Gorky mansion – revolutionary spirit crossed with millionaire’s excess

Tune in for the story of a Moscow architectural gem, uniting under its roof a Tsarist millionaire, a visionary architect and a revolutionary writer.

A sumptuous mansion in the center of Moscow widely known as the residence of Russia’s famous writer Maxim Gorky was not built for the greatest proletarian in Russian literature.

Completed in 1902, it was home of banker and art collector Stepan Ryabushinsky. The entrepreneur wanted a house worthy of his wealth and social standing, so he hired one of the most brilliant architects of the time for the job, Fyodor Shekhtel, who certainly was not afraid of breaking the mold.

Shekhtel was the most influential and prolific master of Russian Art Nouveau – the style he used for this house. His works were later despised by Soviet critics, but they very much defined Moscow’s look in the early 20th century.

As soon as the mansion was finished, it became a city landmark. The house is a true visual fantasy filled with murals, stained glass and mosaic, while its highlight is the twisting staircase that seems to float in the air.

Ryabushinsky did not enjoy his stunning home for long, though. After the revolution, the family fled abroad and in 1931 Stalin presented the house to Gorky.

Gorky was a man who knew the seamy side of Russian life as few other authors before. It is no accident that he picked the word “gorky” (meaning “bitter”) as his pen name. He grew up in extreme poverty and shot to fame with grimly realistic stories of social outcasts, including his best-known play, “The Lower Depths.”

Read more about Maxim Gorky on Russiapedia

Naturally, Gorky did not fancy his new house much, considering it pompous and ridiculous – but it was a gift he could not refuse. He turned the mansion into the center of Moscow’s cultural life. Stalin, too, was a guest here.

The museum now exhibits the writer’s study, his library and his collection of ivory figurines.

Gorky’s relationship with the Bolsheviks was rocky, but when Stalin came to power, the writer became a prop in the Soviet propaganda machine. After his death in 1936, Gorky was canonized as the patron saint of Soviet letters.

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