Guide to Lermontov's Moscow: monument, House Museum and University

Guide to Lermontov's Moscow: monument, House Museum and University
A. Klyunder. Portrait of Mikhail Lermontov in a Hussar Coat. Fragment. 1838
On 15 October, we celebrate 205 years since Mikhail Lermontov's birthday. On this occasion, we are going to take a walk around the poet’s favourite places.

The name of Mikhail Lermontov is associated with the Caucasus, as the poet loved this region very much, it inspired him. He spent almost half of his life there. But he was also closely connected with Moscow, since this is where he was born, took his first steps as a poet, studied at the University, and his beloved grandmother Yelizaveta lived here, too.

Monument: Isaac Brodsky's design

Lermontovskaya Square

On 5 October 1814, in the house of General Karl Toll at the Krasnye Gate, a boy, who was destined to become one of the most significant figures in Russian literature, was born to the family of a landowner Yuri Lermontov. The building has not survived. The square it was once located on was renamed Lermontovskaya Square in 1941. In 1957, the last of the Stalin-era high-risers was constructed on the site of the poet's home.

In 1965, a monument to the poet was set up on the square. It was expected to appear even earlier, but the Great Patriotic War prevented it. Work on the monument lasted a long time. In the 1950s, there were all-Union competitions held, with 48 designs submitted, but none of them was chosen. Then, a special-order competition was announced among artists invited by the Ministry of Culture of the USSR. The design by the team headed by painter Isaac Brodsky was the winner.

The composition includes reliefs depicting images from the poems 'Mtsyri', 'Demon' and 'Sail'. The lines on the pedestal read: 'Moscow, Moscow...! I love you as a son, as a Russian — and my love is strong, ardent and tender.'

In Soviet times, courtesy of Viktoriya Tokareva and Georgy Daneliya, who wrote the script for the film 'Gentlemen of Fortune', there was a Soviet meme associated with Lermontov's sculpture. 'Who's going to put him in? He's a monument!' was a catch phrase of Savely Kramarov's character.

Church of St. Simeon the Stylite Lermontov visited with his grandmother

5 Povarskaya Street

For two years, Mikhail Lermontov lived near the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite in Povarskaya Street. In 1827, he came here with his maternal grandmother Yelizaveta Arsenieva. Every time her beloved grandson left the house, she crossed him and said a prayer.

It was an obligatory ritual, no objections. It made Lermontov's friends laugh. They recalled that he was under his grandmother's control all the time. And she rented a house here on purpose, close to the Noble Boarding House at the Moscow University the boy was going to enter. Yelizaveta was a parishioner of the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite, with Mikhail sometimes attending services, too.

Unknown artist. Yekaterina Arsenieva, Mikhail Lermontov's grandmother. 1810s

This Church was first mentioned in 1625, but it had been built even earlier. After Boris Godunov's coronation (1598) had fell on the Day of St. Simeon the Stylite, two Simeon churches were built in Moscow. One of them appeared in Povarskaya Sloboda. In the Time of Troubles, the wooden building burned down, later replaced by a stone-made one. The writer Sergei Aksakov and count Nikolai Sheremetev were married in this Church. Nikolai Gogol received communion here.

In 1938, the Church was to be demolished, but this did not happen. There was a carpenter's shop arranged inside. For the second time the building was going to be destroyed in 1961-1964, but it failed again. Moreover, cultural figures insisted on its restoration. By 1966, the Church had acquired its historical appearance. In 1990 it was returned to the congregation, with its iconostasis re-painted and recreated.

House in Povarskaya Street: the first verses

26 Povarskaya Street

Restored after the fire of 1812, this house became the first Lermontov’s home in Moscow, when he returned with his grandmother from the Caucasus. He had spent most of his childhood in the mountains, since his grandmother was assured that the fresh mountain air was good for the child.

In the 1820s, it was a very quiet and peaceful district of Moscow. Here Lermontov first showed a passion for literature, and started to write poetry. Grandmother invited a Russian and Latin teacher Alexei Zinoviev to prepare her grandson for entering the Noble Boarding School. It was a high-profile educational institution, equated to the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. It was the time Mikhail took an interest in painting and music, too. The lessons paid off, as Lermontov entered the boarding school (and even won the first prize in writing and history there), and later he entered the Imperial Moscow University.

