SPB: Ballerinas & Bourgeoisie

Hello readers! This past Friday, we made a trip to the State Museum of Political History of Russia. While many of my friends found the museum “horribly boring” I was completely enthralled by it. I got to stand on the same floors and breathe the same air that Lenin did… as a polisci nerd, I was kind of freaking out! But I’ll get to that later.


The entrance to the museum looks like a decrepit mansion – and that’s because it is! Picture this: it is the very beginning of the 20th century. One of the most prominent Russian ballerinas at the time, Mathilde Kschessinska, was gifted a mansion in Saint Petersburg. She was infamous for having a relationship with three royal family members. First, with Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia who was brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks. Second, with Sergei Mikhailovich, a Grand Duke of the Romanov family and uncle of Nicholas. And lastly, with Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich, the cousin of Nicholas and Mathilde’s eventual husband.

The life Mathilde lived in Saint Petersburg was a lavish one. She was a famous ballerina who danced at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater, who lived in a large mansion, that would often host members of the royal party. However, as the Bolsheviks started to gain power and progress with their revolution, Mathilde was mocked for her aristocratic symbolism. It also endangered her greatly. Knowing that she would have an untimely fate because of this, she fled Russia with Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich to France. She left behind her gifted mansion and all the extravagant things inside it.

Her life in France was very different from her life in Russia, but at least she was alive. She opened her own ballet school because her husband and son couldn’t get jobs as Russian immigrants. The school kept them afloat very modestly, but it also became a place where future prima ballerinas would be trained by Mathilde. Despite her torrential life in Russia, she regained a good name in the rest of the world, and her legacy never dissipated. She lived a very long time – until 1971. To me, that is amazing. No matter how tragic her life was, it is incredible to me that Russia’s prima ballerina and the mistress of Tsar Nicholas II made a different life in France and lived that long. So much history in one woman’s story.

However, when Mathilde fled, her house wasn’t empty for long. Within just a few days, the mansion was occupied and turned into the headquarters for the Bolsheviks. For those who don’t know, around this time (1917) Lenin returned from exile in Finland. He began working at the mansion with his fellow Bolsheviks and would make famous speeches from the balcony facing Kronverkskiy Prospekt. There are paintings showing these moments (often with Trotsky right behind him), so it was surreal to stand by the same balcony where Lenin made speeches that inspired the most life-changing revolution in Russia.

Connected to the balcony, is the room where Lenin and his secretary worked. All the furniture in the room is genuine, and when the museum was first established in the 50’s, the officials brought in Lenin’s secretary so she could replicate the exact placement of everything. I honestly live for these things – seeing such a genuine setting where such important political moments happened – and they just look so normal. I definitely was having a blast at being in the room and getting a good look at everything! Side note: this doesn’t mean I’m a fan of Trotskyism or communism (and my Russian professor would probably have an aneurysm if he knew I wrote this) but I’m kind of a huge fan of Trotsky. Not fan as in “I adore everything about him”, but a fan as in “his life is so incredibly interesting, and faceted, and messed up that I’m constantly intrigued”. I bring this up because there was a lot of imagery of Trotsky, which makes sense considering he was Lenin’s right-hand man before Stalin exiled him to Mexico and had him assassinated with an ice pick. I might make a post later on dedicated to Trotsky because his story is a great read and his relationship with Russians was very interesting.

Anyways, I’ve attached two more photos below. The first is where the main Bolshevik officers would work and the second is Lenin’s office. There was a lot more in the museum – history of leaders like Stalin and Putin, a section dedicated to the first Russian man on the moon (Yuri Gagarin) along with an original and genuine Sputnik which was crazy to see in person, and much more. If anyone ever makes the trip to Russia, I would recommend this museum in a heartbeat. Five stars! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️




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