Click on photos to enlarge.
This surely is one of the most famous and beloved monuments to a writer in Russia. Forget that last part – this is simply one of the most iconic monuments in Russia. Period. Pushkin on Pushkin Square. “Meet me at Pushkin” is a phrase that surely has resounded millions of times over the decades since this statue was unveiled in June 1880. I’ve uttered the phrase dozens of times myself, while others have uttered it dozens of times to me. I don’t think I’ve ever failed to make a meeting “at Pushkin.” People didn’t always meet beneath the statue on this side of Tverskaya Street, however. It was originally erected on the other side of the thoroughfare on Strastnoi Square, facing in the other direction. As attractive as the monument and Pushkin Square are today, it is nothing like it once was. Where Pushkin now stands there once stood the Strastnoi Women’s Convent. Pushkin, one of the most notorious ladies’ men in Russian history, looked sadly across the street at the convent walls. There is a nice colorized photo of this on a site dedicated to the history of the convent.
Stalin – may his soul never know rest – had the convent razed in 1937, surely one of the earth’s most grizzly years ever, at least in Russia. However, it wasn’t until 1950 that Pushkin himself was moved across the street to take up position where the convent used to be. In this “new” position Pushkin is surrounded on two sides by architectural structures that, to my mind, clash with him terribly. Behind him (see the left corner in the second photo above) stands the old Rossia film theater which for many years in the 1990s and early 2000s was turned into an astonishingly, breathtakingly horrendous, garish casino. It made my heart ache every time I had to pass it. Actually, it made me angry. But enough of that. A few years ago all of Moscow’s casinos were closed down and the cinema became a cinema again for a while. Unable to compete with smaller, more modern movie theaters, it was then turned into a theater for musicals, which it remains today. It’s nearly as incongruous and irritating as the casinos were. Somehow Alexander Pushkin backed by a monstrous banner advertising Beauty and the Beast is just something that should not happen. To Pushkin’s right (first photo in the final block below) stands the famous Izvestia building, where one of the two most famous Soviet newspapers was compiled and published daily for many decades. This building in the Constructivist style is not nearly as maddening as the old Rossia cinema in all of its incarnations, but I still always find the view of Pushkin looking in that direction quite grating.
Pushkin himself – by which I mean the likeness created by sculptor Alexander Opekushin – is sublime. I think it’s beyond criticism or even interpretation. For most Muscovites and Russians, this simply is Pushkin. As Van Morrison sings so convincingly in his beautiful song “Summertime in England” – “it ain’t why, why, why, it just is.” You walk by the statue and you kind of nod in greeting or, at least, you feel a warm sensation like someone you know and love deeply is hanging around nearby. The bronze statue itself is large, but the pedestal on which it stands is even larger, giving you the sensation that Pushkin is in a low orbit with the gods. As I photographed the work tonight I was surprised to see how time is beginning to play on the bronze, which is becoming discolored and even cracking in places. One fears they will have to box the statue up before too long to make repairs to keep it from deteriorating too far. But for the moment, these “flaws,” if that’s what they are, actually lend character to the image. Pushkin may have been a perfect poet, but even his statue is susceptible to decay. There’s something oddly comforting in that.
Something that is slightly disconcerting, and which I never noticed until tonight when shooting close-ups of the head portion, is that Pushkin was not created to look us in the eye. His gaze, in the form of two holed-out orbs, is raised just above your own gaze. That is not noticeable to the naked eye when you stand looking up at him – or, at least, it never has been to me. But when you see it clearly as you do in the close-up at the top of this post, it is quite striking.
Another thing I noticed tonight for the first time – the rather odd-looking hat Pushkin holds behind his back. You can see it relatively well in the final picture below, one I’m particularly fond of as it mixes three discrete objects in rather skewed perspective – Pushkin, a street light and the New Year’s tree, which is still up even in the waning days of January.