There are plenty of museums in Samara and in the future I’ll try to cover most if not all of them but this very first museum-related entry I’d like to dedicate to the one closest to my heart, Modernist Style Museum. It’s not the biggest, it’s not the oldest but it certainly is one of the finest and liveliest institutions of this kind in the city. This relatively new addition to Samara’s culture scene is situated on the corner of Frunze and Krasnoarmeyskaya Street and occupies a modern style villa constructed in the beginning of the last century by a member of one among the city’s largest grain merchant clans and a respected philanthropist, Alexander Gieorgievich Kurlin, for his wife, Alexandra Pavlovna.
Some historic background
This impressive building was designed by a renowned local architect Aleksander Ustinovich Zelenko and was one of the first modern villas in the city.
As was the case with most such houses in the former Soviet Union, the turbulent history left many scars on the building. In 1914, shortly before eruption of the Civil War (1917 – 1922), Kurlin died of a heart attack after suffering years of mental illness that made him unfit to work. In 1918 during Revolt of a Czechoslovak Legion the Czechoslovak army’s counterintelligence took over the building and according to memoirs, kept prisoners and organized executions in the basement; there are still some bullet holes and graffiti made by prisoners visible on the cellar walls. That same year Aleksandra Kurlina escaped to Moscow to never return to Samara.
After a few relatively uneventful years when the villa served, among many other functions, as a kindergarten, in 1941 during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union when all of the diplomatic missions were transferred to Kuibyshev (as the city had been known between 1935-1991), the Swedish Embassy was moved into the building and remained there till summer 1943. Later the building was used for various purposes including a local history museum. Finally, in 1995 by decree of Boris Yeltsin, the former President of the Russian Federation, it was awarded the status of historical and cultural monument of federal significance. This move facilitated the intense reconstruction works in the villa, which started in 2008 and lasted over 4 years. The building has been officially opened on the 25th of December 2012 and has housed the museum of modernist style ever since.
Zelenko implemented in the villa all basic pillars of art nouveau style with intricate curved line patterns of winding asymmetrical lines, which are clearly visible in the shape of the building as well as at the entrance door, around window frames and in the butterfly shape of the main gate. He used as well a new material, color-glazed tile, to decorate the exterior of the building. The interior has been organized according to centric layout with all rooms (living room, dining room, pantry, study, boudoir and a small living room) on the first floor surrounding the central hall, with a similar layout on the second floor, only scaled down. In total there are 22 rooms in the building. Each of the rooms located on the first floor was decorated in a different style – some, like the living room with large windows overlooking Frunze street, were aimed to bring balance with the outside world, others, as the dining room, were meant to offer more intimacy. My favorite room in the building is Kurlina’s boudoir with impressive stained windows with floral motives.
Modernist Style Museum
Years of neglect had a large impact on the building, which means that most of the artwork and decorative features on display weren’t in the house during Kurlins’ times. However, a massive effort has been put to bring the mansion back to its prime condition and give visitors a taste of the early 20th century local elite’s lifestyle. Today the mansion is filled with fine artwork including paintings, statues and unique hand-made imported furniture from the late 19th and early 20th century , some period clothing and small collection of Kurlin’s family photos. Interestingly, in the office room visitors will find the sole item that belonged to Aleksander Kurlin – the personal seal made of quartz. This was the only thing from the villa that his wife took with her to Moscow and which she passed on to her neighbor (nb the daughter of the last governor of Odessa) from a communal apartment that she occupied after leaving Samara not long before her death in 1970. In 1990 the seal was donated to the Alabin Samara Regional Museum.
Ticket to the main exhibition, which includes all of the rooms on the ground floor, costs 80 RUB for adults. Unfortunately, almost all of the explanations are in Russian with some short descriptions of items on display in English. The museum offers as well audio guides (for now in Russian only) and language guided tours around the villa (free of charge but in Russian only). If you don’t speak Russian, don’t be put off and go to see the museum anyway – it’s worth visiting even if only to admire the rich decorations and art nouveau items on display. The museum hosts as well regular talks, music events and temporary exhibitions – currently it’s a collection of original period clothing from the collection of famous Russian fashion historian and collector a a popular TV personality, Alexander Vasilyev.