Russian Cultural Centre (London)
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|Location||5a Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2TA, England, United Kingdom|
|Public transit access||Holborn
Tottenham Court Road
Pushkin House (Russian: Пушкинский Дом) is a Registered Charity owned and run by the Pushkin House Trust. It supports and promotes the splendour, richness and beauty of Russian culture in London and beyond.
5 Bloomsbury Square as we see it today was built c.1703 as part of the estate of the Earl of Southampton. It was altered substantially by architect Henry Flitcroft in the 1740s; Flitcroft added the Palladian façade. In many respects, 5 Bloomsbury Square is a perfect example of Georgian architecture and retains the vast part of its original features.
For much of the nineteenth century 5 Bloomsbury Square was occupied by solicitors including Frederick Turner, Charles Ford and Abraham Moses Cohen. By 1888 it was occupied by the architect Arthur Beresford Pite (1861-1934). Pite became a renowned professor at the Royal College of Art and at the School of Architecture in Cambridge.
Architects continued to be housed at 5 Bloomsbury Square throughout the 20th century. Other resident organizations have included the Deaf and Dumb Females Asylum (1908), The Society of Genealogists (1922), The Royal Society of St. George (1922), the Brazilian Information Bureau (1938), the Ada Coleman Memorial Stables (1946).
5A Bloomsbury Square was purchased by the Pushkin House Trust in 2005, then thoroughly renovated and restored to a state perhaps not seen since the 18th century.
Pushkin House has existed in London since 1954 and has borne witness to dramatic changes in the relationship between Britain and Russia. It was in 1953 that Maria Kullmann recognised a need in London for a politically neutral centre of Russian culture. With a small group of family and friends she bought 24 Kensington Park Gardens as a house for students and academics of all nationalities. The first meeting of the Pushkin Club was held there in 1954. By 1956 it was clear that the Pushkin Club needed a premises of its own; it managed to buy 46 Ladbroke Grove, a fine Victorian villa once occupied by the children of William Ewart Gladstone.
The establishment of the original Pushkin House coincided with the immediate post-Stalin years and the Thaw, when interest in things Russian was intense. These years were marked, for example, by the first yearly visits of the Bolshoi and Kirov (now Mariinsky) Opera and Ballet companies. Several distinguished scholars, writers and artists of the post-revolutionary emigration were still alive, and the Pushkin Club provided them with an effective platform.
Speakers in the early days included Metropolitan Anthony, Sir Isaiah Berlin and Dame Elizabeth Hill. In 1955, Tamara Karsavina spoke of her life in ballet; the following year Edward Crankshaw talked of the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the 20th Party Congress. Scriabin's sister and Medtner's widow were both regular attendees.
Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, one of the last surviving members of Mir Iskusstva, held more than one exhibition in the Club and presented several of stage designs to the Club. There was an exhibition of paintings and lithographs by Leonid Pasternak. Soviet writers brought to the UK by the British Council would often come and talk at the Pushkin Club; they included Konstantin Fedin and Alexander Tvardovsky in 1960. It also provided a rehearsal venue for the London Balalaika Ensemble, also popular during the 1960s. The Pushkin Club enabled people from opposite ends of the political spectrum to meet and discuss; this remains a firm commitment of Pushkin House to the present day.
The fall of the Soviet Union led to a dramatic increase in Russian immigration to the UK. Russian cultural events have multiplied in all areas. There are as many tours by Russian orchestras and ballet companies as there are Russian conductors working with British symphony orchestras. There have been major exhibitions of works from the great museums of Moscow and St Petersburg. London has seen an explosion of Russian popular culture; the one-day Russian Winter Festival on Trafalgar Square is now in its fifth year and Russian pop stars are regularly heard at the Royal Albert Hall and other big venues. There are today no less than five Russian-language newspapers published in the UK.
By 2004 there was a clear need for a major Russian cultural centre of the type that the Soviet state had built in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York but never in London. 46 Ladbroke Grove was not suitable for this purpose and in 2005 the decision was therefore taken to sell the property. No5A Bloomsbury Square was purchased in 2005 and refurbished extensively through 2006. The reborn Pushkin House opened to the public on 24 November 2006.
Pushkin House has been established to serve as a home and dedicated showcase for Russian culture in London, a focus for Anglo-Russian cultural exchange, a provider of education and information on Russian language and culture, a resource and networking centre for individuals and institutions.
In pursuit of these aims, Pushkin House has developed a lively and varied cultural programme on Russian literature, art, film, music, theatre and dance, as well as history, philosophy and politics. Events include lectures and talks, seminars, conferences, exhibitions, films, concerts and readings.
The House also has its own reference library of Russian culture.
Besides its own events, Pushkin House welcomes and encourages collaboration with other institutions and groups dedicated to Russian culture. The House currently hosts lectures run by the Pushkin Club and the GB-Russia Society. Regular Russian language courses are provided by the Russian Language Centre. Creative partnerships are being established with major museums and libraries in Russia.
- P O'Neill, orchestra member at the time