Category Archives: Tomsk

Lidia Bazanova art exhibit, Tomsk


You may not realize that Lidia Bazanova (1864-1916) is worthy of your attention. There isn’t a damn thing about her in the English-language internet, and she is not included in John Milner’s wonderful Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Artists: 1420-1970. But as it turns out, even Russia chose to forget her for quite awhile. Here is what a major reassessment of her life and work had to say on the website of the Tomsk Regional Museum of Art: “The artist herself and her work were long forgotten; her creative biography was never published. Tomsk residents recalled this interesting person and artist only in the 1990s when a few newspaper articles appeared.” I’m not the best person to crack the silence about her, because I virtually know nothing myself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a little hunting and reading and thinking, does it?
The building I show in this post is now called the Officer’s House (address: 50 Lenin Prospekt). When Bazanova lived in Tomsk it was called the Public Meeting building and it was here that Bazanova not only organized her own first personal exhibit of paintings, but the first large art exhibit ever held in this city. That took place in 1902. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing that one of the paintings included in that exhibit was her Portrait of a Young Girl, which was painted in 1901. Because you’ll have a heck of a time finding that painting on the net anywhere, I am breaking my own little “rule” of showing only architecture and monuments and inserting the painting below as the last image in this post. You can see another of Bazanova’s best known paintings, Portrait of Grigory Nikolaevich Potanin (1915), on the website.  Note that you can increase the size of this electronic reproduction by clicking on the + magnifying glass icon in the upper left corner. If you’re interested in more about Potanin and Tomsk, see the post I made on this blog-site in August.

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Bazanova was born Lidia Pupareva in Sernovodsk in the Samara gubernia and she died in Kazan. She graduated from the Moscow Institute of Sculpture and Architecture in 1895, following her husband Ivan Bazanov to Tomsk in 1899 or 1900, depending upon the source. Ivan Bazanov was a professor of civil law and ship building (that’s what Russian Wikipedia tells us) until 1913. He was rector of the university from 1909-1913. The couple moved to Kazan in 1913. Bazanova not only painted, she was an instrumental figure in organizing art exhibits in Tomsk. She also was a well-regarded art critic and a teacher of art and painting. She stood behind the first Siberian Mobile Art Exhibit in 1903, an exhibit of French artists in Tomsk in 1904, and numerous exhibits of the Tomsk Society of Appreciators of Art from 1908 to 1909. She participated in an international exhibit of fine arts in Rome in 1911 and her paintings were exhibited in various Moscow shows. I have drawn much of this information from the internet Encyclopedia of Siberia.
As far as I can tell, the fullest treatment of Bazanova’s life and work to date is the first article I link to above on the site of the Tomsk Regional Museum of Art. In addition to detailed biographical and artistic information, it publishes short memoirs of the artist, as well as several newspaper reviews of her work. It also has a fairly large bibliography. (It is worth going to the article even if you don’t read Russian because there are several reproductions of her paintings there.) Here is one paragraph from this article:
“In March 1902 Lidia Pavlovna Bazanova appeared before the Tomsk public as an artist. In one of the rooms of the Public Meeting building the artist exhibited 47 or 49 (newspapers print various numbers) works, among which there were 11 large canvases. We do not have a complete list of the works that were shown; no catalogue of the exhibit has yet been found. It was the first major personal exhibit in the history of the city, and it presented an artist who commanded various genres with equal professionalism, who was capable of painting fresh, spontaneous studies and of creating large, accomplished compositions. It was precisely Bazanova who introduced Tomsk residents to serious painting on significant themes. She quickly won over the affection of colleagues and those journalists who wrote about artistic events in the life of the city. The opinion was shared by all: ‘Tomsk had never seen such an exhibit.'”



Ilya Erenburg house, Tomsk


If you’re the kind of person who likes to avoid the obvious, it’s rather difficult to write briefly about Ilya Erenburg (1891-1967). The fact of the matter is this: his most enduring contribution to Russian culture and literature is that his novella The Thaw (1954) gave one of the Soviet Union’s most important eras its name. The novel itself, like so many Soviet novels, is pretty close to unreadable these days. Its formulaic characters and situations are served up as literary Functions, with a capital F, and there is very little life or air to be found in the story. But whenever we discuss the post-Stalin Thaw, or the Khrushchev Thaw, we are doing so, lexically speaking, thanks to Erenburg.
In fact, the man was a fascinating figure. Being revolution-minded early in his life, he spent time in prison as a political prisoner in 1908, after which he left for Paris. There he began his literary life as a poet and a newspaper correspondent. He returned to Moscow in 1917, but, unhappy with the turn that the Revolution took, he headed back to his beloved France. He remained in Europe as a news correspondent until 1940, when he returned to the Soviet Union and became one of the country’s most beloved and respected war correspondents. While in Europe, Erenburg wrote extensively, and with understanding, about avant-garde art, doing a good job of informing Europe about the Soviet Union and keeping the Soviet Union up-to-date about European art. During the 1930s he traveled back to the U.S.S.R. on short trips that allowed him to collect material for his creative writing. One of those trips in 1932 brought him temporarily to Tomsk, where he occupied an apartment in a simple, but attractive wooden building bearing the addresses of 11 Herzen Street, and 17 Belinsky Street. The first two photos here show the building from the street, while the last two photos show it from the courtyard, which, according to my friend and Tomsk expert Pavel Rachkovsky, is probably where the writer would have entered and exited the building.


