The fact that Russia is my homeland belongs to the great and mysterious inner convictions that I live by. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Traveling to Russia Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) called the “decisive event” of his life. Together with Lou Andreas-Salomé, visited Russia and modern-day Ukraine.These trips should count as two of the most powerfully influential experiences abroad in the history of German-language literature. The first – in 1899 – was accompanied by the Easter ringing of the Kremlin bells; A year later, surveying the Volga landscape, he wrote that it was as if he “saw the work of the Creator”. And in the first and second journey, he was looking for original Russian art in Moscow and St. Petersburg galleries. After the first trip in 1899,  he wanted to practice only “Russian things.”

A folding icon brought by Rilke from Russia as a souvenir

They met twice with Leo Tolstoy (in Moscow and Yasnaya Polyana), visited peasant poet Spiridon Drozhzhin in his native village of Nizovka (Tver province). Rilke met and then corresponded with poet Leonid Pasternak, artist Alexandre Benois, impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Returning to Germany, he translated Russian authors, tried to arrange exhibitions of Russian art in Berlin and Vienna; he studied Russian – and so much that he began to write Russian poetry and was going to even move to Russia. And in 1926 (the last year of his life), Rilke entered into correspondence with Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva.

Rilke with Lou Andreas-Salomé in Russia with the poet Spiridon Drozin (1900)

For Rilke, these trips were revitalizing experiences—personally, artistically and spiritually. Only few modern poets were so much welcome in Russia prior to the October Revolution. For the duration of his lifetime, Russia remained Rilke’s home and the destination of his yearning.

Within the framework of the tri-national exhibition Rilke und Russland (Rilke and Russia), the testimonies to this legendary fascination merge for the first time: diaries; documents and images from the German Literature Archive, the Swiss Literary Archives, the Rilke-Archiv in Gernsbach, Lou-Andreas-Salomé-Archiv in Göttingen; and most of all letters from Russian archives and collections. In addition, three contemporary artists present current perspectives on Rilke’s travel paths in Russia: photographs of Mirko Krizanovic and Barbara Klemm, as well as a film of Anastasia Alexandrowa are displayed as they correspond to historical materials. The established expert on Russia, Ilma Rakusa, will contribute a literary essay for the accompanying catalogue.Each exhibition was accompanied, in addition, Each exhibition also was accompanied by a scholarly conference dedicated to his legacy, his work and his era; the last conference was held on February 7 and 8 at the Russian State University of Humanities in Moscow.

The exhibition in Russia runs in Moscow in the house of Russian art collector Ilya Ostroukhov in Trubniki until 31 March.

View of the exhibition