The exhibition represents the photographs of the Russian country estates taken between 1860s and 1920s. The project is based on a collection of works from the State Historical Museum and seeks to track the changes in the approach to depicting country estates in photographic art and to explore the main subjects of such photographs.

The life of the Russian nobility largely revolved around their country estates. Country estate life contributed significantly to the Russian economy and culture. The traditions of the common folk and the nobility intertwined here thus expressing the national spirit. The exhibited photographs are of equal historical value though they differ in terms of artistic merits. Taken altogether, these images constitute a complex picture of the country estate’s cultural heritage, the artistic environment and the private lives of the aristocratic and merchant families. The displayed photos demonstrate the country estate from different perspectives, starting with the grand views of large manorial estates and amateur photographs from family albums to the artistic interpretations of old parks and abandoned estates.

The first section features the made-to-order grand views of the country estates, made by artists from the most reputed photographic studios. Most of these photos are of considerable size and distinctive design. They aim to show the most flattering views of the architectural ensemble and the surrounding landscape, as well as the portraits of the owners at their favorite countryseats. The subject, the printing characteristics and sometimes even the design of these works depended on the taste of the client who had commissioned the order as much as on the artistic view of the photographer. A number of famous estates, which served their owners as central residences, were depicted in this fashion (Ostafyevo, Arkhangelskoye, Ilyinskoye). The exhibition features unique early works of the 1860s – the views of the Nikolskoye-Obolyaninovo estate by M.N. Sherer and Nikolskoye-Prozorovskoye estate by M.B. Tulinov.

The next section is dedicated to amateur photography. These photos were taken by the owners themselves as well as by their guests.  Vivid design and the spontaneity of subjects are characteristic of such works. At the turn of the century, with photography gaining popularity as an accessible type of art, the artistic environment of the old country estates attracted attention of amateur photographers. The summer leisure activities in Russian society were traditionally related to the country estate; therefore, amateurs often engaged themselves in capturing the daily routine of the hasteless country life. Amateur photography sought to reflect neither aesthetic nor historical value of the manorial estate; it was born in an attempt to capture the idyllic atmosphere and to share common household memories. The exhibited photos range from genre works (garden parties and basket luncheons, boat trips, strolling) to portraits of guests and servants, from images of private quarters on the upper floors to pictures of secluded alcoves in the gardens.

The photographs of the next section reflect a growing interest for exploring and preserving Russian country estate and all of its cultural and historical artifacts. Such interest appeared in the beginning of the XXth century, when the country estate began to be perceived as a synthetic form of art and a place of ancestral reminiscence. In photography this perception was manifested in thorough registering of the architectural ensembles and interiors of the country estates. A number of prominent photographers, such as P.P. Pavlov, N.N. Ushakov, A.A. Ivanov-Terentyev et al. turned to documenting the views of the country estates.

By the end of the XXth century, the country estate mythos was formed in literature as well as in art. The country estate became a symbol of the dissipating traditions of the Russian nobility. The unique view of the artist focused on details and landscapes that conveyed a specific atmosphere of the country estate life – the poetry of decay and fading glory. Photographers turned their attention to parks and surrounding landscapes, aiming to conceive their spiritual and emotional nature. At that time, the concept of the manorial estate in photography was commonly expressed through two significant symbols: a young girl and a parkway. The artists saw the country estate as if through a light mist of reminiscence. The photographic style that corresponded to this view the best was pictorialism. The images displayed in this section come from the fund of the Russian photographic society, which is the gem of the State Historical Museum collection of photographs. The works by N.S. Krotkov, V.N. Chasovnikov, V.N. Shokhin et al. were exhibited at a number of photographic contests and were selected by the Russian photographic society for the museum of photography which had been in project. Such renowned artists as A.S. Mazurin and N.A. Petrov payed tribute to the country estates as well.

The 1920s became the last notable period for the development of the country estate image in photography. The increased attention to the manorial estate cultural heritage and the emotive power of the devastated “gentlefolk nests” met the eye of the eminent Soviet artists. Being a relic of the past, the country estate acquired new meanings. The exhibited photos include works by an outstanding Russian photographer A.D. Grinberg who aimed to create a new image of the country estate that could accentuate the irrevocable yesterday and the past that was long gone rather than the fading of the magnificent Silver Age. Most of these photos were represented at a famous exhibition Soviet Photography of the last 10 years, which was held in 1928. However, the traditions of the country estate life had been filed as history and therefore the image of the manorial estate soon disappeared from the photographs of the Soviet era.