The Ryabushinsky Mansion is a beautiful house in itself: with its delicate, pristinely-preserved stained glass, exquisite oak panelling, and distinctive "wave" staircase, the property is an architectural delight to behold. Completed in 1906, the Ryabushinsky Mansion is a fantastic example of the Art Noveau tradition, and veritable visual fantasy with its arched doorways and flourishes of artisan skill and imaginative touches. In fact, the house - with its pink trim and huge, grandiose rooms - would not look out of place in the south of France.
But this property's significance is far greater than its design heritage and state of preservation. The most famous proprietor of this house was Soviet writer Maxim Gorky. Such was Gorky's status and respect among the intelligentsia and Soviet elite, this house was gifted to him in 1931.
Helpfully for the curators of this museum, there is extensive written material concerning Gorky's life and times within this house - from documentation of the decor favoured, to accounts from various individuals of the times spent musing within its walls. These individuals were some of Soviet Russia's most influential writers, thinkers, and political movers and shakers of the early twentieth century. A stroll within the house's rooms and corridors, therefore, conjures up dreams of plots, debates, alliances made and broken; the artefacts all around adding to the historical picture.
Amongst the many relics of the Soviet writer's life is Maxim Gorky's extensive personal library, which will certainly inspire historians and others alike. Also contained within the house is rotating contemporary art collection, which is displayed in a beautiful cupola, and is often a quite unique (even random) ensemble. A number of intriguing photos from the Soviet era also do much to weave a rich tapestry of the history of the Soviet leadership and intelligentsia.
Born Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, this hugely influential Soviet writer pillar of the intelligentsia adopted the name Maxim Gorky upon the birth of his literary career in the late nineteenth century. Taken from the Russian for "bitter", the name "Gorky" was taken by the young writer speaks volumes regarding his experiences, outlook and literary vision and style - a style which many claim has shaped the Russian literary landscape ever since.
A look into Maxim Gorky's early years goes some way towards explaining this pessimistic outlook. Orphaned aged 9, Gorky fled his upbringing at the hands of his maternal grandparents aged just twelve, having been removed from education and forced to labour in a number of manual apprentice jobs. It is said that the young Gorky only learned to read and write from a dishwasher on a Volga steamer.
A young child alone on the road, Gorky, by his own account, barely survived the hunger and violence he faced. He spent his teenage years in a variety of jobs - from a docker to a baker - which coincided with deep unhappiness, which culminated in a suicide attempt aged 21. This bid - a bullet to the lung - would take its toll on the writer for the rest of his life. Gorky was treated for tuberculosis up until his death (from complications) aged 68.
Gorky's suicide bid did have one more positive impact, however, as the young man set off on a four-year traipse around Russia. The characters he met along the way - the vagrants, criminals, down-and-outs - would forever influence his writing and outlook on life. Upon rejoining society in fact, Gorky was inspired to begin writing of his experiences on the road. He began doing so for a provincial newspaper, under the name Jehudiel Klamida: a name reminiscent of cloak and dagger, and reflective of his anger at society's injustices prior to the revolution.
Such anger, it could be said, naturally predisposed Gorky towards life within the Bolshevik Party. Indeed, Gorky was summoned by literary great, Chekhov, to Moscow, and soon fell into the company of the Marxist Socialist intelligentsia, and developed a truly enduring reputation as the most outspoken literary voice of a silent, oppressed class: the poor masses. Almost all of Gorky's writings focus on the juxtaposition of the pretty and vulgar in life, as well as the great inequalities between the wealthy and the destitute.
Gorky's physical and intellectual presence during the Revolution of 1917 should also not be underestimated, which makes a visit to his last home all the more significant. During the Second World War, Gorky's apartment in Petrograd served as a Bolshevik "staff room".
Although Gorky's outspoken criticism and reluctance to stand any social injustice resulted in some strained relations with the Soviet leadership during his later years, the gifting of the Ryabushinsky Mansion and Gorky's return from (self-imposed) exile in Italy cemented his position within Russian political and literary life. Indeed, his return was at personal invitation from Stalin.
Throughout the Year
Entry to Gorky House Museum
Gorky House Museum Malaya Nikitskaya street, 6/2