May 15, 2009

Ryabushinsky House and other highlights of Moscow’s Art Nouveau

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Among the riot of buildings that make Moscow such an exciting cultural destination–polychrome medieval churches, proletarian-Baroque subway stations, bold Constructivist experiments, Stalinist “wedding cake” skyscrapers, etc.–some of our favorites are in the Moscow Art Nouveau style.

Art Nouveau came into vogue in Moscow at the end of the 19th century, an exciting time for local architects. In search of meaningful styles, they experimented with new materials, construction techniques and decorative motifs, and produced eclectic hodgepodges that borrowed from diverse sources such as Russian Revival, Chinese teahouses, Gothic Revival, Arts and Crafts, the Vienna Secession, and the Sintra Palace in Portugal. The umbrella term “style moderne” is often used to describe the look of the more innovative buildings completed in Moscow during this creative period that lasted until about 1910.

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The Ryabushinsky House (also known as the Gorky House Museum) is one of Moscow’s most striking buildings of any period, and a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of Moscow’s Art Nouveau and style moderne. Fyodor Shekhtel, one of the most talented and prolific architects of the period, designed the Ryabushinsky House for Stepan Ryabushinsky, the son of a wealthy textile magnate. Completed around 1902, the Ryabushinsky House stands out for its bold architecture and wealth of nature-inspired decoration.

One interesting exception to the Art Nouveau style in the Ryabushinsky House is the tiny secret chapel where the Ryabushinsky family could practice their Old Believer faith. Shekhtel designed the sacred space with a dome decorated in the red and gold of medieval icons and lit by a roof lantern and narrow windows.

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Ryabushinsky lost the house following the revolution in 1917. The writer Maxim Gorky was given the Ryabushinsky House in 1931, and though he did not care for the design, lived there until his death in 1936. During the Soviet era, the house became known as the Gorky House Museum, and some of the writer’s personal effects are on display in the library and study.

In addition to the Ryabushinsky House, we like to introduce our travelers to other highlights of Art Nouveau in Moscow such as the Hotel Metropol, the National Hotel and apartment buildings and houses throughout town. The landmark Hotel Metropol, completed in 1905, has a distinctive exterior decorated with ceramic panels designed by notable artists of the day, a plaster frieze of the Four Seasons, and decorative brick and ironwork. Inside the hotel are common rooms with restored period decoration, including a restaurant under a vast stained glass ceiling.

The National Hotel, built in 1903 according to an eclectic design by Russian architect Alexander Ivanov, has been a popular hotel for more than 100 years.

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The facades of many Moscow apartment buildings and houses built at this time were decorated with Art Nouveau motifs and design elements such as curved lines, human faces, flowers, foliage, animals and mythological creatures. Noted Russian architect Lev Kekushev, who contributed to the final look of the Hotel Metropol, designed many notable Art Nouveau buildings in Moscow, including the striking Mindovsky House, the current home of the Embassy of New Zealand.

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For architecture fans, we also arrange tours to see other buildings designed by Fyodor Shekhtel. The architect didn’t limit himself to Art Nouveau, but designed buildings in a wide range of styles, including Gothic-inspired townhouses, neo-Classical mansions and the neo-Russian Yaroslavl Train Station.

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We also make arrangements to take interested travelers to see other notable modern buildings in Moscow such as the Tretyakov Gallery, Melnikov House, Rusakov Club and Zuev Club.

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Another great place for Art Nouveau architecture is Riga, Latvia.

All of our private tours in Russia and Eastern Europe can incorporate the best architecture and design sites, for those interested.

Destinations:  Eastern Europe, Europe, Latvia, Russia

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