History of the Golitsyn Mansion

The Museum of Private Collections opened its doors to the public on 24 January 1994 at 14 Volkhonka Street, next door to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, this building was the left wing of the Golitsyn Mansion. Work on its architectural restoration and reconstruction began in 1987.

The Golitsyn Mansion lay between Volkhonka Street and Maly Znamensky Lane. It was built between 1756 and 1761 by Savva Chevakinsky, an architect from St Petersburg, for Lord High Admiral Mikhail Mikhailovich Golitsyn (1681–1764). Construction work was headed by Moscow architect Ivan Zherebtsov. Only the high stone gates survive in their entirety from the original structure. A stepped attic with the stone coat of arms of the Golitsyn family towers above the joining arch. A similar stepped top can be seen above the gates facing Maly Znamensky Lane, which opened onto the facade of the main building. Like many Russian mansions of the first half of the eighteenth century, the main house and two wings formed a parade ground or court d’honneur with a flower-bed in the middle.

The original layout of the mansion still survives, even though the building was reconstructed in 1774 by Matvei Kazakov for Catherine the Great, who planned to stay there when she visited Moscow. The architect added elements of early Neoclassicism to the house and wings. Some of these touches can still be seen today, in the form of the four-columned portico of the right wing. Two new floors were added to the main building in 1928 and 1929, distorting its outer appearance. Most changes were made to the left wing, which now houses the Museum of Private Collections.

The building was altered throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before being completely rebuilt in 1890–92 by Vasily Zagorsky, who turned it into furnished rooms called Prince’s Court. The main four-storey facade retained its original form and faced Maly Znamensky Lane. The two-storey wing (dismantled in 1960) ran along Volkhonka Street. The general architectural appearance of the building proved to be more than prosaic. Turned into a tenement block, it quickly lost its constructive and stylistic link to the rest of the mansion.

Roman Klein took the neighbouring building into account when designing the railings of the Emperor Alexander III Museum of Fine Arts of the Imperial Moscow University – the original name of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The building had a circular outer corner (unsurviving).

Between 1988 and 1993, this building was specially reconstructed for the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The new facade (the former pavement side) faced Volkhonka Street. The interior was also redesigned. The main architectural motifs of the building – heavy middle facade and prominent role of the central staircase – repeat the architecture of the main museum building. Looking at the two buildings from the other side of Volkhonka Street, both facades were intended to form a single ensemble.

The decision to house the Museum of Private Collections in the former Golitsyn Mansion was extremely symbolic. On 26 January 1865, the diplomat Mikhail Alexandrovich Golitsyn (1804–1860) opened a museum of works from his own collection in five large rooms of the main building. Mikhail Golitsyn amassed his collection when serving in Spain and Italy (Florence and Rome). The museum was named after the collector and could be visited free of charge on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Golitsyn Museum was the third largest cultural institution open to the public in Moscow – after the Rumyantsev Museum and the Grigory Chertkov Library. It consisted of a picture gallery, rarities section and a library. The picture gallery contained 182 works, reflecting the main schools of West European art. The rarities section includes objects of ancient culture found during excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii and a multitude of works of decorative and applied art from different countries – from Venice to China. The library housed an unrivalled collection of books on theology, law, fine art, history, geography, works of classical literature and topographical rarities. The principal curator, K. M. Gunzburg, published guides to the museum collection between 1865 and 1869. A catalogue of the book collection was published in French in 1866.

Mikhail Golitsyn’s son Sergei was less enthusiastic about his father’s museum and put it up for sale. In 1886, the collection of art and part of the library were purchased by the Imperial Hermitage. The rest of the book collection was acquired by the Public Library.

In 1877, Sergei Golitsyn began to rent out the apartments on the ground floor. The left wing was also reconstructed as housing. The former mansion was the home of many famous people. The writer Alexander Ostrovsky lived in the main building, where he wrote such plays as Girl without a Dowry, The Heart is Not a Stone and Talents and Admirers. Other tenants before 1886 were Sergei Usov (professor of zoology at Moscow University), Boris Chicherin (professor of law at Moscow University) and Ivan Aksakov (Russian Slavophile, poet and journalist). The building also housed the Moscow Conservatoire and the Russian Choral Society from 1894 to 1898.

In 1903, the house was acquired by the Moscow Art Society for its school of painting, sculpture and architecture. The society sublet part of the premises, including the building of the former Golitsyn Museum, to other institutions.

The Union of Russian Artists held its sixth exhibition at 14 Volkhonka Street in late 1908 and early 1909. This was the last joint exhibition of the Moscow and St Petersburg sections of the group.

The house was rented by the Alfons Shanyavsky Municipal University in 1909. In 1904, the proletarian writer Maxim Gorky lived in the left wing of furnished rooms known as Prince’s Court. Russian artist Vasily Surikov also lived there from 1910. In 1911, Leonid Pasternak, an artist and teacher at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, was awarded Apartment 9 on the first floor, looking out onto Volkhonka Street. He and his family lived there until they emigrated to Germany in 1921. His son, the poet Boris Pasternak, lived in the building from 1921 to 1928. The Museum of Private Collections includes a room exhibiting the works and furniture of Leonid Pasternak.

Between 1925 and 1936, the main building of the former Golitsyn Mansion housed the Socialist Academy. Two additional floors were added in the late 1920s, distorting the general design. The Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR occupied the building from 1936 to 1960. It is now home to the Institute of Philosophy and Institute of Man of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

For two centuries, the right wing accommodated auxiliary premises. After 1917, it was taken over by the Large Soviet Encyclopaedia Publishing House, followed by the Institute of Linguistic Knowledge of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the editorial office of the Questions of Linguistic Knowledge periodical. The building now belongs to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

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