The house-museum of Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov is a museum dedicated to the work of the poet Mikhail Lermontov. Located in Moscow at Malaya Molchanovka street, 2 and is part of the State Literary Museum. In this mansion, Lermontov lived with his grandmother Elizabeth Arsenyeva from 1829 to 1832. The museum was opened in 1981 thanks to the initiative of the writer and TV presenter Irakli Andronikov. As of 2018, the collection includes antique furniture of the 19th century, a collection of lifetime editions, photographs and images of the poet’s family and friends.
Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (October 15 [O.S. October 3] 1814 – July 27 [O.S. July 15] 1841) was a Russian Romantic writer, poet and painter, sometimes called “the poet of the Caucasus”, the most important Russian poet after Alexander Pushkin’s death in 1837 and the greatest figure in Russian Romanticism. His influence on later Russian literature is still felt in modern times, not only through his poetry, but also through his prose, which founded the tradition of the Russian psychological novel.
Lermontov’s work, which combines civic, philosophical and personal motives that meet the urgent needs of the spiritual life of Russian society, marked a new flourishing of Russian literature and had a great influence on the most prominent Russian writers and poets of the 19th and 20th centuries. Lermontov’s works received a great response in painting, theater,cinema. His poems became a true storehouse for opera, symphony and romance. Many of them became folk songs.
In his lifetime, Mikhail Lermontov published only one slender collection of poems (1840). Three volumes, much mutilated by censorship, were published a year after his death in 1841. Yet his legacy – more than 30 large poems, and 600 minor ones, a novel and 5 dramas – was immense for an author whose literary career lasted just six years.
Inspired by Lord Byron, Lermontov started to write poetry at the age of 13. His late 1820s poems like “The Corsair”, “Oleg”, “Two Brothers”, as well as “Napoleon” (1830), borrowed somewhat from Pushkin, but invariably featured a Byronic hero, an outcast and an avenger, standing firm and aloof against the world.
In the early 1830s Lermontov’s poetry grew more introspective and intimate, even diary-like, with dates often serving for titles. But even his love lyric, addressed to Yekaterina Sushkova or Natalya Ivanova, could not be relied upon as autobiographical; driven by fantasies, it dealt with passions greatly hypertrophied, protagonists posing high and mighty in the center of the Universe, misunderstood or ignored.
In 1831 Lermontov’s poetry (“The Reed”, “Mermaid”, “The Wish”) started to get less confessional, more ballad-like. The young author, having found taste for plots and structures, was trying consciously to rein in his emotional urge and master the art of storytelling. Critic and literature historian D.S. Mirsky regards “The Angel” (1831) as the first of Lermontov’s truly great poems, calling it “arguably the finest Romantic verse ever written in Russian.” At least two other poems of that period – “The Sail” and “The Hussar” – were later rated among his best.
In 1832 Lermontov tried his hand at prose for the first time. The unfinished novel Vadim, telling the story of the 1773–1775 Yemelyan Pugachev-led peasant uprising, was stylistically flawed and short on ideas. Yet, free of Romantic pathos and featuring well-crafted characters as well as scenes from peasant life, it marked an important turn for the author now evidently intrigued more by history and folklore than by his own dreams.
Two branches of Lermontov’s early 1830s poetry – one dealing with the Russian Middle Age history, another with the Caucasus – couldn’t differ more. The former were stern and stark, featured a dark, reserved hero (“The Last Son of Freedom”), its straightforward storyline developing fast. The latter, rich with ethnographical side issues and lavish in colourful imagery, boasted flamboyant characters (“Ismail-Bey”, 1832).
Even as a Moscow University’s boarding school student Lermontov was a socially aware young man. His “The Turk’s Lament” (1829) expressed strong anti-establishment feelings (“This place, where a man suffers from slavery and chains; my friend, this is my fatherland”), the “July 15, 1830” poem greeted the July Revolution, while “The Last Son of Freedom” was a paean to (obviously, idealized) Novgorod Republic. But Lermontov, a fiery tribune, has never become a political poet. Full of inner turmoil and anger, his protagonists were riotous but never rational or promoting any particular ideology.
