- 19th c. Russia





Falconet's  Bronze Horseman (1788),  see St. Petersburg from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002) Statue of Peter the Great (1788) (painting by Vasily Ivanovich Surikov) (illustration) (dramatic photo)

Tropinin, Portrait of  Pushkin (1827)

St Basil’s in Red Square completed in 1560 commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan; see Moscow’s paradox - a progressive city whose mythic self-image was in the distant past

Venetsianov, On the Threshing Floor  (1821)

Fedotov, The Major's Courtship (1848)

Aivazovsky,  The Ninth Wave,
(1850) (super detail)

Yakobi, Halt of the Prisoners (1861)

Millennium of Russia  (1862)

Perov, Hunters at Rest (1871)

Surikov, Boyarina Mozorova (1887);  The Debate over Russian Identity in the Arts from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)

Surikov, The Morning of the

Execution of the Streltsy. 1881

Surikov,  Yermak's Conquest of Siberia (1895)See The Mongol Inheritance (despite the Eurocentric national myth,  Orientalism and the Conquest of Siberia and Manifest Destiny, Russian Style from  Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)

Repin, The Reply of the Zaporozhian

Cossacks to Sultan Mahmoud IV (1880-1891)

Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga  (1870) 
Repin's Painting 'The Volga Barge-Haulers'

Alexander Herzen (1812-70) see Berlin, on Herzen: "The Great Amateur" NYRB 3-14-68;  Herzen’s Circle NYRB 6-20-68;  A Revolutionary Without Fanaticism’ NYRB 4-9-79;  "A Letter on Human Nature" NYRB 9-23-04; "On the Pursuit of the Ideal" NYRB 4-17-88; see Gessen, "The Revolutionist: Alexander Herzen" New Yorker, 10-14-06; Tom Stoppard's article on Herzen in the London Observer; Kelly, Man in the Middle NYRB 12-19-85 (on Herzen)

Repin, Mussorgsky (1881)

KramskoyThe Peasant Ignatii Pirogov (1874)

Karl Briullov, The Last Day of Pompeii 1830-33) Gogol, 'The Last Day of Pompeii (Briullov's Painting)' (1834)

RepinKrestny Khod (Religious Procession)in Kursk Gubernia. (1880-1883)

Maikovsky, Peasant Children (1890)

Kramskoy, Christ in the Wilderness (1871)

Vereshchagin, Surprise Attack (1871)

The Crystal Palace

RepinKrestny Khod (Religious Procession)in Kursk Gubernia. (1880-1883)

Faberge, Coronation Egg (1897) see ‘Neo-Russian’ style in crafts, architecture and music

Savrasov, The Rooks Have Come (1871)

Vasnetsov , Heroes (1898) aka Bogatyrs (1898)  portrait of  Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich

 Gartman, Design for Great Gate at Kiev  (1874)

Gusli player. The gusli was an ancient type of Russian zither, usually five-stringed, and widely used in folk music

Stravinsky, costume design for The Firebird

Stravinsky. Rite of Sprng (Joffrey)

Key Questions




  • What changes in the Russian culture are reflected in the shift in artistic and literary styles over the course of the 19th century?
  • What were the political, social and economic changes occurring in Russia over the course of the 19th Century?
  • To what extent is it possible to say that the ideas of the Enlightenment and subsequent changes of the Industrial Revolution had not yet reached Russia by the end of the 19th century?
  • To what degree did the disconnect between the expression of ‘high’ and ‘common’ culture of 19th century Russia manifested in the structural problems of the Russian Empire?
  • In what ways, was Russia at the end of the 19th century ‘behind’ [backward] the rest of Europe? In what ways were Russian intellectuals contemporary to the rest of European society at the time?
  • What was the relationship between the changing mode of production and the values and political/social structures being developed in Russia?

Political, Social, Economic, Intellectual Religious




Primary Sources:

Primary Sources:

Primary Sources:

Primary Sources:

Roerich, Guests from Overseas (1901)

Venetsianov, In the Ploughed Field  (1827) see The Vogue for Russian Nationalism  from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)

  • Radischev, radical  "Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow" (1790)
  • The Decembrists: Birth of the Intelligentsia/ Liberal Russian Nationalism  from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)

