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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The Bulgakovs and... Japan

New exhibition opened on the writer’s name day, the feast of St. Archangel Michael, the patron of Kyiv
30 November, 2017 - 10:16

The exhibition on display at the Literary-Memorial Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov is called “The Japanese Pages from the Life of the Bulgakovs.” The event is held with the assistance of the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts and as part of the Year of Japan in Ukraine.

The memorial space of the museum is hosting for the first time the painting Seascape, created by the Japanese artist Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) and held in the Oriental Collection of the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum. The original canvas by Hiroshige, which depicts Mount Fuji, has helped us reconstruct the interior of the living room going by a 1914 photo and bring a delicate Oriental flavor to it. The idea to show precisely this exhibit from the art museum in our literary museum did not occur to us by accident. Previously, we had no clue that the connections would turn out to be so close and meaningful.

When consulting with colleagues from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum regarding decorative and applied art works from the archive of Nadezhda Bulgakova-Zemskaya (the sister of Mikhail Bulgakov), we have learned that their museum’s Oriental Division holds five exhibits from the unique collection of Bulgakov’s uncle, the outstanding Orientalist Aleksei Pozdneev. Meanwhile, some photos from our archive, which show Bulgakov beside the younger Pozdneev, Dmitry, who formed a family in Japan, aroused great interest in art historians, who helped us attribute some details in the photos.

THE MEMORIAL SPACE OF THE MUSEUM IS HOSTING FOR THE FIRST TIME THE PAINTING SEASCAPE, CREATED BY THE JAPANESE ARTIST ANDO HIROSHIGE (1797-1858) AND HELD IN THE ORIENTAL COLLECTION OF THE BOHDAN AND VARVARA KHANENKO MUSEUM OF ARTS

Recent publications and bibliographic essays dealing with these Orientalists reveal the details of the complex and tragic fates of their families during the Russian Civil War and the Stalinist terror. Both served in succession as directors of the Oriental Institute, which was created in Vladivostok on the initiative of Aleksei Pozdneev.

Both the Bulgakovs and the Pozdneevs were large families of long-established clergy, and they maintained friendship for generations and had their children cross-marrying. The correspondence of Bulgakov’s father with Vladimir Pozdneev, the middle brother of the abovementioned Pozdneevs, is still extant. The letters of the latter’s daughter Olga contain interesting information about the Bulgakovs’ life in Kyiv, in Bucha, as well as their relocations during the First World War.

The Bulgakovs hosted Aleksei Pozdneev when he stayed in Kyiv on some business in 1905. At that time, Kyiv Theological Academy already operated its Museum of Antiquities, which had artifacts of various cultures in its collection, including Oriental ones.


MORE RECENTLY, A JAPANESE DOLL APPEARED OVER 20 YEARS AGO IN THE MEMORIAL ROOM WHERE THE BULGAKOV BOYS ONCE LIVED

By the way, Dmitry Pozdneev studied at Kyiv Theological Academy, where the father of young Mikhail taught then. On graduating from the academy, he went on to obtain a degree from the Faculty of Oriental Languages of the University of St. Petersburg, created the first Japanese-Russian Hieroglyphic Dictionary in 1910, and wrote a great many articles and books dealing with the history, geography, economy, and culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Correspondence of Nadezhda Bulgakova and Dmitry Pozdneev, dating back to 1929, confirms the connection between Mikhail Bulgakov himself and the professor of Oriental studies who was shot in 1937 and forgotten for many years.

Brother of Mikhail Bulgakov’s father, Pyotr Bulgakov, served as rector of the Russian Embassy Church in Tokyo and lived with his family in Japan in 1906-24. The children of Pyotr Bulgakov and his wife Sofia (nee Pozdneeva) stayed at the Bulgakovs’ home from time to time, or lived at their villa in Bucha. Their two sons, Kostya and Kolya, shared Apartment No. 2 at 13, Andriivsky Descent with the Bulgakovs and attended the First Kyiv Gymnasium. Bulgakov called them “the Japanese”: “Kostya the Japanese” and “Kolya the Japanese.”

When processing the archive of Nadezhda Bulgakova, we have found documents and photos telling about the subsequent events of Pyotr Bulgakov’s family’s life abroad.

More recently, a Japanese doll appeared over 20 years ago in the memorial room where the Bulgakov boys once lived. It has been mostly Japanese visitors and students of Japanese culture who pay attention to this museum exhibit. Like an unfamiliar character, it attracted the attention of the famous writer, student of Japanese culture and translator Boris Akunin, who visited our museum once. He asked: “Where did you get it?” and spent a long time looking at the doll with clear interest...

THE AUTHOR OF THE IDEA AND CURATOR OF THE EXHIBITION SVITLANA PUHACH

The Bulgakov scholars have long known about some “Japanese” pages from the Bulgakovs’ lives. But for the general public and for the Japanese themselves, who read many works by Bulgakov in their native language, and have The Master and Margarita already in the third translation, these are unexpected facts! New exhibits, documents, photos, and artifacts which shed light on the direct connection between the Bulgakov family and Japan are on display in every room of the permanent exhibition of our museum.

The exhibition “The Japanese Pages from the Life of the Bulgakovs” will last until December 17.

Visitors can also order a thematic tour, so that, having learned this “Japanese story,” they would be able to detect entirely new meanings in the following lines by Bulgakov: “Where am I going? Where? I am wearing my last shirt. Its cuffs are covered in curved letters. And heavy characters are on my heart. I have only deciphered one of the mysterious characters. It means: ‘Woe to me!’ Who will explain to me the rest?!” (Notes on a Cuff, 1923)

 Svitlana Puhach is a senior researcher at the Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov

By Svitlana PUHACH. Photos by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day
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