Magazine article The Spectator

The Ghost of Mother Russia Daisy Dunn Russia: A World Apart by Simon Marsden & Duncan McLaren - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

The Ghost of Mother Russia Daisy Dunn Russia: A World Apart by Simon Marsden & Duncan McLaren - Review

Article excerpt

The ghost of Mother Russia Daisy Dunn Russia: A World Apart by Simon Marsden & Duncan McLaren Mudds & Stoke, �25, pp. 144, ISBN 9780957379503 Here are acres of desolate countryside, pockmarked by once great estates, ravaged by rot.

Could it be much bleaker? Many aristocrats fled Russia during the Revolution. Even Tolstoy's family were affected, and while his estate today survives intact, that of his daughter-in-law and countless other members of the 18th- and 19th-century nobility were left to ruin in overgrown fields across the entire country.

This book, part travelogue (Duncan McLaren), part photography book (the late Simon Marsden), restores these buildings and their monuments to our consciousness.

Or at least what's left of them. Many of the estates which lie between Moscow and St Petersburg have been eaten away by fire or scavengers. Some are simply lost. In Smolensk Province, an early 19th-century palace with stables, post office and music pavilion, all hidden in deep green forest, even eluded the SS during the second world war.

Thuggish greenery may wreck the foundations of houses, but it does look pretty among the stonework. In the tradition of the French painter Nicolas Poussin, Simon Marsden has captured that dichotomy between beauty and decay perfectly in his shot of the Taraskovo Estate. Lying in Kashira, near Moscow, it was here that Tolstoy's daughter-in-law Alexandra Glebov spent her summers.

If only it was merely overgrown. The greatest tragedy of the Glebov home is that it wasn't until the late 1990s that its main house and exquisite parquet floors and panels were finally destroyed - by vandals. …

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