  • Fedor Glinka on the patriotic spirit of the common folk.  Letters of a Russian Officer (1815)
  • the Decembrist historian Nikita Muraviev began his study with the fighting words: ‘History belongs to the people.’
  • Lermontov, Novgorod (‘Brave sons of the Slavs, for what did you die?’),   the fallen heroes of medieval Novgorod or the freedom fighters of 1825 whose loss was to be mourned
  • Venevitanov,  pro-Decembrist poem Novgorod (1826): medieval Novgorod -  historic proof of the people’s right to rule themselves
  • Pushkin,  'To Chaadaev' (1818); Message to Siberia’ (1827)
  • a natural ‘family’ of patriots. Nikolai Rostov in War and Peace discovers this community on his return from leave. 
  • Pestel, Russian Truth 
  • Ryleev’s poem ‘Natalia Dolgorukaya’ (1821-3)


Russian spirit or faith stands against Western rationalism; Russian organic unity against Western individualism and fragmentation; Russian tradition and consensus against Western law imposed from above....  Russia is seen as being governed by custom and community, the West by abstract logic and the primacy of the individual led to the  triumph of rationalism over the tradition of immediate wisdom and inner, spiritual intelligence.
  • Pyotr Plavilshikov, ‘On the Innate Qualities of the Russian Soul’ (1792)

  • Aleksei Khomiakov, “On Humboldt” (1849) and “On the Church” (1855);
  • Ivan Kireevskii, “A Reply to A. S. Khomiakov” (1839) and “On the Nature of European Culture and its Relation to the Culture of Russia” (1852);
  •  Aksakov, “Memorandum to Alexander II on the Internal State of Russia” (1855)
  • Aksakov, "A Slavophile Statement"
sobornost’ from the Russian word for ‘congregation’ (sobor, sobirat’) Sobornost’ expresses the idea of free spiritual unity and mutual love, and the absence of individualism, and is generally seen as standing at the centre of Slavophile theory. The notion of freedom is particularly important; this is not a unity that is imposed from above or that depends on material benefits such as security or profit; rather, it arises organically out of bonds of kinship, custom and mutual trust, each individual, guided by inner freedom, contributing to create a greater whole that leads to “the unity of humanity with God.” (Young)
  • idealizing Orthodoxy and the legendary folk hero Ilia Muromets

The Russia they are extolling, full of unity and spirit, is not present-day Russia, but ancient Russia, and specifically, before the reforms of Peter the Great. Peter is in fact the villain of the piece  because he was responsible for importing Western ideas and standards, and the rationalism and secularization these entailed diluted the unity and spirit of the Russian people and caused the country to fragment between the peasants, the narod, who retained their Russian essence, and the elite, who became westernized.  (Young)

Tthe subordination of the present-day Orthodox church to political power is precisely what the Slavophiles perceive needs to be reversed.....The government viewed itself as a modern western power and had no interest in a return to standards of pre-Petrine Russian life.
  • Gogol, Selected Passages from Correspondence with My Friends (1846)


The Stankevich Circle
: He taught that a proper understanding of Kant and Schelling (and later Hegel) led one to realise that beneath the apparent disorder and the cruelty, the injustice and the ugliness of daily life, it was possible to discern eternal beauty, peace and harmony.

“reconciliation with reality.”
: Hegel’s dictum, from the introduction to his 1820 work The Philosophy of Right, that “the real is rational, and the rational is real.”... reality is not only what is, but it is also necessary (i.e. what is real is in fact determined; it could not be any other way)

Kolokol (The Bell), an uncensored weekly newspaper: A monarchy frankly proclaims it is an authority over and above individuals; the centralized republic, with its pseudo-democratic trappings, dupes the people, and thus retards their real liberation. (Malia, p. 372)

Alexander Herzen (1812-70) and his best friend, Nikolai Ogarev (1813-1877) embraced the politics of equality and rejectied the autocracy and the Orthodox church as a institution that supported the oppressive state. There was also a strong sense amongst this group of their ability to show humanity its future, which entailed separating themselves from what they saw as the corruption of Russian life.  (Young)

"Only in intelligent, morally free and passionately energetic action does man attain the actuality of his personality and immortalize himself in the world of phenomena. " (144)... History has no plan or pattern , and action in the present takes over from the end-goal of history as the determining factor.

the term [Nihilist] referred to those who claimed to accept nothing on authority or faith, neither religious beliefs nor moral ideas nor social and political theories, unless they could be proved by reason or verified in terms of social utility. In other words, Nihilism was a negative attitude to tradition, to authority, whether ecclesiastical or political, and to uncriticized custom, coupled with a belief in the power and utility of scientific knowledge. (Copleston)

They rejected what they saw as the timidity and liberalism of the previous generation in favour of a much more radical position.