While living in this house Erenburg gathered the material for, and partially wrote, his novel Day Two (1933). According to research done by Yury Varshaver under the pseudonym of Yury Shcheglov, Erenburg befriended a young student whose last name was Safronov and he turned the young man into the lead character of his novel, giving him the name of Vladimir Safonov. In the following paragraph from the novel one sees references to Tomsk’s history as a place occupied by political prisoners, present and former, and as a place with great energy and potential:
“Tomsk might have died, but Tomsk had a university. Tens of thousands of students came to Tomsk. They did not know the city’s history. They didn’t care about the whims of the merchant Gorokhov, the sufferings of Potanin, or the wooden carvings on the gates of old estates. They came to study physics, chemistry or medicine. […] They filled Tomsk with noise and laughter. They found their ways into the homes of unfortunate, disenfranchised people. They shared their rations of bread and sugar with the disenfranchised, and the disenfranchised let them into their holes, filled with dust, moths and mould. They could sleep on sawhorses, on flat boards or on the floor. They slept with a sleep that is called the sleep of the dead. But early in the morning they jumped up and ran to the wash basin filled with icy water. On the run they recited their chemical formulas and the names of skull bones. There were 40,000 of them. Among them were Buryats, Ostyaks, Tunguses and Yakuts. They knew that in a few years they would be running the country, that they would be healing and teaching people, building factories, running collective farms, drilling into mountains, sketching the plans for bridges and would be traveling into the deepest corners of the immense country, joyously rousing people from their slumber, bursting through blinds with their energetic rays just as a bright, sunny day roused them. Thus did Tomsk begin to live a second life.”
Erenburg’s legacy is mixed. There is a great deal of suspicion in so-called “liberal circles” about how he was able to live in and travel freely to and from Europe while the vast majority of Soviet citizens were unable to leave the country. There are questions on the side of orthodox Soviet thinkers about what he was doing abroad all that time. In sum, if you are so inclined, you can find enemies and detractors of Erenburg on all sides. In that sense he remains a rather quintessential Soviet figure, steeped in mystery and suspicion, and not lacking in talent.

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Vyacheslav Shishkov house, Tomsk


My mother recently oohed and aahed over the wooden architecture one finds in Tomsk. I can’t say as I blame her, so I thought I’d post this series of photos today for her. This is the building that now hosts the Vyacheslav Shishkov Arts Center. It houses a small Shishkov museum and provides space for all kinds of artistic endeavors for modern-day residents of Tomsk. It’s an imposing bit of architecture, with the gorgeous laced wood decorations standing atop a nice, firm, brick first-floor foundation. It wasn’t always like this, of course. In the last photo below you can see what the building originally looked like before it was expanded and fortified. Still, the  specimen we have today is impressive. The photo above pictures the building from the courtyard, which is where you find entrances to all old wooden buildings in Tomsk. The next photo below provides a view of the structure from the street.
Shishkov (1873-1945) was one of the top Siberian writers whose works gave reading Russians an opportunity to get to know a land and a way of life that they would never have experienced otherwise. When I mention Siberia, of course, I’m not talking about the prison camps that westerners automatically associate with that place name, but rather the extraordinary and extraordinarily vast geographical location that is to Russia a bit of what the Wild West once was to Americans. For a Russian, even today (maybe especially today), the epithet “Siberian” is one that carries a great deal of respect. People who were born and grew up in Siberia are known as hearty, honest, straightforward, resourceful people with a strong relationship to land and heaven. Often, when I remark at home on someone’s admirable qualities, my wife will say, as if this explains it all, “Well, he’s a Siberian, you know. He comes from Siberia.”
Shishkov lived in this building, building No. 10, from 1911 to 1915 (he had resided in Tomsk since 1894) and here he wrote several of his well-loved works. Incidentally, when the writer lived here the street was named Krestyanskaya Ulitsa, or, Peasant Street. It was renamed as Shishkov Street in 1953.

