About the museum
The Yasnaya Polyana estate is located in the very center of Middle Russia, with its quiet but strikingly moving nature, and is likewise modest, but beautiful and noble in its simplicity. The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was born and lived most of his life at Yasnaya Polyana.
History of Yasnaya Polyana
Yasnaya Polyana was mentioned for the first time
These were formerly borderlands. Here northern forests gave way to forest-steppe – the Wild Field; from there, waves of nomadic invasions rolled to the Russian frontier. In the 16th century, abatises were used here to defend the lands of Moscow. Near these fortifications settlements began to appear, and one of them was the village of Yasnaya Polyana. It was first mentioned in records of 1652.
The first owner of Yasnaya Polyana was the local voivode Grigory Kartsev. Later, his descendants owned a number of estates located in and around Yasnaya Polyana.
The estate was bought by Prince Volkonsky
In 1763 a part of Yasnaya Polyana was bought by Prince Sergey Volkonsky – Leo Tolstoy’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side. The estate was inherited by his son, Nikolai Volkonsky, who played a crucial role in its history. He was the main developer of the estate, and also bought separate parts of Yasnaya Polyana from other owners and created the big estate that we now know as Yasnaya Polyana. Through Prince Volkonsky’s efforts, numerous improvements appeared on the estate: parks, orchards, picturesque paths, ponds, a large conservatory, and an architectural ensemble that included a manor-house and two independent wings on both sides of it. One of Volkonsky’s favourite places to walk was the “Wedges” Park adjoining the conservatory. The park was laid out in the 18th century, before Volkonsky came to Yasnaya Polyana. In his lifetime, music could be heard in the park, as the Prince had a little peasant orchestra of his own.
The “Wedges” Park is probably part of a larger old park that had occupied the entire hilltop where Prince Volkonsky decided to build his new architectural ensemble. While it was being built, the Prince and his daughter Maria (the future mother of Leo Tolstoy) lived in the house that later was called the Volkonsky House. The exact date of its construction is unknown, but most likely the house was built before Volkonsky settled at Yasnaya Polyana. In any case, the Volkonsky House is the oldest stone building at the estate. Even in Volkonsky’s lifetime this house contained various workshops, and in front of it there appeared the stone building of the stables (which is still standing). The residential area of the estate was planned to be situated farther from the farm-buildings. Prince Volkonsky did not finish the construction of the new architectural ensemble: in his lifetime only the two small houses and also the ground-floor of the large manor-house were erected. In 1821 the Prince died. His daughter Maria inherited a big estate. A year after her father’s death she married Count Nikolai Tolstoy.

Nikolai Volkonsky played a crucial role in the history of Yasnaya Polyana. He was the main developer of the estate, and also bought separate parts of Yasnaya Polyana from other owners and created the big estate that we now know as Yasnaya Polyana.

The Tolstoy family lived at Yasnaya Polyana
After their wedding the Tolstoys settled at Yasnaya Polyana. Nikolai Tolstoy finished the construction of the large house into which the family moved in 1824, and also increased his landed property. He managed to redeem his ancestral estate of Nikolskoye-Vyazemskoye, bought the rich estate of Pirogovo, and secured the future of his children. Five children were born into the Tolstoy family: 4 sons – Nikolai, Sergey, Dmitry and Leo, and the daughter Maria.
The happy life of the family came to an end several months after the birth of the daughter – Countess Maria died in 1830. At that time her youngest son Leo was less than 2 years old. Tolstoy did not remember his mother, but he always worshiped her. According to his own words, she always remained for him a “sacred ideal”. Years after her death he especially cherished and carefully preserved the parts of the Yasnaya Polyana estate that were associated with his mother: the Lower (English) Park, the Summerhouse-tower in it, the Greenhouse. Leo Tolstoy spent his childhood at Yasnaya Polyana. His family lived an unhurried and regular life, strictly following old traditions. When Tolstoy was 9, his father died. The father’s sister, aunt Alexandra Osten-Saken, became the guardian of the Tolstoy children, and after her death in 1841 their guardian was their other aunt, Pelageya Youshkova. She took her nephews and niece to Kazan.
Leo Tolstoy inherited the estate
In 1847 a division of their parents’ estates among the Tolstoy brothers and sister took place. “According to a family custom,” Tolstoy wrote, “as the youngest son in the family I got the estate where we lived – Yasnaya Polyana.” Tolstoy immediately decided to drastically change his life and settle at his country estate. Just like the main character of his story “A Landlord’s Morning,” Dmitry Nekhlyudov, 19-year-old Tolstoy longs to “devote himself to the country life” as he feels he “was born for it.”