The Cadet School seemed to have stymied in Lermontov all interests except one, for wanton debauchery. His pornographic (and occasionally sadistic) Cavalry Junkers’ poems which circulated in manuscripts, marred his subsequent reputation so much so that admission of familiarity with Lermontov’s poetry was not permissible for any young upper-class woman for a good part of the 19th century. “Lermontov churned out for his pals whole poems in improvisational manner, dealing with things which were apparently part of their barrack and camp lifestyle. Those poems, which I’ve never read, for they weren’t intended for women, bear all the mark of the author’s brilliant, fiery temperament, as people who’ve read them attest”, Yevdokiya Rostopchina admitted. These poems were published only once, in 1936, as part of a scholarly edition of Lermontov’s complete works, edited by Irakly Andronikov.
This lean period bore a few fruits: “Khadji-Abrek” (1835), his first ever published poem, and 1836’s Sashka (a “darling son of Don Juan,” according to Mirsky), a sparkling concoction of Romanticism, realism and what might be termed a cadet-style verse. The latter remained unfinished, as did Princess Ligovskaya (1836), a society tale which was influenced at least to some extent by Gogol’s Petersburg Stories and featured characters and dilemmas not far removed from those that would form the base of A Hero of Our Time.
Arrested, jailed and sent to the Caucasus in 1837, Lermontov dropped “Princess Ligovskaya” and never got back to it. Much more important to him was The Masquerade; written in 1835, it got re-worked several times – the author tried desperately to publish it. Close to French melodrama and influenced by Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas (but also owing a lot to Shakespeare, Griboyedov and Pushkin), Masquerade featured another hero whose want was to ‘throw a gauntlet’ to the unsympathetic society and then get tired of his own conflicting nature, but was interesting mostly for its realistic sketches of the high society life, which Lermontov was getting more and more critical of.
Lermontov’s fascination with Byron has never waned. “Having made the English pessimism a brand of his own, he’s imparted it a strong national favour to produce the very special Russian spleen, which has been there always in the Russian soul… Devoid of cold skepticism or icy irony, Lermontov’s poetry is full instead of typically Russian contempt for life and material values. This mix of deep melancholy on the one hand and wild urge for freedom on the other, could be found only in Russian folk songs,” biographer Skabichevsky wrote.
In 1836–1838 Lermontov’s interest in history and folklore re-awakened. Eclectic Boyarin Orsha (1836), featuring a pair of conflicting heroes, driven one by blind passions, another by obligations and laws of honour, married the Byronic tradition with the elements of historical drama and folk epos. An ambitious folk epic, The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov (initially banned, then published in 1837 due to Vasily Zhukovsky’s efforts), was unique for its unexpected authenticity. Lermontov, who haven’t got a single academic source to rely upon, “entered the realm of folklore as a real master and totally merged with its spirit,” according to Belinsky. Lermontov’s Cossack Lullaby “went the whole round: from the original folklore source to literature, and from literature to living folklore…. For one and a half centuries people have performed these literary lullabies in real lulling situations [in Russia],” according to Valentin Golovin.
“Death of the Poet” (1837), arguably the strongest political declaration of its time (its last two lines, “and all of your black blood won’t be enough to expiate the poet’s pure blood”, construed by some as a direct call for violence), made Lermontov not just famous, but almost worshipped, as a “true heir to Pushkin.” More introspective but no less subversive was his “The Thought” (1838), an answer to Kondraty Ryleyev’s “The Citizen” (1824), damning the lost generation of “servile slaves”.
