuments of the Commissariat for Property of the Republic to visit the estate. After a tour of Gorki, the Commission issued Morozova a certificate stating that "the house with its artistic and historic decor shall be preserved by the Commission as a national treasure”.[7] The owner herself, however, was not so fortunate. Morozova was not only refused the right to reside on the estate, but narrowly avoided being detained: the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee had already decreed her arrest. Fleeing to Moscow, Zinaida Morozova bid Gorki farewell for the last time.[8]

Pyotr GOSLAVSKY. The Old Estate. 1896
Pyotr GOSLAVSKY. The Old Estate. 1896
Oil on canvas. 46.5 by 68 cm

Upon the estate's coming under the management of the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee it was ordered that "all persons and organisations demanding personal estate from the farm of Gorki … be sent to the Guberniya Land Committee. The property must not be handed out.”[9] The main residence and north outbuilding remained sealed up and were not used for housing workers, the remaining buildings offering sufficient living space for labourers and employees. Nevertheless, despite the Land Committee order, 1918 saw the disappearance from Gorki of a number of items. In July 1918, around 40 items of furniture were delivered to the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee, amongst these several desks and chairs, armchairs and sofas, wardrobes and bureaux. In June of that year, a number of mahogany sofas, beds and armchairs had been passed on to the Podolsk Uyezd Commissariat of Agriculture.

Naturally, the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee order prohibiting the removal of items from Gorki had more to do with a desire for control than with genuine concern for works of art. To establish control over Gorki proved, however, an impossible task: before long, furniture and trinkets were being stolen and removed from the estate in large numbers. After discussing the “abnormal state of affairs on Gorki estate” on 2 August 1918, the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee decided to give all items of artistic and historic merit to the Moscow History Museum.[10]

In November 1918, the estate saw a new 'invasion' - this time, by the Museums Department of the People's Commissariat for Education. On 27 November N. Belotsvetov, the Museums Department emissary, conducted a thorough review of the contents of the estate, subsequently recommending the removal of a number of items. Among these were portraits by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder, Ivan Makarov and Valentin Serov, as well as some old engravings of St. Petersburg. In December of that year, over 40 items were duly dispatched from Gorki. These included miniatures and engravings by French and Russian late 18th- and early 19th-century masters, 19th century Russian portraits and a number of pastels and watercolours. All these were transferred to National Museum Fund repositories. In 1919, the Fund donated several oil paintings and watercolours from Gorki to various Moscow and city museums. Apollinary Vasnetsov's pastel "Late Autumn. A Farewell to the Park” was sent to Perm, and Ivan Makarov's "Portrait of an Unknown Woman in a Blue Dress” to the University of Turkestan. In March 1919, another batch of items was removed from Gorki - mainly Russian and West European china.

Following the Revolution, items habitually removed from estates were silver, bronze, porcelain, nickel silver and cut glass pieces, as well as paintings, miniatures, drawings, sculptures, books and the personal archives of former owners. With the exception of "the rarest and most beautiful pieces”, furniture was usually left behind.[11] Its bulkiness and the lack of transport and sufficiently large storage spaces meant that a significant portion of furniture collections was destined to be lost. Gorki proved one happy exception: apart from several items requisitioned by the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee and Podolsk Uyezd, the furniture collection remained intact.

The survival of Gorki estate and its contents was due to the head of the Soviet government, Vladimir Lenin. In the final years of his life, Lenin constantly visited Gorki to rest and receive medical treatment. It seems that the leader of the Revolution inherited the affection which former owners of the estate developed for Gorki, although Lenin was not known for his sentimental feelings for Russian estates and estate culture.[12]

In 1938, the Organisational Bureau of the Bolshevik Party Central Committee decided to turn Gorki into a Lenin museum. The process of preparing the estate proved lengthy and complicated. The main buildings needed renovation, the rooms had to be closely studied and the exhibition planned. Gradually, the furniture, paintings and objets d'art were restored and exact copies made of curtains and wall hangings. All items to be exhibited were photographed, and research began into the history of the estate.

Ironically, this period proved the most disastrous for the estate collection. The Lenin museum was to be a memorial, not an exhibition of household items. Life on the estate, the interiors of the buildings and the estate collection only interested the researchers insofar as they related to Lenin. This highly ideological approach proved extremely damaging not only for the estate collection, but also for the exhibition itself.

The Lenin Museum was created in the main house of the estate. Of its eleven rooms, eight were devoted to "documents and material relating to Vladimir Lenin as the founder and leader of the first socialist state in the world”. The original furniture and decor were preserved in only three rooms: the dining room, study and Lenin's bedroom. Items unrelated to Lenin were eventually restored; some were then included in the exhibition.