  • The house where Leo Tolstoy was born. The photo is taken in 1898.
    In 1854 the house was sold and moved to the village of Dolgoye. It was demolished in 1913.
But his very first undertakings brought disappointments. Nothing turned out the way he expected, and the peasants were distrustful of the young landlord’s ideas. Disappointed in his wish to do good, Tolstoy joined the military. While the owner was away, dramatic changes took place in the central part of the estate: the large manor-house was sold and removed from Yasnaya. It was taken to the village of Dolgoye (about 40 km from Yasnaya Polyana), stood there until 1913 and was demolished because it was in such bad condition. At Yasnaya Polyana, a foundation stone of the house was left on the spot where the house had been located; later the following inscription was engraved on it: “Here stood the house where Leo Tolstoy was born.”
Leo Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana
Until 1857, Leo Tolstoy was away from his estate. In the late 1850s, he left the army and returned to Yasnaya Polyana, though he also spent much time in Moscow and St. Petersburg. At Yasnaya he settled in one of the two remaining houses that would become a home for him and later for his family; Tolstoy lived in this house for more than 50 years. The old furniture, the books, his great-grandfather’s mirrors and the family portraits moved to a new place, too. This is the house that is now referred to as the Tolstoy House Museum at Yasnaya Polyana.
  • Leo Tolstoy House at Yasnaya Polyana.
    Present days.
At that time Russia entered a new epoch; the unhurried life of the country estates was passing into history. Tolstoy made two trips abroad, and the impressions he got in Europe influenced the life of his estate, as they gave rise to new ideas and projects of its owner - always extremely inventive and creative in whatever he did. After Tolstoy came back to Russia, he enthusiastically began to carry out changes and improvements at Yasnaya. One of his nicest projects was a school for peasant children, which was opened in 1859 in the second of the two small houses built by his grandfather (called “the other house,” and later also the “Kuzminsky House”). It was a totally new school, based on the principle of freedom and creativity.
Leo Tolstoy married Sophia Bers
On September 23, 1862 Leo Tolstoy married Sophia Bers, a daughter of the Moscow court physician. The newly-married couple spent most of their time at Yasnaya Polyana. At first, it was not so easy for the young Countess to get used to country life. But gradually she managed to become the true mistress of the estate, and rather soon the presence of a woman was felt and seen everywhere: the house was now cozier and more comfortable, and lovely flower beds appeared around it.
Yasnaya Polyana transformed amazingly. Tolstoy focused more and more of his attention on farming. He enlarged his grandfather’s apple orchard. Gradually the area occupied by the orchards at Yasnaya Polyana grew from 25 to over 100 acres. All in all, there were five orchards at the estate: the Red Orchard, the Young and Old Orchards, and also the orchard near the Volkonsky House and the orchard near the Big Pond. The orchards were a stable source of income. The Tolstoys rented them to tenants. Tolstoy’s activities as a forest manager were on an even larger scale. He greatly increased the area of the Yasnaya Polyana forests. Horses also played an important role in Tolstoy’s life. As at any country estate, there were always horses at Yasnaya Polyana, both working and riding ones. Tolstoy even wanted to create a new breed, crossing purebred English riding horses with swift steppe horses.
The Tolstoys bought a house in Moscow
The Tolstoys had 13 children. Five of them died in infancy or childhood; eight children reached mature age: the sons Sergey, Ilya, Leo, Andrei, and Mikhail and the daughters Tatiana, Maria, and Alexandra. In 1881 the Tolstoys bought a house in Moscow. The elder children grew up and it was necessary for them to continue their education and for the daughters to appear in society. From that time on, the family spent winters in Moscow. However, the city oppressed Tolstoy, who said he needed “a bath of country life”. In the spring he longed to go back to Yasnaya. In his last years Tolstoy no longer moved to Moscow for the winter, preferring the peace and solitude of his estate. At that time Yasnaya Polyana did not actually belong to Leo Tolstoy. In 1892, according to his views, he renounced his property and divided all he had owned among his heirs. Yasnaya Polyana was given to his wife Sophia and their youngest son Ivan, who later died from scarlet fever (at the age of seven, in 1895).
Leo Tolstoy died
In Tolstoy’s last years the atmosphere of Yasnaya Polyana changed; the discord in the family overshadowed the life of its residents. On October 28, 1910 Leo Tolstoy left his home estate for good. He caught a severe cold and got off the train at the train station of Astapovo. The writer died there from pneumonia on November 7.
