A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

Alexey Alexandrovich Bakhrushin and his family

А.А. Бахрушин. Харьков /январь 1890/.

Museum founder Alexey Alexandrovich Bakhrushin /1865 – 1929/ belonged to one of the most respected in Moscow merchant families. Bakhrushins were not only successful entrepreneurs, but also well-known philanthropists.

Family business

According to family legend, the distant ancestor of Bakhrushins, Tatar from Kasimov, settled in Zaraysk, Ryazan County, at the end of the XVI century. He adopted Orthodoxy and received the name of Bakhrushin – from the Muslim father’s name – Bakhrush. His descendants have lived in Zaraysk more than two centuries.

In 1821, the dynasty founder, Alexey Fyodorovich Bakhrushin, moved to Moscow, to Kozhevniki in Zamoskvorechye District. The family went on foot all the way and simple household goods were fit on a single cart. Then Alexey Fyodorovich bought a small leather factory and plots of land around it. In 1834, Bakhrushin’s handicraft factory became a plant and a year later its owner was on the list of Muscovite merchants.

Plant was innovative with improved technologies and modern equipment. However, when successors of Alexey Fyodorovich took the business in 1848, the property was charged with huge debts and the plant was mortgaged. Lenders demanded money and people, experienced in business, advised to Bakhrushins to abandon the inheritance and start everything from the beginning. Widow and three sons – Pyotr, Alexander and Vasily – decided at family reunion not to besmirch the memory of deceased and to try to repay debts. Hereinafter, they have never taken credit and all payments were made in cash. Natalia Ivanovna Bakhrushina took business into her own hands – the woman was competent and practical. Sons helped her.

After a while, the upgraded plant began to generate revenues that were exponentially increased from year to year. In 1864, Bakhrushin brothers attached to the plant a cloth-weaving factory and began to trade the cloth in Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don. Family capital grew, but Bakhrushins lived modestly, without carousing and extravagance that happened often in merchant society.

Alexander directed the leather plant, Pyotr managed the business of the large cloth-weaving factory. Here the best by quality cloth, wool and cotton wool in Russia were produced. The third brother, Vasily, was in charge of barns, went on business in Russia and abroad.

Manufacture continued to improve: in 1861, Alexander Alexeyevich, father of future museum founder, visited France, England and Germany, studying the best practices in the leather industry to apply it at home.

Entrepreneurs like Bakhrushins were a factor of social stability in Russian society. By the beginning of the century, around 1000 persons from generation to generation worked in their factories, so the Bakhrushins’ factories didn’t know unrest and strikes.

Unlike many merchants-millionaires, Bakhrushins didn’t strive to luxury. They invested a lot in the purchase of large plots of land in Moscow and built high-rise apartment houses – near Chistoprudny Boulevard, in the Bolshoy Zlatoustinskiy and Kozitskiy lanes, at the Sofiyskaya Embankment, in Serpukhovskaya part.

Charity as lifestyle

Bakhrushins were called in Moscow “the professional philanthropists”. Family had a custom: at the end of every financially auspicious year they allocated money to help poor, sick, old people and students. It wasn’t done for show, without any advertising. Actually, all the charity institutions, established with family capital, received the name of Bakhrushin brothers, so as to keep it in the memory of future generations.

In the homeland of their ancestors, in Zaraysk, Bakhrushins built a church, a poorhouse, a school, a maternity hospital, a hospital, an ambulance station, released at their own expense a special edition “Zaraysk. Materials for the History of the Town of XVI-XVIII centuries”. In October 1882, brothers wrote a letter to the mayor of Moscow, where they expressed a wish to donate to the city 450 thousand rubles for the construction of a hospital. Bakhrushins’ hospital for people suffering from incurable diseases for 200 persons – great for the time – was built by autumn of 1887 at Sokolnichie Field, at the beginning of Stromynskoe highway. Family doctor of Bakhrushins – A.A. Ostroumov – became the chief physician. Hospital bears his name until today. Bakhrushins built medical and educational institutions, as well as ensured their continued existence with money from a reserve fund within each of institutions. They also financed the construction of a care and attention home for terminally ill people near the hospital /1892/.