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Shishkov was not only a writer. In fact his name attracts several epithets, including ethnographer, social activist and river navigator. He led many expeditions exploring Siberian rivers, including the Ob, the Yenisei, the Chulim, the Charysh, the Lena and the Vitim. He left Tomsk when he took a job in Petrograd (formerly Petersburg, later Leningrad) at the Ministry of Roads and Waterways in 1916. There he oversaw the building of the Chuisk Road, or highway, leading from Novosibirsk to Mongolian lands. The same basic road is still in use today.
Shishkov made his literary debut with a tale called “Cedar” in 1908. It was published in Siberian Life newspaper. His novella, Taiga, was written while he lived in Tomsk. He began to publish actively around 1913 and his literary activity increased again when he moved to Petrograd. His two most famous novels are The Horde (1923) and Ugryum River (1933). He remained in Leningrad for part of the great siege of that city during World War II, and there he worked on what was to be an unfinished, three-volume novel about the life of the Russian rebel Emelyan Pugachyov.
Immediately below is a picture of Shishkov’s desk as now displayed, with original implements, at the Shishkov Arts Center. I would like to point out that the man you see standing at the building’s entrance in the top photo is Pavel Rachkovsky, the architect, historian, photographer and great Tomsk expert. Having Rachkovsky along with you in Tomsk is far better than having the key to the city or a million dollars. He can open any door, just as he is doing here on the museum’s day off. It was enough for the woman guarding the fort to see Rachkovsky’s face to open the entire building up to us. My thanks to her and, once again, to Pavel, for the incomparable Siberian hospitality.

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Grigory Potanin bust, Tomsk


Grigory Potanin (1835-1920) is still another of those figures, an ethnographer and natural historian, who had avoided my obviously inadequate efforts to learn Russian history and culture. When I was last in Tomsk I lived across the street from this small but imposing bust of Potanin that stands in a wooded area in front of Tomsk University, and alongside the Tomsk University Research Library and Archive. The plaque  proclaims him an honorary citizen of Siberia. I would never have thought anything of that until the story behind it was told to me by several Tomsk residents, including Pavel Rachkovsky and Valentina Golovchiner. You see, the notion of a “citizen of Siberia” implies an autonomy for Siberia that it has never had. It has never been a nation and it has never had the right to confer citizenship upon anyone. In other words, to some people, these are fighting words. And indeed, as I learned, there have been several movements throughout history when elements in the vast Siberian region have talked about or actively sought independence from European Russia. It is an idea, as one might imagine, that has never gained traction in Moscow (or in St. Petersburg, when it was capital). I first heard this in April and – lo and behold! – the news the last few weeks has been full of reports about demonstrations and political actions being called throughout Siberia to proclaim the desire to renew the discussion of potential Siberian independence. Encouraged by Vladimir Putin’s willingness to receive Crimea when it “seceded” from Ukraine and his support for “separatists” in Eastern Ukraine, numerous regions in Russia are rethinking their attitude to the central, but very distant, government. If Putin so readily supports secession of Ukrainian lands, why shouldn’t he support their desire for autonomy? Right? Well, not so fast… As it has done every time in the past, the current Russian government is doing everything possible to at least dampen, if not douse, the rising fervor. The tools are typical: bans, threats, harassment, arrests and such. The prominent opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Boris Nemtsov tells on his Facebook page about an August 17, 2014, march for independence planned in Novosibirsk.
“I have repeatedly said that the war in Ukraine will lead to centrifugal tendencies and a growth of separatism in Russia,” Nemtsov writes. “The boomerang always comes back.”

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Potanin is a prominent and respected figure in Tomsk, one of the great Siberian cities. He was one of the founders of Tomsk University. But even in death he has had to remain on the run, so to speak. The bust pictured here was kicked out of another place where it was not wanted and then hastily moved to this kind of no man’s land at the university. Professor Golovchiner told stories of people at the university chafing about Potanin’s presence on their territory, and there have been efforts to run him out of here, too. The situation is complicated by the fact that, indeed, this is more than just a bust on a pedestal in the woods, it is actually Potanin’s resting place. Not everyone knows this, apparently, but his body is buried here, also having been unwelcome elsewhere in the past. If the current secessionist movement in Siberia gains any momentum, we can expect to hear much more about Potanin. His name will surely be held high on someone’s banner.