According to his will, he was buried at Yasnaya Polyana, and was laid to rest on the edge of the ravine in the Old Zakaz forest on November 9.
Yasnaya Polyana became a museum
In 1911 Tolstoy’s widow Sophia twice wrote to Nicolas II suggesting that the National Government should buy Yasnaya Polyana and preserve it, but she was refused. She was given a pension, and it was partly used to fund the running of the estate. Sophia did a great deal to preserve Yasnaya Polyana, ensuring that her husband's study and bedroom remained untouched, and that the furnishings, objects, and photographs throughout the house were inventoried. Tolstoy's children Sergey (author of the first guidebook to Yasnaya Polyana, 1914) and Alexandra also did a lot for the estate.
On May 27, 1919 Tolstoy's daughter Alexandra received a deed from the government to Yasnaya Polyana which certified that the estate and all the belongings in Tolstoy's house have "a unique cultural and historical value and, as a national property, are to be under state guardianship." In 1921 Yasnaya Polyana was declared a museum by a decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK). The museum was to function as a cultural and educational center with a library and a school, offering lectures, performances, exhibitions, and tours. Alexandra Tolstaya, who played an enormous role in creating the museum and developing it in the 1920s, was appointed "Commissar and Curator" of the museum. But in 1929 she felt compelled to leave the Soviet Union for good. In the 1930s special attention was devoted to rehabilitating and preserving the historic fabric of Yasnaya Polyana. A study of the history of Yasnaya Polyana was undertaken, using written documents and information provided directly by Tolstoy's contemporaries. The apiary was reconstructed, the orchards were restored, and new trees were planted to replace those that had died. This work was carried out under the guidance of the Botanical Garden of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

“The Yasnaya Polyana estate, located in the Krapivna district of Tula Province, with the manor house and its furnishings as well as parks, orchards, forests, plantings, ploughed fields, meadows, vegetable gardens, useless lands and farm buildings is a national property of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic” (Decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee about the nationalization of Yasnaya Polyana)

Yasnaya Polyana was threatened with Nazi occupation
In 1940 experts from the State Tretyakov Gallery restored paintings in the Tolstoy House (paintings by Repin, Ghe, Kramskoy, and others). Yasnaya Polyana came under the authority of the USSR Academy of Sciences; the museum turned into a research centre for the study of Leo Tolstoy’s legacy.
  • Leo Tolstoy House during the occupation period in 1941.
During World War II it was decided to evacuate the contents of the Tolstoy House to Tomsk. This evacuation was organized by Tolstoy's granddaughter Sophia Tolstaya-Esenina, who was at that time the director of the Tolstoy Museums at Yasnaya Polyana and in Moscow. Yasnaya Polyana itself was occupied for 47 days. Upon retreating the Germans set the Tolstoy House on fire but the fire was successfully extinguished. Yasnaya Polyana was freed on December 15, 1941, and work on restoring the estate was soon afterward begun. The first restoration was completed by May 1942. In May 1945 the exhibits were returned to their original locations. However, the restoration of Yasnaya Polyana took a long time. In 1951 a serious restoration of the Tolstoy House was carried out; the apple orchard, destroyed by frost during the war, was rehabilitated. A number of farm-buildings (e.g., the Coachman's Hut and the Granary) were reconstructed according to recollections of the village inhabitants and from photographic documentation. The 150th anniversary of Tolstoy's birth (1978) was commemorated by the museum's recognition by the Order of Lenin award.
A new stage in the history of Yasnaya Polyana
In 1986 the museum received the status of the State memorial and nature preserve, in 1993 it became a cultural object of special significance. In 1994 the directorship was taken over by Leo Tolstoy’s great-great-grandson, Vladimir Tolstoy. Since 2000, every two years the Tolstoy Family Reunions take place at Yasnaya Polyana, and Tolstoy’s descendants from many countries of the world meet here.
In recent years the museum went beyond established limits in its activities and significantly extended its territorial and professional boundaries. Now Yasnaya Polyana is a complex system of buildings and sites, a network of branches determining the various forms of interaction between museum and society. A number of international conferences and seminars focused on different aspects of Tolstoy studies are held here each year. Annual International Writers’ Meetings have already become traditional; various joint projects with foreign partners are carried out, including events for a broad audience and festivals. On May 23, 2012 Vladimir Tolstoy was appointed RF President's Advisor on Culture. Since then, Ekaterina Tolstaya has been the director of the Yasnaya Polyana Museum
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