In 1895, Bakhrushins appealed to the Moscow government with a request to provide a piece of land for the construction of “a shelter for children abandoned by parents”. Bakhrushins allocated 150 thousand rubles for a city orphanage in Sokolnichya Grove. Reserve fund represented 450 thousand, interest from which ensured it for many years. This shelter wasn’t like other institutions of this kind: orphan boys were raised there until the age of majority. Shelter provided not only a school, but also workshops for craft education.

In 1898, Bakhrushins built on Bolotnaya Square “a house of free flats” for needy widows with children and female students. After two years, they sold their land ownership at the Sofiyskaya Embankment and built nearby two more buildings. Totally, 1 257 thousand rubles were donated for houses of free flats. Around two thousand people lived there. There were also opened such institutions like two kindergartens, primary industrial school for boys, professional school for girls. There were common workrooms with sewing machines and free dining room inside.

Alexander Alexeyevich Bakhrushin donated half a million rubles to the city for the construction of the national house with theatre with 1500 seats, library, reading room, dining room for poor population, as well as for the construction of the building of educational and craft workshop with dormitory for poor boys.

Bakhrushins donated half a million rubles for a shelter for street children in Moscow – it was established in 1905.

Before the February revolution, they transferred their mansion in Ivanovskoe near Podolsk for the establishment of a shelter for street children.

History of building of the popular at the turn of the century Korsch Theatre in Moscow is connected with the name of Bakhrushins. In 1885, they bought a piece of land with huge garden and ponds in Bogoslovsky lane and leased the best part of it to Korsch to construct a theatre on the most favourable for lessee terms. Ponds were filled and there were constructed high-rise residential buildings /Sergey Yesenin has lived there for a while/.

Theatre building in Pseudo-Russian style designed by architect M.N. Chigolov was built in a fantastically short time – less than 100 days. Alexander Alexeyevich Bakhrushin was among those who gave financial aid to Korsch – he allocated 50 thousand rubles for the construction of theatre.

Totally, in 1892-1912 Bakhrushins donated to the city 4 million rubles.

In 1900, Alexander and Vasily Bakhrushin /Pyotr was already dead/ were awarded the title of honorary citizen of Moscow for their charitable work. Before them, such honour was given to only one representative of merchant class – to P.M. Tretyakov, who donated his art gallery to the city.

Vasily Alexeyevich, who died in 1906, left considerable sums for charity, which he bequeathed for the establishment of scholarships to five educational institutions – Moscow University, Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, Academy of Commercial Sciences and gymnasium.

Alexander Alexeyevich Bakhrushin died 10 years later at the age of 92 years. He bequeathed for charity around 800 thousand rubles. He said to his children “to live in peace and harmony, to help poor, to live honestly”. By continuing the father tradition, instead of commemoration for deceased they donated 10 thousand rubles to the city guardianship over poor and organized a memorial dinner only for employees of the Bakhrushins’ enterprises.

Alexey Alexandrovich

Alexander Alexeyevich Bakhrushin had three sons: Vladimir, Alexey and Sergey. They studied, like many children from merchant families, in the Kreyman private school in Petrovka Street. Alexey had difficulties in learning. His certificate for the 4th class shows that he got “3” for the majority of subjects. Alexey left the 7th class of school /or probably earlier/, declaring that he wanted to work at the factory. For the father, who was a fanatic of industrial activity, it was quite a strong argument. Later Alexey Alexandrovich regretted all his life that he hadn’t graduate.

From early morning until five PM Alexey was at factory, helping his father with business, and devoted the evenings to social life. He loved to dress fashionably and eccentrically: wore a pot a little smaller than others, a promenade cane – a little thicker. He also played in amateur performances.

Young Bakhrushin spent most evenings in theatres. From young age he was fond of opera and ballet, admired the masters of the Maly Theatre – Yermolova, Fedotova, Nikulina, Sadovsky, Lensky. Soon the love for theatre turned into a real passion.

Word by word…

One day in a group of youth a cousin of Alexey Alexandrovich, S.V. Kupriyanov, began to boast of his collection of theatrical relics – playbills, photographs, random souvenirs bought from antique dealers, etc. Bakhrushin wasn’t excited about these various acquisitions. “Collection is valuable only when one searches for objects with deep personal interest in them,” – he said. “When one just buys everything from sellers, it is a waste of time”.

Kupriyanov got angry and began to praise his “treasures”, Bakhrushin also got in a rage. Word by word…

– I’ll gather more than you in a month! – Alexey Alexandrovich declared.