Unknown artist. Mikhail Lermontov aged 6-8. 1820-1822

At the same time, young Lermontov became friends with the children of famous nobles Lopukhin, who lived near Povarskaya Street. Varvara Lopukhina became the poet's first love. Young people gathered in the house of Yekaterina Stolypina, the daughter-in-law of Lermontov's grandmother. Lermontov read the first poems to his friends, and they copied them into their albums.

In the early 1900s, the wooden house was destroyed. it was replaced by a building in the neoclassical style occupied by Baskakov's revenue house, where Ivan Bunin spent the last days before emigration. The writer Boris Pilnyak lived in the house, too.

House Museum: birth of a poet

2 Malaya Molchanovka Street

24-old Lermontov left the house in Povarskaya Street to move with his grandmother to Serednikovo, Stolypin's estate. They spent summer there. They returned to Moscow to occupy another rented house, a wooden one-storey building made in the Empire style in Malaya Molchanovka Street. They lived here for three years, from 1829 to 1832. Merchant Chernov built it in 1814 on the site of a burned-down building.

Lermontov occupied the entresol room, with its windows overlooking the street. He spent many hours here reading books and writing poetry. It was here that he was born as a poet, with about 200 lyrical poems, including 'Portrait', 17 poems and three dramas written. Then he began working on 'Demon' and 'Circassians'.

In 1844, the State Councillor Vasily Tyutchev bought the house. He re-built it more than once. After the October Revolution, it was rearranged to have communal flats. In 1979, the building was transferred to the State Literary Museum. By 1981, it was restored according to the original design.

Literary researcher Irakli Andronikov came up with the idea to make it the Lermontov House Museum. It has an antique furniture, a secretaire with the Athenaeum magazine, where Lermontov's poems were first published, his paintings, the original of the petition to admit him to the University, signed by the poet. The decoration of the poet's room has been restored.

Moscow University: dispute with the Professor

11/1 Mokhovaya Street

Lermontov first entered the Ethic and Political Department, but soon transferred to the Philological Department, meanwhile writing a lot. He finished the poem 'Ismail-Bei’, wrote the drama 'Strange Man'. He was fond of Byron, who inspired him to write 'The Caucasian Prisoner' and 'The Corsair'. Finally, he was convinced that literature was his vocation and applied for dismissal from the University. It was not surprising for his fellow students, as they witnessed the conflict of the explosive and impudent Lermontov with a professor of literature. The professor made a remark to the student, saying that he was telling something different from what was told in the classroom, and that it was outrageous. Mikhail answered defiantly: 'What I have just said, you have not read to us and could not do it, because it is too new information and it has not reached you yet. I use sources from my own library.'

Lermontov did not stay for long at the Imperial Moscow University, just for about two years. Herzen and Belinsky were his fellow students. Due to the cholera epidemic, classes started did not start until January 1831, although he enrolled in September 1830.

The University building in Mokhovaya Street was constructed in 1782. By the time Lermontov began studying there, it was renovated after the fire of 1812. Architect Domenico Gilardi, designer of the Kuzminki Estate, supervised the restoration work. Having retained the structure, he slightly altered the facade and added a plinth. And the University began to move to the complex of buildings on Vorobyovy Gory only in 1949-1953.

Nobility Assembly House: in the capacity of an astrologist

1 Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street

The two-storey stone-made building in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street was constructed for Prince Vasily Dolgorukov-Krymsky. In 1784, after his death, the estate was bought by the Moscow Nobility Assembly. The house was rebuilt, with famous architect Matvei Kazakov working on its design. He also created the Demidov's House in Gorokhovsky Pereulok, Gagarin's House on Petrovsky Boulevard and others. During the fire of 1812, the building was damaged, and later restored by Kazakov's student Alexander Meißner.

Initially, only nobles were allowed to join the Assembly (by the way, Alexander I was a merited member of the association), but later, in 1849, First Guild merchants and artists could receive an invitation to join, too.

The site of the former courtyard of the estate acquired a large ceremonial hall, which became known as the Column Hall, the building's highlight. It hosted social gatherings, balls and performances attended by elite audience only. With its flat wooden ceiling, the hall accommodating some 500 couples boasted excellent acoustics.

