The State Memorial and Natural Preserve "Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy "Yasnaya Polyana"
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Rilke and Russia: International Academic and Exhibition Project


On May 3, 2017 a major international academic and exhibition project, Rilke and Russia, was launched at the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach am Neckar, Germany; the project is dedicated to one of the most influential European poets of the previous century, Rainer Maria Rilke. The project was prepared by the German Literature Archive in Marbach, the State Literary Museum in Moscow, the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern, and the Strauhoff Museum in Zurich. Among the objects on display is a book by Rilke from Leo Tolstoy’s personal library at Yasnaya Polyana.


Rainer Maria Rilke‘s (1875–1926) encounter with Russia is one of the most significant ones in the history of literature. Rilke‘s trips to Russia with Lou Andreas-Salomé in 1899 and 1900 were a poetical awakening for the 25-year-old poet: “... I have a feeling that I saw the work of the Creator.” The Austrian poet had an unfading interest in Russia and called it his spiritual motherland. It was in Russia that Rilke fully realized he was an artist and believed in his calling. “I want to tell you,” Rilke wrote to Leonid Pasternak on February 5, 1900, “that Russia, as I had foretold you, proved to be something more significant for me than just a casual event. Since last August, I have been almost solely occupied with studying Russian art, Russian history and culture, and – not to be missed – your beautiful unique language; and though I cannot speak it yet, I can already read without effort your great (and how great!) poets. I also understand most of what people are saying. And what a pleasure it is to read Lermontov’s poems or Tolstoy’s prose in the original!”

The exhibition shows diaries, letters, documents, and paintings – all in all, about 280 objects and 100 art photographs. Many of them have never been exhibited before. Among the rare objects are icons that belonged to Rilke; a portrait of the poet by Leonid Pasternak; his correspondance with Leo Tolstoy, Leonid Pasternak, Alexandre Benois, Spiridon Drozhzhin, Boris Pasternak, and Marina Tsvetaeva; and Russian books that belonged to Rilke, and manuscripts of the poet‘s “Russian“ poems and translations. 


In addition to authentic objects that are kept in the State Literary Museum, Swiss Literary Archives, and German Literature Archive, the exhibition features objects from the archives of the Rilke family in Gernsbach, the Lou Andreas-Salomé collection in Göttingen, the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Leo Tolstoy Museum, the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House), the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, the Pushkin State Fine Arts Museum, the Russian State Library, Moscow State University, and other archives.

Rilke’s book Two Stories of Prague (Zwei Prager Geschichten, Stuttgart, 1899) loaned by the Yasnaya Polyana Museum was sent by the author to Yasnaya Polyana together with his letter of thanks dated September 8 (New Calendar), 1899, after his return to Germany. In the letter (written in German), Rilke thanked Tolstoy for his warm welcome and wrote about the great impression their meeting had produced. Rilke’s relationship with Tolstoy is one of the key themes organizing the space of the exhibition. The figure of the writer became for Rilke “a gate to Russia” and his personality an embodiment of Russian spirituality. “An immortal Russian” was what Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé used to call Tolstoy when recalling their two meetings with him. 


A separate thematic section is dedicated to the perception of Rilke‘s poetry in Russia and the USSR. The exhibition also shows modern photographs by Barbara Klemm and Mirko Krizanovic who traveled in Russia following Rilke’s route. Ilma Rakusa’s literary essay and Anastasia Alexandrova’s film will help recreate the atmospheric panorama of Rilke’s epoch and connections. 


The Project is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Culture Foundation, the companies Bosch, Mangold Consulting, and the TRUMPF group of cpmpanies. The art director of the project and the author of its conception is Thomas Schmidt, an employee of the German Literature Archive and the director of the Baden-Württemberg Department of Museums and Historic Sites; the design of the exhibition was done by HG Merz (Berlin), a well-known architectural and design firm.

The exhibition will be on display in Marbach until August 6, 2017. On September 15 – December 10 it will be shown in Switzerland (Bern/Zurich), and in February of 2018 it can be seen in the New Manezh in Moscow. The organizers of the exhibition remark that the Rilke and Russia project encourages the strengthening and development of international cooperation in general, but it is primarily dedicated to cultural connections between Russian and Germany. 

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