Cousin was outraged and proposed a bet. It was made with many witnesses and won in due time. Thus, Bakhrushin learned that it would be the main business of his life.

He had very little collecting experience. Bakhrushin rushed to booksellers, antique dealers, every Sunday went to Sukharevka (Sukharevskaya Street). There he found amazing things.

Moscow in the late XIX century was a promised land for amateurs and seekers of different antiques. Nikolsky Impasse, width of several steps, was situated at the heart of the city near Kitayskaya Wall. Bookshops were squeezed there in the semi-basements of local houses. There were so many books that not only a buyer, but even a seller couldn’t turn. Old bookshops were situated at the Varvarskie Gates. Famous “book market” extended along Kitayskaya Wall to Ilyinskie Gates. Here one could buy everything that was printed at that time.

Every night from Saturday to Sunday thousands of stalls appeared as if by magic in legendary Sukharevskaya Street. Brisk trade took place from 5 AM to 5 PM. Food, clothes, shoes, crockery were for sale there. If someone was robbed in Moscow – first of all he ran to Sukharevka to search for his things in stalls.

One could make a fantastic purchase at the Sunday market: from old rare books, paintings of famous artists to ragged boots and thief set for stealing money from cash desks. By the end of the century, many old noble families fell into decline and different precious things from their mansions were sold in Sukharevka often almost for nothing: furniture, chandeliers, statuettes, porcelain of Sèvres, tapestries, carpets, jewellery. Antique dealers and collectors explored the stalls for hours, many masterpieces were sold for pennies and later connoisseurs valued them at hundreds of thousands of rubles.

«Where did you get this?»

Here, in Sukharevka, Alexey Alexandrovich made a discovery that was the beginning of his collection. He bought 22 little dirty and dusty portraits for 50 rubles in an antique shop. There were some people in theatre costumes. Bakhrushin supposed that his discovery dated to XVIII century. On the same day he went to the Avanzo Art Shop in Kuznetsky Most, asked to wash and restore the portraits and mount them in large common frame.

When the customer came to take back his thing, it was unrecognizable and had elegant appearance.

Bakhrushin admired the lively colourful portraits. Suddenly, someone behind his back said:

– Sell me that!

It was a man with grey beard, introducing himself as the director of the Maly Theatre, Kondratiev. Bakhrushin refused to sell his acquisition, but invited a new friend to his house to examine the portraits.

After examination, Kondratiev assumed that the portraits show serf actors of the Sheremetevsky theatre in Kuskovo. This hypothesis was confirmed many years later, when a descendant of the owner of the serf theatre, Count P.S. Sheremetev, examined the collection of Bakhrushin and stopped, dazed by “discovery from Sukharevka”.

– Where did you get this? – He asked the master and, after having learned the story of the purchase, told:

– These portraits were stolen from Kuskovo many years ago. I remember them from childhood. Portraits were made in Paris and costumes for actors of the Sheremetevsky theatre were sewed according to them.

Soon, the count sent a few similar portraits that happened not to have been stolen. “This is to make the collection united”, – he explained to Bakhrushin.

Alexey Alexandrovich was very fond of this series of portraits that were created by the artist Marianna Kirzinger.

Collectors are not born…

Alexey Alexandrovich got more and more closer to the world of theatre and obtained various objects, enriching the collection: programmes of performing plays, congratulatory letters, photographs with autographs, notebooks with texts of roles, ballet shoes, gloves of actresses. He looked for these things himself and due to help of friends, he became a regular of used book and antique shops.

Collecting became a passion – Alexey Alexandrovich thought also about his collection and could talk only about it. Friends were surprised, laughed at his eccentricity, shrugged shoulders – who could have imagined then that “theatrical trifles”, assiduously collected by Bakhrushin, would become the most valuable support for the study of the history of Russian and foreign theatre?

At first, the collector missed flair and skill to fully appreciate and chose for the collection really valuable things. Bakhrushin told many times a story about an unknown artist that has come to him and proposed to buy his theatre designs. At that time, Alexey Alexandrovich wasn’t very good at such works and didn’t buy them.

– What would you like to buy? – The artist asked.

– Well, a painting of a woman.

– I’ll certainly make it for you. Could you give me now some money in advance?

Bakhrushin gave him 100 rubles. One day, in a year, when he came home, a servant said him that some artist had come and asked to pass his debt. Alexey Alexandrovich unwrapped a package and gasped. It was the portrait in watercolour “Ukrainian Woman’s Head” made by Mikhail Vrubel /afterwards, it had been kept in Bakhrushins family many years/.