The Nihilists can be seen as the original source of Bolshevism (Ulam, p. 28), but a lot of their writing concerned literature and used ostensibly literary topics to debate radical ideas (thereby following in the footsteps of Belinsky, whose heirs they proclaimed themselves; Venturi, p. 143).

The religious view of humanity is replaced by a scientific one of “bodies that functioned as physiological machines.” (Pozefsky, p. 29)

It is the impulse to find a material basis for ethics that leads to the development of Chernyshevsky’s philosophy of rational egoism. Based on a version of utilitarianism that equates the good with the pleasant, and assuming that the physical environment or circumstances determine behaviour, rational egoism claims that human beings are guided purely by self-interest:

a man is good when in order to gain pleasure for himself he has to do what is pleasant for others; he is bad when he is forced to derive his pleasure from the infliction of what is unpleasant for others (Chernyshevsky, “Anthropological Principle”, p. 217).

Iron laws as rigid as those employed in the study of nature’s chemical composition could be applied to the study of history, society and man’s behaviour. [...]

 Once the new method had conquered so much territory there seemed to be no reason why man’s future history could not be regulated with its assistance: it ought to be possible, if one gathered enough information beforehand, to predict “with mathematical exactitude” the results of contemplated change (Offord, p. 518).

Acting against the interests either of the individual or society results in self-destruction; if individuals do not behave socially, therefore, “their individual pleasure-seeking will be thwarted and [they] will be destroyed” (Randall, p. 85). Thus what is in the best interests of society is in the best interests of the individual, and the enlightened person will see this and act accordingly, fulfilling both at the same time.  see Pisarev’s 1865 essay “The Thinking Proletariat.”  (Young)

The Movement to the People:


Levitan, The Vladimirka Road to Siberia (1892)
see Chekhov, The Island of Sakhalin (1893-4);  Chekhov’s Report from Sakhalin; his Travel Writing: The Russian Landscape from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)

KramskoyThe Peasant Ignatii Pirogo (1874)


F.-B.Rastrelli, The Winter Palace; Tsarskoy Selo; The Sheremetev Palace in St Petersburg (Fountain House)

Patersen, Vue de la Grande au Papais de L'Empereur Alexandre (1803)

Argunov, Portrait of Praskovya Sheremeteva (1802) see Praskovya Sheremeteva and the Serf Artist  from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)

de Montferrand,  The Alexandrine Column (1832) : the regime’s image of itself

Constantin Ton, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (1837-83)

Tropinin, Portrait of  Pushkin (1827)


Perov, Feodor Dostoyevsky (1872)

Perov, Hunters at Rest (1871)

Russian Art Criticism:
Mark Antokolsky  sculptor The Persecution of the Jews in the Spanish Inquisition (first exhibited in 1867)

Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga  (1870);

Repin,  Ivan the Terrible  and His Son Ivan: November 16, 1581 (1885)

A Shy Peasant (1877

 Krestny Khod (Religious Procession) in Kursk Gubernia. (1880-1883) 

Nechaev, "Catechism of a Revolutionist" (1869); see Aileen Kelly, “Mr. Possessed” (on Sergei Nechaev) (1981) 


Gay, Portrait of Leo Tolstoy.  1884.


Surikov, The Morning of the

Execution of the Streltsy. 1881

Surikov,  Ermak’s Conquest of Siberia (1895)

Vereshchagin, Surprise Attack (1871)


Levitan, Spring Flood (1897) comp. Savrasov, The Rooks Have Come Home (1871) (friend of Chekhov, see The Grasshopper’ (1891))


Vasnetsov , Heroes (1898) aka Bogatyrs (1898)  portrait of  Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich

Moscow’s paradox - a progressive city whose mythic self-image was in the distant past

Vasnetsov and Vrubel:

After Igor’s Battle with the Polovtsians (1880) (detail) (detail) caused huge ruckus

The World of Art Movement (Art in Russia) : neo-nationalism in crafts via the Abramstevo art colony: Korovin’s ‘Russian Village’ at the Paris Exhibition of 1900

Roerich, The Idols (1901)
  • Roerich, The Messenger: Tribe Has Risen against Tribe (1897);

Nikolai Riabushinsky,
the Blue Rose group of Moscow Symbolist painters and  ‘Jack of Diamonds’ exhibitions (1910-14)

The Minor (1782).
Griboyedov, Woe from Wit (1823)
Princess Zinaida Volkonsky's salon: Pushkin and Zhukovsky, Viazemsky and Delvig, Baratynsky, Tiutchev, the Kireevsky brothers and the Polish poet Mickiewicz 

