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Abramtsevo Estate, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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The estate of Abramtsevo, located approximately 70 kilometers north east of Moscow, must be one of the most painted landscapes in all of Russia and has throughout the last 150 years represented a return to traditional Russian life, art and architecture. Abramtsevo was bought by the devout Slavophile writer Sergei Aksakov, who favored its proximity to the nearby holy Trinity Monastery in Sergiev Posad as a perfect backdrop for his meetings of like-minded devoutly Orthodox Moscow intellectuals. It was on the estate that the finer points of the Slavophile movement's campaign to rid Russia of Western influences were decided by some of the greatest Russian minds of the day. In 1870 possession of the estate fell to the Russian millionaire railroad tycoon Savva Mamontov, who was equally passionate about Russian art and culture and supported an artists' colony on the estate that became the nucleus from which the country's modern art movement grew. Some of Russia's most famous modern artists came to the estate to paint, help construct and decorate various buildings there and found the estate's unique Museum of Folk Art, from which many of the artists drew their inspiration. Today visitors are free to wander around the majority of the buildings on the estate and see some of the original art and decorative work created by members of the artists' colony.

The estate's main house, which was used by the famous playwright Anton Chekhov as a model for the manor in his play The Cherry Orchard, features a plain gray and white exterior that hides a much more ornate and fascinating interior. The house's rooms vividly reflect the tastes of its former owners. Aksakov shared the mid-19th century gentry's taste for French Empire, an entire wing of which the next owner Mamontov carefully preserved, whilst redecorating the rest of the house in Neo-Russian and Style Moderne.

Other notable buildings on the estate include a large white structure across from the main house, which hosts a permanent exhibition of modernist paintings by the well-known Soviet era artists Aristakh Lentulov and Robert Falk amongst others. Don't miss the illustrations by a member of the artist's colony, Alimov, for editions of Gogol's Dead Souls and Bulgakov's satirical and fantastical masterpiece The Master and Margarita on the building's upper floor.

Many of the other buildings on the estate are currently under renovation and not yet open to visitors. They include a tiny wooden studio, where the famous Russian artists Serov and Vrubel tried their hands at ceramics. On display here are early attempts at ceramic Egyptian and Russian figures that Vrubel would use later in his bas-relief for Moscow's Metropole Hotel. The building also boasts original tiled stoves, another example of old Russian applied art, and a small Museum of Folk Art, containing various artifacts that acted as an inspiration for the traditional artists of the colony. Not far away visitors will find the Teremok, an ideal Russian cottage designed and built by members of the colony with a steep roof and gable reminiscent of the ancient architecture of medieval Muscovy. The house is cozy and dark and filled with heavy, traditionally carved wooden furniture similar to that in the Mamontov's wing of the main house. A little further into the woods stands the delightful House on Chicken Legs, built by the Vasnetsov brothers for the estate's children to play in and based on the cottage of the Russian fairytale character Baba Yaga. Visitors shouldn't miss the Church of the Savior Not Built by Human Hand, based on medieval Novogorod ecclesiastical architecture and built by the entire colony. The church's icons were painted by Repin, Polonev, Nesterov and Apollinarius Vasnetsov, while his brother Viktor Vasnetsov designed and laid the mosaic floor in the image of a blossoming flower. Vrubel created the church's tiled stove and Andrei Mamontov was responsible for the painting of the pulpit before he died in his childhood and was buried in a vault off to the left of the nave.

The entire estate is buried deep in a wonderful mass of Russian forest, full of birch, fir, oak, larch, elder and hazel trees and with the occasional stream and pond marking the course of the tiny Vorya River. The estate is a delightful spot for a summer stroll through the woods and is a lovely afternoon outing for anybody interested in traditional Russian arts and crafts. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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