Otherwise, Lermontov’s short poems range from indignantly patriotic pieces like “Fatherland” to the pantheistic glorification of living nature (e.g., “Alone I set out on the road…”) Some saw Lermontov’s early verse as puerile, since, despite his dexterous command of the language, it usually appeals more to adolescents than to adults. Later poems, like “The Poet” (1838), “Don’t Believe Yourself” (1839) and “So Dull, So Sad…” (1840) expressed skepticism as to the meaning of poetry and life itself. On the other hand, for Lermontov the late 1830s was a period of transition; drawn more to Russian forests and fields rather than Caucasian ranges, he achieved moments of transcendental solemnity and clear vision of heaven and Earth merged into one in poems like “The Branch of Palestine”, “The Prayer” and “When yellowish fields get ruffled…”
Both his patriotic and pantheistic poems had an enormous influence on later Russian literature. Boris Pasternak, for instance, dedicated his 1917 poetic collection of signal importance to the memory of Lermontov’s Demon. This long poem (started as early as 1829 and finished some ten years after) told the story of a fallen angel admitting defeat in the moment of his victory over Tamara, a Georgian “maid of mountains”. Having read by censors as the celebration of carnal passions of the “eternal spirit of atheism,” it remained banned for years (and was published for the first time in 1856 in Berlin), turning arguably the most popular unpublished Russian poem of the mid-19th century. Even Mirsky, who ridiculed Demon as “the least convincing Satan in the history of the world poetry,” called him “an operatic character” and fitting perfectly into the concept of Anton Rubinstein’s lush opera (also banned by censors who deemed it sacrilegious) had to admit the poem had magic enough to inspire Mikhail Vrubel for his series of unforgettable images.
Another 1839 poem investigating the deeper reasons for the author’s metaphysical discontent with society and himself was The Novice, or Mtsyri (in Georgian), the harrowing story of a dying young monk who’d preferred dangerous freedom to protected servitude. The Demon defiantly lives on, Mtsyri dies meekly, but both epitomize the riotous human spirit’s stand against the world that imprisons it. Both poems are beautifully stylized and written in fine, mellifluous verse which Belinsky found “intoxicating”.
By the late 1830s Lermontov became so disgusted with his own early infatuation with Romanticism as to ridicule it in Tambov Treasurer’s Wife (1838), a close relative to Pushkin’s Count Nulin, performed in stomping Yevgeny Onegin rhyme. Even so, it is his 1812 War historical epic Borodino (1837), a 25th Anniversary hymn to the victorious Russian spirit, related in simple language a tired war veteran, and Valerik (defined by Mirsky as a missing link between the “Copper Rider” and the War and Peace battle scenes) that are seen by critics as the two peaks of Lermontov’s realism. This newly found clarity of vision allowed him to handle a Romantic theme with Pushkin’s laconic precision most impressively in “The Fugitive”. Tellingly, while Pushkin (whose poem “Tazit”‘s plotline was here used) saw the European influence as a healthy alternative to the patriarchal ways of Caucasian natives, Lermontov tended to idealize the local communities’ centuries-proven customs, their morality codex and the will to fight for freedom and independence to the bitter end.
Lermontov had a peculiar method of circulating ideas, images and even passages, trying them again and again through the years in different settings until each would find itself a proper place – as if he could “see” in his imagination his future works but was “receiving” them in small fragments. Even “In Memory of A.I. Odoyevsky” (1839) the central episode is, in effect, the slightly re-worked passage borrowed from Sashka.
A Hero of Our Time (1840), a set of five loosely linked stories unfolding the drama of the two conflicting characters, Pechorin and Grushnitsky, who move side by side towards a tragic finale as if driven by destiny itself, proved to be Lermontov’s magnum opus. Vissarion Belinsky praised it as a masterpiece, but Vladimir Nabokov (who translated the novel into English) was not so sure about the language: “The English reader should be aware that Lermontov’s prose style in Russian is inelegant, it is dry and drab; it is the tool of an energetic, incredibly gifted, bitterly honest, but definitely inexperienced young man. His Russian is, at times, almost as crude as Stendhal’s in French; his similes and metaphors are utterly commonplace, his hackneyed epithets are only redeemed by occasionally being incorrectly used. Repetition of words in descriptive sentences irritates the purist,” he wrote. D.S. Mirsky thought differently. “The perfection of Lermontov’s style and narrative manner can be appreciated only by those who really know Russian, who feel fine imponderable shades of words and know what has been left out as well as what has been put in. Lermontov’s prose is the best Russian prose ever written, if we judge by the standards of perfection and not by those of wealth. It is transparent, for it is absolutely adequate to the context and neither overlaps it nor is overlapped by it,” he maintained.
In Russia A Hero of Our Time seems to have never lost its relevance: the title itself became a token phrase explaining dilemmas haunting this country’s intelligentsia. And Lermontov’s reputation as an ‘heir to Pushkin’ there is seldom doubted. His foreign biographers, though, tend to see a more complicated and controversial picture. According to Lewis Bagby, “He led such a wild, romantic life, fulfilled so many of the Byronic features (individualism, isolation from high society, social critic and misfit), and lived and died so furiously, that it is difficult not to confuse these manifestations of identity with his authentic self. …Who Lermontov had become, or who he was becoming, is unclear. Lermontov, like many a romantic hero, once closely examined, remains as open and unfinished as his persona seems closed and fixed.”