– If I had been smarter, I would have bought more masterpieces of Vrubel! – Alexey Alexandrovich usually complained.

For the first time, Alexey Alexandrovich showed his collection to friends on 11 June 1894. The same year, on 13 October, Bakhrushin made an exhibition for everybody in the house of parents in Kozhevniki. He considered this day the official date of the museum establishment.

Bakhrushin was lucky to find a wife who respected and was keen on the collection same as her husband. Their meeting took place on 8 January 1895, at the Christmas costume ball, when Vera Vasilyevna Nosova was only 19 years old. She was a daughter of a native from merchant class, a millionaire and an owner of cloth factories, V.D. Nosov.

Their wedding was held on 17 April 1895. Bakhrushin-father gave his son a piece of land on the corner of Luzhnetskaya Street /now, Bakhrushina Street/ and Zatsepsky Val Street as a wedding present. Two-storey mansion designed by the architect, K.K. Gippius, was built soon on this site.

Young Bakhrushins decided that three rooms in semi-basement floor of new building will be destined for the collection and other rooms will be used for household. But the collection of theatrical relics grew very fast. Alexey Alexandrovich found them himself and with the help of friends, purchased and received as a gift from numerous friends-actors.

In 1899, in Yaroslavl, 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian theatre was solemnly celebrated. Large and very interesting exhibition was organized with the help of Bakhrushin. One third of exhibits had the labels with inscription “From the collection of A.A. Bakhrushin”. Exhibition in Yaroslavl generated a great interest. People learned and spoke about the collection. It caused an intensive flow of new receipts.

Alexey Alexandrovich has never refused from everything, saying: “Everything can be useful, we’ll deal with it!” Old musical instruments and sheet music, autographs and manuscripts of actors, writers, drama writers, portraits, paintings and theatre designs made by Kiprensky, Tropinin, Vasnetsov brothers, Repin, Vrubel, Dobuzhinsky, Korovin, Kustodiev, collection of theatre glasses, women’s fans, personal properties of artists, objects of theatrical life – everything was in the collection of Bakhrushin! It filled up every day and demanded more space. It took all the space of the semi-basement floor, than a residential part – children room, buffet, hall upstairs, stable and coach house in the courtyard.

Representatives of the Muscovite “high society” treated with irony a passion of the collector. Bakhrushin was asked snide questions at nights and dinners: is it true that he bought buttons from pants of Mochalov and suspenders of Shchepkin? Alexey Alexandrovich ignored it. After the theatrical celebration in Yaroslavl, he clearly understood that he did right, useful work and calmly continued to follow his own path.

Fortunately for the collector, his wife also got carried away by theatre, was his like-minded person and loyal assistant. In a short time she learned typing, bookbinding, carving in leather and in wood, was a perfect photographer and managed phonograph of her husband. All these knowledge and skills V.V. Bakhrushina used for the collection design. Her duties were to gather playbills of first night performances, press materials devoted to theatrical events. Museum archive possesses a multitude of cardboard with glued to it newspaper cuttings. Every cutting had inscriptions with Vera Vasilievna’s small handwriting – a name of newspaper and a date of publication.

Alexey Alexandrovich had irascible and stubborn temper. His son, Y.A. Bakhrushin, remembers that it had been a torment for the mother to ask for money for housekeeping expenses – Bakhrushin thought all the sums spent for household taken blindly away from the collection.


Nevertheless, Bakhrushin’s house was very hospitable. His guests were composer César Cui, artist Surikov, Theatre Hermitage owner Lentovsky, Imperial Theatres director Telyakovsky, signers Varya Panina, Anastasiya Vyaltseva, many actors of the Maly Theatre, actress from St. Petersburg Savina, Gilyarovsky, Sobinov and many other famous people.

In 1897, Bakhrushin became a member of the council of the Russian Theatre Society and led the Moscow Theatrical Bureau. He has usefully worked for many years there. The same year, in 1897, he submitted his candidature for city council and became there a permanent speaker on theatre aspects.

