History of the Monuments

Gogol Statues in Moscow

Two monuments in Moscow are dedicated to Nikolai Gogol. The first one was erected on the writer's 100th anniversary in 1909 at the end of Prechistensky Boulevard (currently Gogolevsky). This is the work by sculptor Nikolai Andreyev (1873–1932). In 1952, on the 100th anniversary of Gogol's death it was succeeded by the second monument at the same place, created by sculptor Nikolai Tomsky (1900–1984).

Monument at Nikitsky Boulevard
(by Nikolai Andreyev)

The idea of a Moscow monument to Gogol emerged after the inauguration of Pushkin's statue in 1880. The same year the Society of Russian Literature Lovers initiated a fundraising subscription, but only by 1896 the sum was enough (70,000 rubles) to start work on the monument. In 1906, following two fruitless contests, a special committee chaired by the city mayor entrusted the project to Nikolai Andreyev, yet a novice in monumental scuplture.

Andreyev did everything himself. Modelling in clay, he completed a gigantic figure of the writer muffled in an overcoat, and four pedestal bas-reliefs with Gogol characters. He also designed the monument area, all by himself, yet so professionally that researchers often cite architect Fyodor Schechtel as his co-author, which is but a misconception. Andreyev also sketched the wreathed grating and graceful lanterns with lion masques.

Andreyev perused Gogol's iconography, went to the Poltava Governorate in search of proper facial types, meeting the writer's sister Olga there, and also looked for models in Moscow. At Smolensky Market Square, he ecountered a thin big-nosed model for Gogol while Taras Bulba was based on Vladimir Gilyarovsky clad in a zupan and an Astrakhan hat.

The monument was inaugurated on April 26, 1909, marking the writer's 100th anniversary and attracting many people. Moscow celebrated the anniversary on a large scale, with just the monument-related inaugural festivities lasting three days.

Andreyev's work is often considered aesthetically impeccable, a masterpiece, and one of the best sculptures in Moscow. Andreyev depicts Gogol in the period of a spiritual crisis, filled with self-doubt, and verging on despair. The writer is absorbed in sombre meditation. His dejection is evident in the stooping figure, slouched shoulders, and position of the head, also underlined by the folds of the coat covering the seemingly freezing body.

The sculpture reflects the impressionistic manner characteristic of Andreyev in those years. The artist is engrossed in the interplay of light and shadow, exquisite lines, and stresses the picturesque rather than the monumental. The shapes are rather fused together into a massive whole, making for a stronger emotional impact.

The pedestal is decorated with finest bronze bas-reliefs presenting characters from Gogol's best-known works, like The Government Inspector, The Overcoat, Taras Bulba, Dead Souls, etc. The characters' vivacity strikes a powerfully discordant note with the monument's overall mood set by the doleful figure of the writer.

The monument features a variety of artistic inventions in its technique and modelling solutions. But the most radical part for the contemporary monumental art was the idea to present a gloomy Gogol. This sparked great controversy immediately after the inauguration.

Russia's cultured public was immensely impressed with the monument. This was the least expected treatment of the writer's image: instead of a ceremonial portrayal of a 'national genius', people saw the Gogol who was ill and anguished. Artist Ilya Repin praised the monument: "It's moving, deep, and extraordinarily simple and elegant. What a hang of the head! What anguish in this martyr for the Russian sins!.. The likeness is uncanny... Long live Nikolai Andreyev!"

The monument was badly received among the conservative and monarchist circles, as it clearly implied a certain reproach to the regime for the writer's tragic lot.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the monument was first considered quite appropriate in the new environment as it fit Gogol's image as a victim of the tsarist autocracy. Yet, this was not for long. In the mid-30s, the Pravda newspaper wrote that the monument distorted "the image of the great writer misrepresenting him as a pessimist and mystic".

The authorities decided the monument was to be replaced. The competition was announced, but nothing was done until after World War II.

In 1951 Andreyev's monument was finally removed and taken to the Museum of Architecture in the former Donskoy Monastery which, at the time, became a repository for many disgraced works.

In 1959, on Gogol's 150th anniversary, thanks to the Khrushchev Thaw, the monument was returned from its exile and put in front of the house where the writer spent last four years.

Monument at Gogolevsky Boulevard
(by Nikolai Tomsky)

Joseph Stalin was known to dislike the 'gloomy' Gogol he used to pass by on the way from the Kremlin to his country house in Kuntsevo. Surely, the monument couldn't be removed or replaced without Stalin's approval. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the monument competitions were resumed in order to replace the statue on the 100th anniversary of Gogol's death. The winner was Nikolai Tomsky.

Tomsky's victory was not sudden. In 1951 he had made a marble bust of Gogol (currently held in the State Tretyakov Gallery), earning him a fifth Stalin Prize a year later. An enlarged copy of the bust, also of marble, was placed at Gogol's grave; and the same bust served a starting point for the project of a full-length bronze statue.

The new monument was inaugurated on March 2, 1952. This time, the writer stood erect on a high postament beaming with health and optimism. Reception among critics was exclusively positive, but Moscow's cultured public chiefly rejected the 'cheerful' Gogol. Many found the monument insipid and banal.

The pedestal of Tomsky's Gogol wore the inscription: "To the great Russian literary artist, Nikolai Gogol, from the Soviet Union government, March 2, 1952". The same address appeared on the writer's grave.

Despite obvious artistic flaws, Tomsky's monument has come to be recognized for some architectural and town planning merits. With its distinct verticality and sharp silhouette, the monument fits well with the architectural environment and is clearly seen in open space.

The resulting situation is quite unique: on both sides of the Arbat Square, within 400 metres from each other, Moscow has two monuments to one and the same person. The works are drastically different in style and emotional impact: Andreyev and Tomsky treat the image of the great writer in opposite ways partly reflecting changes in Russia's historical and cultural environment.