Sunday, 17 June 2012

Gorky House

Not far from Patriarch’s Pond (see previous post) is Gorky House. We went there yesterday.

Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) was a notable writer during the Soviet era. He must have been in Stalin’s good books as he was gifted this house in 1931 and lived there until he died a few years later. The house is now a museum to his life and work. 

I’ll be honest and say I have never read any of Gorky’s work. Ploughing through the writings of Russians who had too much winter time on their hands generally doesn’t appeal to me. I was trained as a scientist and taught to write concisely, so am inclined to lose patience with long gossipy conversations in Russian drawing rooms. However, I did enjoy Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, and found Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ moderately interesting, though I felt it could have used a good edit at times. I gave up after 300 pages of ‘The Idiot’. Many of Anton Chekov’s short stories are entertaining. 

The main reason to visit the house, if one is not familiar with Gorky’s writing, is the architecture. The residence was designed by Fyodor Shekhel and built in 1906 for a wealthy Russian banker. The banker emigrated after the Revolution. 

The beginning of the 20th century was the time of Art Nouveau, with its flowing organic designs and  motifs based on nature and fairies. The leadlight panels and carved woodwork of Gorky House are typical of this style. The centrepiece is a carved limestone staircase, which descends to a  leadlight lamp vaguely resembling a jellyfish. 

Staircase and 'jellyfish' lamp.
 The exterior appearance of the premises, on the other hand, surprised me. Despite knowing the address and having the location marked on a tourist map, we walked past it. The wall along the street is deteriorating, the garden neglected and the outside of the building unprepossessing. Signage was minimal. 

There is no entry fee, only a 100 rouble charge (about $3)  to take photographs. Although not busy, there was a steady stream of visitors.

Gorky was not the writer’s original name. He was born Alexei Maximovich Peshkov. ‘Gorky’ is a Russian word that means ‘bitter’. He took this name in 1892 while working for a newspaper in which he would report the bitter truth. 

Gorky Park literally translated therefore means Bitter Park and Tverskaya Street, called Gorky Street during Soviet times, was Bitter Street. Perhaps not the most suitable name for Moscow’s main commercial boulevard.

Now that I’ve seen Maxim Gorky’s hat and overcoat, I’ll look up some of his writing.

Looking down on the 'jellyfish' lamp
First floor landing (this is the 2nd floor in Russia, where the ground floor is called the 1st)
Maxim Gorky's study, with his collection of oriental miniatures.
Wonderful reptilian column capital
Wendy on the marvelous Art Nouveau staircase


  1. Hello, nice post.
    Tori ;)

  2. You can spare your time by reading his half-page The Song of the Stormy Petrel only. It promotes revolution as the rest of his stuff.
    There is one catchy phrase in it: The stupid penguin cowardly hides blubber in the rocks ... only the proud stormy petrel soars bold and free over the grey sea froth!
    We used to jokingly say: The stupid penguin cowardly hides ... the smart one bravely reveals!

  3. I am very happy finding your Blog about this museum because I read about Gorky' works and I found a very honest man, sensible and care person. He have luckly escaped from death given that his politics ideas. For me, he is a great Russe.

  4. Gorky, Russia and the Soviet Union's greatest writer. His warm and human person depictions surpassed by none. Start with Autobiography of Maxim Gorky: My Childhood, in the World, My Universities. In this book there are people you never forget such. Gorky's grandmother. While reading you gradual understand why exactly Gorky invented social realism. As a young boy he spent reading novels as an escape, and as a young man saw through himself. He asked then himself the question of: "Why no one wrote about life and the world as it is." Through his grandmother Gorky also know the Russian oral storytelling tradition