Nobility Assembly House. 1840s

Once during the New Year holidays, Mikhail Lermontov came here dressed as an astrologist. He made a special book decorated with intricate hieroglyphs. It had predictions of the future he read to the guests. The Assembly was delighted.

The Sverbeyevs Literary Salon: acquaintance with Gogol

6 Strastnoi Boulevard

In the 1830s, the Sverbeyevs Literary Salon opened in Moscow, one of the most popular in the city, owned by retired diplomat Dmitry Sverbeyev and his wife Yekaterina. The Friday meetings were attended by Vasily Zhukovsky, Ivan Krylov, Pyotr Chaadayev, Alexander Pushkin. Lermontov met the Sverbeyevs in 1840. And soon, he met Nikolai Gogol in their salon.

Smirnov's Mansion: the last meeting with Varvara Lopukhina

18 Tverskoi Boulevard

Mikhail Lermontov was friends with the landowners Basilevskys. Their Empire-style house was located on Tverskoi Boulevard. There he saw his first fatal love Varvara Bakhmeteva, nee Lopukhina, for the last time. 18-year-old Mikhail and Varvara fell in love with each other, but the girl's family was against their marriage. Varvara was early married to another man.

Bakhmeteva was the first to read 'Demon'. Sending his beloved one a manuscript, the poet wrote a dedication signed 'V. A. B.' But he crossed out the 'B' and wrote 'L' instead, the initial of her maiden name, to show that her marriage meant nothing to him. Nikolai Bakhmetev put an end to their correspondence at once.

Varvara Lopukhina. Watercolour by Mikhail Lermontov, a fragment. 1835-1838. From the archive of the Tarkhany Lermontov Museum Reserve

At the Bazilevskys', the poet saw his old flame for the first time after a long separation. She came with her little daughter, Olya. The meeting stirred up old feelings, and soon Lermontov wrote a poem 'To the Child':

Memories of my youth dreams torture me,

With secret joy and covert shudder,

I admire you, beautiful child...

Oh, if you only knew how much I love you!

Many years later, the heir to the vodka magnates Pyotr Smirnov bought the house. He commissioned the famous Art Nouveau architect Fyodor Schechtel to reconstruct the building. The work lasted five years. Schechtel preserved the multilevel interior of the house, but changed some things, for example, removed the partitions between the rooms. He laid out a large winter garden and arranged water heating system in the house.

In 1922, the building was given to the Revolutionary Military Tribunal, later occupied by the Moscow's Prosecutor's Office. In the 1990s, part of the estate was occupied by the Pension Fund, another part housed the Melody record company. The building was renovated in 2006.

Pogodinskaya Izba: insightful meetings

12A Pogodinskaya Street

The estate of the writer, collector and historian Mikhail Pogodin was located in Devichye Pole, a Moscow suburb. The building constructed in the best traditions of folk wooden architecture had a great influence on the development of the Russian style in the architecture of the 19th century.

In May 1840, Pogodin arranged a birthday dinner in honour of Nikolai Gogol, who lived here for a long time. Mikhail Lermontov attended the party, too. He read an excerpt from his poem 'Mtsyri'. That evening the poet met the philosopher and publicist Alexei Khomyakov. They became friends. At Pogodin's house, Lermontov also met the actor Mikhail Shchepkin he liked very much.

P. Zabolotsky. Portrait of Mikhail Lermontov in the pelisse of life guard hussars. Fragment. 1837

In 1856, architect Nikolai Nikitin gave his friend Pogodin a small two-storey wooden wing with hand-carved facade.

In the first year of the Great Patriotic War, a bomb hit the estate. The main house was completely destroyed, and izba (hut) was badly damaged, but survived. The All-Russian Society for Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments restored it in 1972. The next restoration was in 1999. The blue fairy-tale Pogodinskaya Izba is open to the public today.

Bolshoi Theatre: another passion

1 Teatralnaya Square

During his lifetime, Lermontov's works had not been staged. But he adored theatrical performances since his childhood. At the Bolshoi Theatre, he enjoyed watching Alexei Verstovsky’s production 'Pan Twardowski', Victor Henri-Ducange's 'Thirty Years or A Gambler's Life', Friedrich Schiller's 'The Robbers', admiring Mikhail Shchepkin's acting. By the way, the poet's favourite actor and friend insisted on producing 'Masquerade' after Lermontov's death.