Today, the Gorki Museum collection includes over 6,000 items. Among these are unique pieces of furniture, paintings, sculptures and objets d'art: reminders of bygone days which serve to make the past a little closer and more accessible. In recent years the museum specialists have made great progress in the ascription of items from the estate collection. In this huge task we received invaluable help from the Tretyakov Gallery, History Museum, Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, AllRussian Museum of Applied Folk Art, the Museum of Ceramics and the "Kuskovo 18th-century Estate”. As a result of this joint effort, the catalogue of the Gorki estate museum collection appeared.

Table ornament with figure of Cupid and cornucopia. France, Paris. Dagotis factory. First quarter of the 19th century
Table ornament with figure of Cupid and cornucopia. France, Paris. Dagotis factory. First quarter of the 19th century.
Ceramic biscuit, matt finish, gilt. Height 20 cm

The main priorities for Gorki museum staff today are seeking lost items, researching the history and former owners of the estate and improving the museum display. The estate of Gorki is truly unique, still boasting not only the magnificent old buildings and park, but also the original interiors ornamented with some real gems of applied art.

 

  1. Russian State Library Manuscripts Department. Archive 226, file 8, sheet 26.
  2. Zinaida Morozova gave generously to a number of charitable enterprises. An active supporter of the Moscow Orphanage Council, in 1911 she became the representative of the new Society for the Care of Orphans and Abandoned Children for Moscow and the Moscow region. Having made a single donation of 50,000 rubles (Maria Morozova also donated this amount), Zinaida then gave the Society a piece of land measuring over 100 acres "with some beautiful buildings" in the Zvenigorod area. The land was intended for a children's home to be named after Savva Morozov.
  3. Moscow Central Historical Archive. Archive 203, list 759, file 369, sheet 5.
  4. In the 1890s and 1900s Shekhtel carried out a great deal of work for the Morozovs, becoming the favourite architect of this well-known merchant family. For Savva and Zinaida Morozov he built a wooden dacha in Kirzhach, as well as the famous residence on Spiridonovka. He also undertook the restoration of the estate at Pokrovskoye-Rubtsovo. Although no documentary evidence of Shekhtel's management of the reconstruction of Gorki has been discovered, there is a strong theory, based on literary sources, that the new design of the estate was his. This view is supported by specialists. See Ye.I.Kirichenko: "Gorki. Arkhitektura russkoi usadbi 1910-kh godov" (Gorki. The Architecture of the Russian Estate in the 1910s) in the "Lenin's Gorki" State Historic Reserve anthology no.5, Moscow, 1999; also the "Expert Conclusion Concerning Fyodor Shekhtel's Authorship of the Architecture, Interiors and Decorative Features of the Gorki Estate" in "Nauchno-proyektnaya dokumentatsiya na pamyatnik arkhitektury kontsa XVIII - nachala XX vv. v Gorkakh" (The Planning Documents Pertaining to the Late 18th-Early 20th-Century Architectural Monuments in Gorki), Moscow, 1986, pp.58-62 (from the "Lenin's Gorki" State Historic Reserve Archive, file 59).
  5. Moscow Region Central State Archive. Archive 4997, list 1, file 137, sheet 76 (reverse).
  6. Morozova contrived to obtain permission from the local soviet to receive ten pounds of cream cheese, three pounds of butter and five pounds of sour cream weekly from the estate farm. This permission was normally granted to workers and staff on the estate. The price of these products was determined by the farm. Its former owner, however, was not satisfied with this arrangement. In the three months prior to Gorki's coming under the management of the Moscow Guberniya Land Committee (which withdrew Morozova's right to receive farm produce), she obtained 96 pounds of cream cheese, 68 pounds of sour cream, 52 pounds of butter, nine bottles of milk, 180 eggs, two sheep, two chickens, two ducks, a sack of root vegetables and 80 pounds of rye flour. Morozova refused to pay for the goods, claiming, no doubt, that the farm produce belonged to her. Zandovsky, the steward, could not bring himself to demand payment.
  7. Moscow Region Central State Archive. Archive 4997, list 1, file 137, sheet 47.
  8. Shortly after this, Morozova also lost her other country residence - Pokrovskoye-Rubtsovo. This estate had an unhappy fate. Leaving Gorki, Zinaida moved to a flat in Moscow's Staroko- niushenny Pereulok. In October 1918, some 60 items were requisitioned from this flat, mainly furniture, paintings and china. In 1924, Morozova herself was ordered to leave the flat. She spent the rest of her days in a single room in the village of Ilyinskoye near Moscow, where she died in 1947.
  9. Moscow Region Central State Archive. Archive 4997, list 1, file 137, sheet 57.
  10. No documents pertaining to the donation in 1918 of a part of the estate collection to the State History Museum have been discovered.
  11. State History Museum Department of Written Sources. Archive 134, file 185, sheets 1-37.
  12. With his tremendously heavy workload, Lenin needed to be able to take short breaks which would be deeply relaxing. In 1918 and 1919 such breaks were arranged for him in various confiscated estates near Moscow. He visited Ilyinskoye, former residence of Grand Duke Sergei Vasilievich, as well as Morozovka, Vasilyevskoye, Firsanovka and Korzinkino. None of these spots took his fancy, however, and he seldom returned.

