Tag Archives: Nikolai Andreev

Nikolai Ogaryov statue, Moscow

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Nikolai Ogaryov (1813-1877) pretty much emerges from the shadows of the past by way of the light that Alexander Herzen casts on him. The two men were friends from childhood. They shared common interests, they shared bold political views, they shared a life in emigration (primarily in London), they shared their women, they share a place in history together. But by all accounts, Ogaryov was very much a personality unto himself, strong, quixotic, eccentric and interesting.
Ogaryov figures pretty much everywhere as follows: poet, journalist and revolutionary. You can find vastly different attitudes to his poetry. Natalya Laskovskaya, writing on the Book Club website, says it pretty plainly: “It must be admitted, Ogaryov was a weak poet. He wasn’t a poet, but you can’t deny him the ability to pull ‘passion’ out of a privileged life.” On the other hand, Lidia Libedinskaya, in her novelistic biography From the Other Shore: The Tale of Nikolai Ogaryov, describes him as an “outstanding Russian poet.” I’ve been known to have a tin ear where it concerns poetry and so I’m not going to jump into the fray. I will, however, quote a couplet from his poem “Freedom,” written in 1858:

When I was a boy,  quiet and tender,
When I was a youth, passionate and rebellious,
And in my ripe age, too, nearing my dotage –
A word that I heard again, again and again
Was the very same word, never changing:
Freedom! Freedom!

Great poetry? I don’t know. It’s unfair to ask the question in regards to such a tiny chunk, all the more so in hasty translation. But what I like about this is the way it reveals the man; in fact, reveals his biography.
The very first line refers back to his boyhood friend Herzen. Herzen, in his famous book My Past and Thoughts, wrote how, in 1927, when he was 15 and Ogaryov was 14, they went up into the Sparrow Hills area overlooking Moscow and made a pact to devote their entire lives to the “struggle for freedom.” In fact, they did precisely that. Ogaryov wrote that he was also influenced by his young nannies who, during and after the Decembrist revolt, would bring and read him some of the hottest, most politically engaged poetry of the time. It all fell on fertile ground. Ogaryov’s father was a strict man who didn’t fuss with children or things childish (like rebellion). Surely that only made the young man chafe all the more. I can’t prove that as a fact, but something tells me I’m probably close to being right on that…
Ogaryov came under the suspicion of Russia’s secret police in the early 1930s and was arrested and sent into exile for the period from 1835 to 1839. When he was released he wasted no time skipping town and country, making his way to Germany in 1840. He remained abroad until 1846 then returned to his estate in Penza in 1846 where he briefly ran afoul of the law again in 1850. In 1856 he left Russia for good, heading directly for London, catching up with his old friend Herzen who had relocated there four years earlier in 1852. In London the two made history as Ogaryov stood alongside Herzen as the latter founded the Free Russian Press which published books and the, ultimately, influential periodicals Kolokol (The Bell) and the Polar Star, for both of which Ogaryov often wrote articles. In time, these writings made their way back to Russia and had a strong effect on liberal and radical thinking there (although radicals soon turned against both for being “too soft”).

img_9680img_9684 img_9682One might think that things got a bit difficult when the two men began sharing Ogaryov’s second wife Natalya Tuchkova. But apparently it all seemed to be a family affair. Still, it was a bit much when Tuchkova left Ogaryov to live with Herzen in 1857. It didn’t kill the two men’s friendship, although Ogaryov ended up spending increased time hugging a bottle and he began having increased epileptic seizures. Before long he made the chance acquaintance of Mary Sutherland, a “fallen woman from the streets” (all the Russian sources are so delicate – I couldn’t find a single one that would go so far as to explain the reason for Mary’s “fall,” although the always reliable Sarah J. Young, in her blog, does us the favor of saying it straight: Mary was a prostitute). She ended up being Ogaryov’s devoted companion for the last 18 years of his life. It was surely no easy job. Ogaryov by this time was but a shadow of his younger self, sick, lame, and feeble. There is even a scholarly article about this relationship by Hilary Chapman in the New Zealand Slavonic Journal, but, unfortunately, it is protected behind a subscription fee, so I can’t share any insights. In any case, Ogaryov’s friend Pavel Annenkov remembered this about Ogaryov when he had just two years left to live:
He was already a feeble old man, with slow speech and glittering memories in his head, and yet remained unaffected by, and indifferent to, his losses. He would laugh jovially only at his own uselessness for anything and everything, and at the shape his own life had taken toward the end.”
The statue of Ogaryov pictured here stands near the entrance to the main building of Moscow State University in the center of Moscow. Looking quite blissful, I would say, Ogaryov stands to the left of the entrance (if we face the doors ourselves), while his old friend Herzen looms like a bookend on the other side. The two statues, created by Nikolai Andreev, were unveiled the same day, December 3, 1922. The address corresponding to the square where the statues stand is Mokhovaya Ulitsa 11.
Why do the two stand here? Both studied at Moscow State University and both became involved in underground revolutionary activities while here. They went on to become two of the most illustrious revolutionary alums to graduate from Moscow State U.

