November 01, 2000

It's a Small World



It is always interesting to learn how the lives of great Russians crossed. For when we study this or that great Russian writer or composer, we tend to look at them as a singular phenomenon. But Pushkin lived in the same era as Alexander Griboedov and the composer Mikhail Glinka. Nikolai Gogol rubbed shoulders with the artist Karl Bryullov when both were in Italy. Anton Chekhov sipped tea with Leo Tolstoy ... In fact, Russian writers, composers, poets and artists often knew one other and usually expressed mutual admiration.

So when the editorial plan for this issue indicated a story on the poet Alexander Blok (due to the 120th anniversary of his birth), I wondered if Blok’s life crossed that of any other figure we were covering in this issue. Originally, we had planned a story on the prolific painter Nikolai Roerich in this issue (but space considerations have required us to move the story back to January), and both lived at the same time. But no, I told myself, this mystical painter could scarcely have crossed paths with our great romantic poet.

And yet, to my great surprise, I discovered that, in 1910, after Blok had already become famous, the editorial board of Apollon magazine ordered an illustration from Roerich of Blok’s cycle of poems, Italian Verses. Moreover, Roerich gave Blok a painting titled, “City on the Hill.” Blok hung the painting in his room and later visited Roerich frequently.


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