Drawings and paintings
Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov was fond of drawing and painting throughout his short life. He showed a love for fine art from a very young age: “… he was happily gifted with art abilities; even then he painted quite decently with watercolors and sculpted whole pictures from dyed wax… ”wrote Akim Pavlovich Shan-Girey, recalling his childhood.
His first drawing teacher was the artist Alexander Stepanovich Solonitsky, who was preparing Lermontov to enter the Pension. Later, Lermontov took painting lessons from Peter Efimovich Zabolotsky, the author of two portraits of Lermontov painted in oil in 1837 and 1840. In the youthful works of Lermontov, the influence of Rembrandt is noticeable, especially in watercolor portraits, where the Rembrandt system of black and white contrasts is used.
Alexandra Mikhailovna Vereshchagina in a letter to Lermontov in Petersburg in 1835 wrote: “… As for your drawing, they say that you are making amazing progress, and I willingly believe that; I beg you, Michel, do not give up this gift, the picture you sent to Alexei [Lopukhin] is charming ”.
Lermontov-artist’s works on themes and genre signs are divided into the following groups: 1) military theme; 2) landscapes; 3) portraits; 4) caricatures; 5) genre scenes; 6) sketches and drawings without a specific plot (heads, riders, military and horses, etc.); 7) illustrations, including several auto-illustrations, for example, the frontispiece to the poem “The Caucasian Prisoner”, made by gouache (1828), sketches for the poem “Vadim”, an autograph of the poem “In the Wild North…”.
His best works are connected with the Caucasus and interpreted in the spirit of romantic painting, created during and after the first link.
A series of Lermontov’s oil paintings has been preserved, many watercolors, pen, sepia, and pencil drawings. However, many of Lermontov’s drawings and paintings are considered lost.
The life of Mikhail Lermontov in Moscow is connected with three addresses. He was born in the house of General Karl Tol at the Red Gate, and spent his childhood in a building on Povarskaya Street, which was rented by grandmother Elizabeth Arsenyeva. As a result of the reconstruction of the city center in the 20th century, both of these buildings were demolished . Lermontov moved to the mansion on Malaya Molchanovka at the age of fifteen for admission to the Moscow noble guesthouse. The poet lived in it with his grandmother from 1829 to 1832 .
During the three years of life on Molchanovka Lermontov wrote 17 poems, four dramas and 250 poems, including the tragedy of “People and Passion” and “Spaniards”, drama “strange man”, the third edition of the poem ” The Demon ” and “Ismail Bey”, the poem “Portrait”, “New Year’s madrigals and epigrams”. The “Sushkovsky cycle” in Lermontov’s work, dedicated to falling in love with the noblewoman Ekaterina Sushkova who lived nearby, fell on the same period.
“In Moscow, I made an acquaintance, and soon a friendship with Sasha Vereshchagina. We lived nearby on Molchanovka and almost from the first meeting we became inseparable: on the waters, on walks, in the theater, in the evenings, everywhere and always together. <...> At Sasha’s time, I met her cousin, a clumsy, club-footed boy of about sixteen or seventeen, with red but smart, expressive eyes, with an upturned nose and a sarcastically mocking smile. He studied at the University boarding school, but the scientists of his studies did not prevent him from being almost every evening our gentleman for walks and in the evenings; all called him simply Michelle, and I, just like everyone else, did not care much about his last name. I called him my special officer and gave him my hat, my umbrella, my gloves to save, but he often lost gloves,
From the memoirs of Ekaterina Sushkova about Mikhail Lermontov
In 1954, a memorial plaque to Mikhail Lermontov was installed on the outer wall of the mansion. In 1977, the Moscow City Council transferred the building to the State Literary Museum. Irakliy Andronikov played an important role in compiling the exposition and the museum’s activities, thanks to the intervention of which the building was saved from demolition in 1938. Three years later, Andronikov participated in organizing the first exhibition dedicated to Lermontov, but the event did not take place due to the outbreak of World War II. Collected exhibits from Leningrad, Moscow, the Caucasus and Hochburg Castle in Germany later formed the basis of the museum’s collection.