Falconet's  Bronze Horseman (1788),  see St. Petersburg from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002) Statue of Peter the Great (1788) (painting by Vasily Ivanovich Surikov) (illustration) (dramatic photo)

Ryleev, ‘Natalia Dolgorukaya’ (1821-3)

Vasily Zhukovsky



Turgenev :
Goncharov, Oblomov (1858) 
Dobrulyubov, "What is Oblomovism?" (1859) (pdf)

Saltykov-Shchedrin gives a wonderful description of  mental slumber in The Golovlyov Family (1880)

  •  A Family Affair (1849); 
  • The Storm (1860);  
  • The Final Sacrifice (1878)

Nikolai Nekrasov’s epic poem Who Is Happy in Russia? (1863-78),  . Poems such as On the Road (1844) or The Peddlers (1861) were practically transcriptions of peasant dialogue.



Perov, Feodor Dostoyevsky (1872)

The Underground Man:

In a letter of 1854, shortly after his release from prison, Dostoevsky described himself as “a child of the age, a child of unbelief and doubt,” who would, however, rather “remain with Christ” even if it were shown that Christ lay outside the truth

The literary and philosophical milieu in St. Petersburg to which Dostoevsky returned from prison was transformed by a new generation of thinkers with much more radical ideas – ideas with which Dostoevsky not only disagreed, but which he found profoundly dangerous. Notes from Underground can be seen primarily as a response to Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done?

Contrary to the Nihilists’ view of human nature as rational... the underground man states that human beings are full of contradictions and dualities, irrational, and do not always act for their own benefit.

He suggests that if human beings did always act rationally, and science were able to uncover the laws governing human activity... man, far from being able to act for the benefit of society as a whole would have no autonomy and therefore no responsibility for his actions.  Dostoevsky asserts that the idea of the ‘anthill’ of social reorganization for the benefit of all mankind leads to slavery. What is wrong with perfection  is that it leaves people with nothing to do.

The importance of freedom to Dostoevsky derives from the perspective he gained in prison, where he sees that the peasant convicts, deprived of their will, will do anything to assert their sense of freedom (see, e.g. Notes, pp. 108-10), even actions that will result in their punishment or which objectively harm them in other ways, in order to show that they retain their individuality, their personality.

Yet, the underground man  is isolated, as he is unable to build or maintain any meaningful relationships, and he is bitter, spiteful, perverse, sadistic and aggressive. In the second half of the story, the underground man becomes trapped in a vicious circle, and is forced to act against his own self-interest, thereby showing not his freedom, but his non-freedom. He consciously rejects human contact and isolates himself in the ‘underground’ (as we see in part 1). But in neither part of the novel does he actually prove capable of managing without another person. His notes are supposedly written for himself alone, with no public audience in mind, and yet he constantly addresses (and tries to provoke) his readers. 
He wants to manage without the other, or perhaps even more than this to demonstrate his ability to manage without the other, and yet that only works if the other pays attention to the fact that he is ignoring them. (Young).

The Mock Execution of the Petrashevtsy, Semenovsky square, 1849, by B. Pokrovsky see see Kimball,  "Who Were the Petrashevtsy?"

Holbein, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521)  



  • Childhood (1852); Boyhood (1854) Youth (1856)
  •  Sebastopol Sketches (1855)
  • The Cossacks (1863)
  • War and Peace (1865) Karataev the peasant who teaches Pierre in War and Peace
  • Anna Karenina (1873-76) ; Levin and Oblonsky's  famous lunch in the opening scene; Levin's infatuation with Europeanized Schcherbatsky household;the splendid wedding scene between Kitty and Levin in Anna Karenina;  that blissful moment when Levin joins the peasant mowers in the field and loses himself in the labour and the team
  • God Sees the Truth, But Waits; (1872)
  • A Confession (1879-80):  there was a true religion in which to place his faith - in the suffering, labouring and communal life of the Russian peasantry
  • Children's Tales (for peasants) ‘How a Little Devil Redeemed a Hunk of Bread’ and ‘Where There Is God There Is Love’ (1885)  for the new mass peasant readership.
  • The Death of Ivan Ilych (1882) see Tolstoy vs. Chekhov on Faith and Death  from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)
  • The Kreutzer Sonata  (1891) and Resurrection (1899):  failing marriages
  • ‘On Life’
  • ‘The Devil’ (1889) tells the story of his  affair with his peasant lover,  Aksinia Bazykina both before and after his marriage