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Nikolai Gogol monument No. 1, Moscow



This may be the finest monument to a cultural figure in Moscow. It is a major work of art in its own right and, like anything of greatness, it has had a tough time making it in the world. Sculptor Nikolai Andreev spent three years creating this moving likeness of Nikolai Gogol, which stands atop a large pedestal rung on four sides by bas reliefs of characters drawn from the writer’s works. It was finally unveiled on Prechistensky Boulevard in 1909, on the centenary of Gogol’s birth. It was intended to show the great novelist and playwright in his period of spiritual crisis toward the end of his life. Not only does it do that beautifully, it captures the essence of spiritual crisis, of alienation, of loneliness, stoic fear and blank indecision. In short, many hated it from the moment it was first unveiled. You know the drill: “Where’s the happy face?!” A poet hiding behind the pseudonym of Someone in Black, responded to the event by placing the following ridiculing verses in the Early Morning newspaper:

The cover was lowered,
The crowd was amazed,
The cantata resounded –
To Gogol give praise!
The dream was now real,
But hearts were now pained:
A face full of sorrow
A pose full of strain!
The crowd became sad,
All understood without words!

As my great friend and former handball partner at Harvard Stephen Moeller-Sally wrote in his excellent book, Gogol’s Afterlife, “…Andreev’s hunched, contemplative figure represented the final years of Gogol’s life, a period of ill health and creative decline. For this reason [people] found it unacceptable. Whatever interpretive insight Andreev’s statue may have contained, it did not fulfill the purpose of the monument: it could not serve as a symbol of national pride.” The doggerel above is also taken from Steve’s book, in his translation.

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Not surprisingly, Joseph Stalin didn’t like the monument either, and he finally decided in 1952 to have it moved to a courtyard not far away where nobody would see it. He replaced it with a happy-faced, straight-backed Gogol that looked as much like Stalin himself as Gogol, and which we’ll look at and talk about at a later date. As such, the monument you see in these photos is now located out of the way in the yard before the Gogol Museum at 7A Nikitsky Boulevard.

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The Gogol House, or Gogol Museum, is located in a beautiful old building that Gogol himself lived in from 1848 until his death in 1852.  As such, the current placement of the work is actually ideal. It is an isolated place, quiet and shady, and people come here with books to sit by the great man’s feet, if you will, to read and contemplate. I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the shortsightedness of those first people who saw the statue in 1909, but, still, ignorance never fails to astonish me. So let me lean on Steve Moeller-Sally to point fingers at some very unsagacious folks:
“Artistic professionals were also unimpressed,” Steve writes in his book. “A number of them felt that the sculptor had not succeeded in representing Gogol at all. Some faulted Andreev for poor technique, noting that there was no sense of body underneath the mantle or that the nose was exaggerated. Others expressed their opinions more imaginatively, the artist I. Chugunova called the statue a ‘monument to an unknown old woman,’ and a noted art collector, Doctor P. Postnikov, said it gave the impression of ‘a kite or a carrion-crow with a broken right wing.’ Dissatisfaction with the monument grew so intense that a Moscow patron of the arts, I. Tsvetkov, began a new subscription for the recasting of the Gogol monument.”
To all of which I say, Pshaw! and, Bravo, Andreev!
Gosh. Big flaw. The artist exaggerated Gogol’s nose. Now, why in the world would he have done that???

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