Illustrations

On Gorki Estate. The 1910s
On Gorki Estate. The 1910s
Small lake and grotto in the lower park
Small lake and grotto in the lower park
Photograph by V. Saleyev
Half-rotunda of the Winter Garden. 1910s
Half-rotunda of the Winter Garden. 1910s
Drawing room in the main house. The 1910s
Drawing room in the main house. The 1910s
Alexander Pisarev. Photograph of an engraving by G. Geller (1827)
Alexander Pisarev.
Photograph of an engraving by G. Geller (1827)
Zinaida Morozova. Late 19th-century photograph
Zinaida Morozova. Late 19th-century photograph
Balustrade in the main courtyard. Photograph by V. Boiko
Balustrade in the main courtyard. Photograph by V. Boiko
Bacchus. Unknown Russian sculptor. Middle of the 19th century
Bacchus. Unknown Russian sculptor. Middle of the 19th century.
St. Petersburg, Triscorni workshop (?). Marble. Height 140 cm (without pedestal)
Unknown West European sculptor. Maenad. Second half of the 19th century
Unknown West European sculptor. Maenad. Second half of the 19th century.
Marble. Height 115 cm (without pedestal)
Twin vases with handles in the shape of goats’ heads. Russia. Second half of the 19th century
Twin vases with handles in the shape of goats’ heads. Russia. Second half of the 19th century.
Marble. Height 215 cm (with pedestal)
Marie Antoinette. From a model by Felix Lecomte. Italy, a factory in Naples. First third of the 19th
Marie Antoinette. From a model by Felix Lecomte. Italy, a factory in Naples. First third of the 19th
century. Ceramic biscuit. Height 74 cm
Alix DUVAL. Portrait of an Unknown Woman as Flora
Alix DUVAL. Portrait of an Unknown Woman as Flora
Oil on canvas. 65 by 54 cm (oval)
Unknown early 19th-century painter. Diana Resting. Copy of an original by Paul Bril
Unknown early 19th-century painter. Diana Resting. Copy of an original by Paul Bril.
Oil on canvas. 73 by 105 cm
Dressing table. Germany, Meissen. Second half of the 19th century
Dressing table. Germany, Meissen. Second half of the 19th century
Pine carcass, rosewood veneer, porcelain, painted decoration on glaze, bronze, casting, gilding, mirror pane. 159 by 91 by 54 cm
Couch. Russia. First quarter of the 19th century
Couch. Russia. First quarter of the 19th century
Birch carcass, mahogany veneer, ebony veneer, carving, gilt, veneering, polishing, bronze, casting, gilding, silk. 127 by 236 by 105 cm. Empire style
Hall clock. England, London. Second half of the 18th century
Hall clock. England, London. Second half of the 18th century
Pine carcass, poplar veneer, niello, veneering, polishing, bronze, metal. 246 by 63 by 31 cm (the lower part of the case is a reconstruction)
Mirror with pier table. Russia. Last quarter of the 18th century
Mirror with pier table. Russia. Last quarter of the 18th century
Pine carcass, priming, white paint, carving, gilt, marble, mirror pane, painted decoration. 371 by 110 by 55 cm
Table. Russia. First quarter of the 19th century
Table. Russia. First quarter of the 19th century
Birch carcass, mahogany veneer, ebony veneer, carving, gilt, veneering, polishing, bronze, casting, gilding. 70 by 117 by 90 cm. Empire style
Chandelier. Russia. St. Petersburg. 1820s-1830s
Chandelier. Russia. St. Petersburg. 1820s-1830s
Bronze workshop of A.I. Dipner. Bronze, casting, fire gilding. Height 104 cm, diameter 39.5 cm. Empire style
Art nouveau vase with handles and flower decoration. The Netherlands. Early 20th century
Art nouveau vase with handles and flower decoration. The Netherlands. Early 20th century
Ceramics, painted decoration. Height 39 cm
Crater-shaped vase decorated with battle scenes. Western Europe. Second quarter of the 19th century
Crater-shaped vase decorated with battle scenes. Western Europe. Second quarter of the 19th century
Porcelain, painted decoration on glaze, gilt. Height 27 cm
“Winged Genius” mantelpiece clock. France. Paris. Julien (Jules) Chopin factory. The 1810s
“Winged Genius” mantelpiece clock. France. Paris. Julien (Jules) Chopin factory. The 1810s
Bronze, casting, fire gilding, enamel. 60 by 40 by 14 cm

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