In 1977, on the initiative of Andronikov, a letter was sent to the editorial office of Literaturnaya Gazeta signed by the poet Pavel Antokolsky, literary critics Emma Gershtein and Natalya Ivanova, artist Elena Gogoleva, and actor Vladimir Pakhomov. The letter spoke about the significance of Lermontov’s work for Soviet literature and the need to open a museum dedicated to the poet. The opening ceremony took place in 1981.
In 1994, a monument to Lermontov by the sculptor Alexander Burganov and architect Mikhail Posokhin was erected next to the building.
One-story wooden mansion with a mezzanine on Malaya Molchanovka 2 was built in 1814 by the merchant Pyotr Chernov. In the courtyard of the main building there were separate buildings: a kitchen, a hut, a stable, a horse carriage, a glacier, a barn.
In 1844, state adviser V. Tyutchev became the owner of the house. According to his plan, the building was repeatedly rebuilt: a new outbuilding appeared in the courtyard, surrounded by a firewall, the layout of the rooms was redone, and stucco molding was added. In 1888-1897, the right to own the mansion passed to the lawyer A. Kotlyarov, and then to his son A. Aristov, in which in 1907 all the outbuildings in the courtyard were demolished and a stone building of economic services was built in exchange.
After the revolution of 1917, the mansion was divided into communal apartments with numerous partitions between rooms. After the transfer to the State Literary Museum in 1979, a large-scale restoration began in the building. By 1981, the mansion was fully returned to its original appearance .
On the 200th anniversary of Lermontov’s birthday, the building was renovated, during which the supporting structures were replaced, the interior was restored, and multimedia equipment was installed inside the halls. On May 18, 2014, the mansion reopened for visiting.
The museum exhibition is located in several rooms with a restored atmosphere of the 19th century: there is antique furniture, and the walls are decorated with bas-reliefs. In the small drawing room, where the family received guests and relatives, there is a secretary with the Athenaeum magazine, in which the poet’s poems were first published. Lermontov’s watercolor paintings, including children’s drawings, hang on the walls. A large living room was used to organize large dinner parties. Two rooms belonging to Lermontov and his grandmother are also part of the exhibition. In the poet’s room there is a bookcase, on the walls hang portraits of the family, drafts of poems .
The museum’s collection also includes a children’s painting “The Antique Scene” painted by Lermontov at the age of 10, a portrait of a poet by an unknown artist, books with notes on which the prose writer studied at the university, drafts of poems dedicated to Ekaterina Sushkova, a portrait of Varvara Lopukhina in the image of a Spanish nun, the painting “Caucasian landscape”, written by Lermontov during his participation in the Caucasian war, lifetime editions of “The Hero of Our Time ” with notes by the author and “Poems by M. Lermontov”. Of particular value is the original application for admission to the university, signed by Lermontov’s hand .
“I come from nobles, the son of captain Yuri Petrovich Lermantov; I am 16 years old; studied at the University noble boarding school in different languages and sciences in the senior department of the upper class; now I wish to continue my teaching at the imperial noble university, why I ask the Board most humbly, including me in the list of high-scholarship students in the moral and political department, to allow me to attend professor lectures. I enclose certificates of my kind and doctrine. Mikhail Lermantov put a hand to his petition.”
The text of Lermontov’s original request for admission to the Imperial University is part of the museum’s collection ”
In addition to organizing the exposition, the museum carries out exhibition and design activities. In 2013-2014, the exhibitions “Lermontov-artist” and “Lermontov in Moscow” were held, the materials of which subsequently traveled to Paris, Baku, Washington and Tolyatti. In 2016, the event “Feel free to believe that forever… was opened. Lermontov in gloss” , dedicated to the image of the poet in the eyes of contemporaries.
In 2015, a “Ball in a Russian estate” was held in the museum. The guests participated in the reconstruction of the dance, as well as attended lectures on the life and culture of the 18th – 19th centuries. Since that year, the museum holds an annual conference for young scientists “Open Science”, at which researchers present works related to the works of Lermontov.