201 Stories by Anton Chekhov in English; Selected Checkhov Stories in English

The Moscow Arts Theatre and Chekhov’s Plays
from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)
  • 'The Duel' (1891) A free living rake spirits his married lover to the Caucasus then tires of her.
  • 'The Wife' (1892) Famine in the local villages inspires Natalya to lead a relief effort until her husband insists that he control the project.
  • 'Ward No. 6' (1892) The overewhelmed director of a corrupt provincial hospital befriends an inmate on a ward for the insane... and is accused of being mentally ill as well
  • 'An Anonymous Story' (1893) A revolutionary posing as a servant watches as his master seduces and then abandons a young woman.
  • 'A Woman's Kingdom' (1894) Christmas Day in the life of a young woman who has inherited her father's busy factory.
  • Three Years’ (1895) Levitan;  Ugly but rich son of a wealthy businessman Laptev proposes to Yulia who marries him so that she can escape to Moscow.
  • 'Vanka' (1886)
  • The Steppe’ (1887)
  • 'The Student’, ‘On the Road’ (1886)
  • ‘Fortune’ (1887) (landscape art) Levitan

  • 'The Kiss' (1887) 
  • ‘Abolished!’ (1891) An aging bureaucrat loses his balance as reforms loosen the Table of Ranks. 

  • The Grasshopper’ (1891)

  • 'The Black Monk' (1894) A young professor suffering from nervous exhaustion returns to his former guardian's estate, falls in love with his daughter, then has a psychotic break.
  • 'Rothschild's Violin' (1894)
  • 'My Life' (1896) The son of a successful architect decides to become a workman.
  •  'The Darling' (1897) A young woman transforms herself to please a succession of husbands.
  •  "Peasants" (1897) A Moscow waiter falls ill and must return with his wife and daughter to his impoverished childhood home in a peasant village. see Bleaker Views of the Peasants after 1900 from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)
  • 'Gooseberries' (1898) A fireside tale about a man who dreams of owning an estate with gooseberry bushes. 
  • 'The Lady with the Pet Dog' (1899) (another translation) A married man seduces a young woman vacationing in the Crimea and she follows him back to Moscow.
  • 'In the Ravine' (1900) see Tolstoy vs. Chekhov on Faith and Death  from Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)
  •  'The Bishop' (1902) An aging cleric is reunited wiht his mother just as his health begins to fail. 
  • 'The Betrothed' (1903)
  • Lvov-Prach, Collection of Russian Folk Songs (1790)
  • Balakirev, symphonic poem Tamara (1866-81), based upon Lermontov’s poem of that name. Lermontov’s Tamara (1841) retold the folk story of a Georgian queen whose seductive voice lured lovers to her castle in the mountains overlooking the Terek river.  Harmonies were based on the pentatonic (or five-tone) scale common to the music of Asia. The distinctive feature of the pentatonic or ‘Indo-Chinese’ scale is its avoidance of semitones and thus of any clear melodic gravitation towards any particular tone. It creates the sense of ‘floating sounds’ which is characteristic of Southeast Asian music  
  • Balakirev’s fantasy for piano Islamei
  • Beethoven, Razumovsky String Quartets op. 59 (1805) Theme Russe Quartet #1 allegro

  • Anton Rubinstein and The Petersburg Conservatory (1861)


  • Overture of 1812 (finale) (1862)  Imperial style
  • Eugene Onegin (1879); The Queen of Spades (1890); The Nutcracker (1892); 
  • Symphony #4  (Keeping Score)
  • The Imperial style was virtually defined by the polonaise: Tatiana at the ball in Eugene Onegin and at the climax of the ball in War and Peace, where the Emperor makes his entrance and Natasha dances with Andrei.

  • The Sleeping Beauty (1889) and The Queen of Spades (1890)


See The Mongol Inheritance (despite the Eurocentric national myth,  Orientalism and the Conquest of Siberia and Manifest Destiny, Russian Style from  Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (2002)



 Gartman, Design for Great Gate at Kiev  (1874)

Repin, Mussorgsky (1881)

Goncahrova, Backdrop for The Firebird :

Stravinsky, costume design for The Firebird

Stravinsky. Rite of Sprng (Joffrey)

Alexander Scriabin

Gusli player. The gusli was an ancient type of Russian zither, usually five-stringed, and widely used in folk music

Chekhov and Olga Knipper in 1900

 Political, Social, Economic, Intellectual Religious

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  • Stanislavsky and the Moscow Arts Theatre
  • Meyerhold branched out from the naturalism of the Moscow Arts to experiment with Symbolist drama


 Present Political, Social, Economic, Intellectual Religious

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