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West Wing, East Wing

2 minute read
Yuri Zarakhovich, Moscow

There’s nothing Russians love more than a good scrap. After the writer Sergei Aksakov bought the Abramtsevo country estate in 1843, it soon grew into an informal club for Slavophiles — intellectual gentry who demanded that Russia shun Western capitalism and return to her Slavic origins. But Aksakov, best known for his trilogy, A Russian Gentleman, extended his hospitality to pro-Western thinkers too, ensuring lively debates involving such literary luminaries as Fathers and Sons author Ivan Turgenev and writer Alexander Gertsen. The writer Nikolai Gogol, whose works reflected Russia’s vagaries and antagonisms, was a regular participant. It was here that Gogol first read aloud chapters of his never-to-be-completed novel, Dead Souls.

Now a museum, Abramtsevo offers a less combative experience to visitors — and at only 60 km northeast of Moscow, it’s 404 Not Found

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nginx/1.14.0 (Ubuntu)well worth a visit. In the years after Aksakov’s death, the railroad magnate Savva Mamontov bought the estate and turned it into a colony for artists, writers and musicians, providing house space for Art Nouveau painter Mikhail Vrubel, Realist Ilya Repin, Impressionist Valentin Serov and landscape painter Vasili Polenov, among others. Both of Abramtsevo’s historical periods are preserved — half of the manor house was kept in the Empire style of Aksakov’s time, while the Mamontov section features fireplaces with colorful Art Nouveau tiles that Vrubel crafted in his on-site ceramics workshop.

Abramtsevo itself features in many of the paintings on display. Mamontov’s family posed here for portraits by Repin and Vrubel. A copy of Serov’s The Girl with Peaches (1887, now in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery) hangs right by the window in front of which the eponymous girl, Mamontov’s daughter Vera, sat for the artist. The tranquility of these images is at odds with Abramtsevo’s fractious history. In 1899, Vera’s dad found himself accused of embezzlement and jailed. Although he was cleared by a Moscow court in 1900, the state seized his railways, and he was financially ruined. However, Mamontov held onto Abramtsevo, and he died and was buried there in 1918. The state turned it into a museum in 1919. The rest is art history. moscow-taxi.com/out-of-town/abramtsevo-estate.html

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