Bakhrushin was an indispensable participant of many commissions, exhibition committees connected with theatre, art and history. “Everyone wants him, – Newspaper “Novosti Sezona” wrote. – There is no commission that didn’t invite him”

At the beginning of 1907, the Moscow city council charged Alexey Alexandrovich with a mission to direct the Vvedensky People’s House /now, its reconstructed building in Zhuravleva Square is owned by the Palace of Culture of Moscow Electric Lamps Plant/. Bakhrushin wanted to establish there a theatre that could appear as “a temple of real art” on the outskirts, filled with workers. He was able to find a good company /its leading actor for several years was Ivan Mozzhukhin, a future star of incipient Russian cinematography/. Repertoire was quite serious: a worker could see at People’s House the same plays that were performed on central stages. In 1909, there were realized such productions as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare, “The Ardent Heart ”, “The Storm” by Ostrovsky, “Ivanov” and “The Cherry Orchard” by Chekhov; in 1913 – “A Month in the Country” by Turgenev, “The Sunken Bell” by Hauptmann, “The Northern Knights” by Ibsen. In summer, the company of the Vvedensky People’s House performed in the Sokolnichiy Park.


Meanwhile, the collection grew up. Bakhrushin had his own particular methods of its replenishment. When he learned that a famous theatre figure wanted to examine his collection, he organized showcases “on duty”, when interesting and valuable exhibits relating to visitor were hidden and only trifling objects were shown. Alexey Alexandrovich led a guest to the showcase and sighed:

– Unfortunately, that’s all that i have about you. I wish a great figure like you would be fully represented at the museum. But I can’t help it!

This method was very effective: a visitor donated to the museum a valuable contribution.

Bakhrushin collected not only personal belongings of theatre figures, but also objects that reflected the history of theatre. For example, he had a big dream to purchase belongings of old puppet theatres “Vertep” and “Petrushka”, common in Russia before appearance of theatre with people as actors. But owners of “Petrushkas” didn’t want to sell them for any amount of money. Search was crowned with success only after 1908.

In 1909, Alexey Alexandrovich was attracted by theatre telescopes that appeared before theatre glasses and were common in the first half of the XIX century. But what did they look like? Initially, the collector didn’t even have a certain idea. However, he began to search for them and after a while became an owner of the collection of theatre telescopes.

Bakhrushin elaborated a special tactic of trade with sellers, described in memoirs of his son. Alexey Alexandrovich looked out for a required object, but wasn’t like he wants to buy it. He asked a seller the price of a needless object near the desired one. Seller saw that his goods have demand and put a high price. Bakhrushin pretended to be willing to buy it and began to bargain. During long debates with seller, he asked a price of the object he wanted. Seller, preoccupied with trade of the first thing, hastily named a low price. Then, Alexey Alexandrovich interrupted the trade and told that he would come tomorrow and as compensation for the wasted time he would take another thing. And went out with desired purchase.

Collection grew up faster and faster. House became inflated with things, books, papers. In 1913, father gave to Alexey Alexandrovich another mansion and soon, it was crammed to the limit too. Bakhrushin always sorted through his treasures, sorted them by division: theatre, musical instruments, composers, literature, ethnography, etc.


“When I was convinced that my collection reached the limits, when I didn’t have a right to manage these materials, I thought that, as a son of the great Russian nation, I should give this collection for the good of this nation”, – A.A. Bakhrushin said these words in the memorable day for him – on 25 November 1913, when his collection was transferred to the Russian Academy of Sciences.

After the revolution, Alexey Alexandrovich didn’t quit the motherland. He couldn’t be separated from his creation and business of whole his life. On 30 January 1919, Lunacharsky, a people’s commissar for education, issued the following decree: “A. Bakhrushin Theatre Museum in Moscow, being directed by the Academy of Sciences under the People’s Commissariat for Education, because of its special theatrical nature, will be transferred to the Department for Theatre of the People’s Commissariat for Education”.

Two days later, on 1 February, O.D. Kameneva signed the decree: “To appoint a member of the Bureau of the History and Theatre Section, Alexey Alexandrovich Bakhrushin, as the director of the A. Bakhrushin Theatre Museum under the Department for Theatre of the People’s Commissariat for Education”.

Bakhrushin became one of those rare patrons of the art from Moscow, whose activity – in the same capacity as before the revolution – continued under the Soviet government. He can be named a lifelong director – Bakhrushin worked as director until his last hour.

Text adopted fragments from the book of Natalia Dumova “Muscovite Patrons of Art” /Moscow, Moloda

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