Igor Severyanin in Bouffe-Garden, Tomsk


There’s nothing here but a snippet of a story. And not much of a snippet at that. But there is enough to make it worth the telling. I was walking through Tomsk with my friend Pavel Rachkovsky in April 2014 looking for buildings and monuments with connections to Russian cultural figures. I love what happens in the imagination when you stand before a home or a hall or a building of some kind and think about what has gone on there, who has been there, what they did, what they read and what they wrote or painted or composed. The point was to begin gathering photos for a website or something that I might do someday. Like Russian Culture in Landmarks, for instance. Anyway, as you can read in a Moscow Times blog I wrote about that trip I took to Tomsk, Rachkovsky stopped me as we passed a relatively unprepossessing park, the east side of which bordered on Krasnoarmeiskaya Ulitsa, or, Street. Waving his hand at the trees and lawn, he said, “This is Bouffe-Garden and one time the poet Igor Severyanin came here to recite his poetry.” I stood there a few moments to take in the news Pavel had unloaded on me. What an incongruous thought – Severyanin and this park! I snapped a couple of photos, thinking about the tall, imposing poet unleashing his expressive poetry into the Tomsk night, or day, air. One of the most-used books in my library is Victor Terras’s Handbook of Russian Literature. In it Aleksis Rannit writes that Severyanin, “early in his career recited his poems by half-singing with his masculine-lyrical baritone voice of beautiful timbre and perfect vocal technique, and later, after the Revolution, in a simple, slightly incantational manner. His tumultuous successes before large, hysterical crowds were similar to those of Elvis Presley.” Just imagine that in the Bouffe-Garden in Tomsk.


The city library of Novouralsk provides another glimpse into how Severyanin’s readings were received by the public.
“Snowy Moscow,” a text reads on their website, “drifts cover Staraya Ploshchad [Old Square], a crowd pushes into the amphitheater of the Polytechnical Museum. It’s a madhouse! The king of poets is to be elected. Mayakovsky, Balmont and Burlyuk read their poetry. The last onto the stage is a tall man in a black frock-coat, Igor Severyanin. The audience hears him out in silence. But the moment his voice dies down the hall bursts into applause and cheers. After the votes are counted, the king of poets is Igor Severyanin.”
Perhaps that day or evening in Tomsk Severyanin read his poem “Epilogue,” which, in my extremely hasty and workmanlike translation, begins:

I, the genius, Igor Severyanin,
Am drunk with my own victory:
My face is shown on every screen!
I’m confirmed in every heart!

I’ve drawn a brazen line
From Bayezid to Port Arthur.
I conquered all of literature
And thunderously seized the throne!

“I shall be!” I said a year ago.
A year flamed out and here I am!…

Perhaps in Tomsk,  too, a ruckus was raised, a furore caused, a madhouse foisted on the town. Perhaps the women fainted in pre-Elvis swoons. We’ll never know. Not unless someone unearths a description of that day Severyanin – who was born in 1887 and died in 1941, whose real last name was Lotaryov and whose pen name means ‘The Northerner’ – read his poetry in Bouffe-Garden.  And even then – such a vague, distant and unsatisfying substitute that would be. Nowadays there is nothing in Bouffe-Garden but the occasional cry of a happy child – or not – and the wind whispering in the twiggy trees. That is poetry of a sort, of course. It satisfies many. But it’s not Igor Severyanin, and I must admit, I would have loved to hear the echo of his voice in the park in Tomsk that day.

Alexander Pushkin bust, Tomsk


I rarely allow myself to be so predictable as to do anything according to someone else’s timeline, but today I’ll succumb. It is Alexander Pushkin’s birthday. He was born 215 years ago today. Anybody, or everybody – or, maybe, nobody – can tell you what that meant for Russian culture. “Pushkin is our everything.” Every individual has “my Pushkin.” Gogol called him “the unique phenomenon of the Russian spirit”; Dostoevsky upped the ante and called him “a prophetic phenomenon.” I would say that people walk up and down the streets of every Russian city and village spouting the verses of Pushkin but you wouldn’t believe me. Still, if I did make that assertion I would only exaggerate in the slightest degree. Moreover – and this may be the most incredible thing of all – Pushkin has not been sullied, has not been appropriated by ideologues (although they have tried), has not been commercialized. Pushkin is pure. He’s the real thing. He is poetry, he is wisdom, he is clarity, he is simplicity, he is the opposite of bombast, he is the best that Russia ever put forth and he continues to symbolize the best that Russia has or is.

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The bust I photographed here stands in the tiny little Pushkin square on the east side of Lenin Prospekt, between  buildings No. 77 and 83 in my beloved city of Tomsk. In the hands of sculptor Mikhail Anikushin he’s a generic Pushkin, rather an imitation, perhaps, of the image created in the famous and beloved portrait of Pushkin that was done by Orest Kiprensky in 1827. Upon seeing that completed portrait, Pushkin supposedly remarked, “The mirror flatters me.” Well, a whole nation would flatter the man for his poetry, his prose, his drama, his wisdom, his wit and the glint that, surely, sparkled in his eye.

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