Monday, June 13, 2022 - 00:00


Time: 10:30 for 10:45 am – 3:30pm   

Venue: Linnean Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BF

Lecturer: Dr Rosamund Bartlett

Cost: £38  There are no facilities for coffee

This day of lectures will provide a close-up of the extraordinary lives of the great Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov, exploring their associations with contemporary painters, and their own unusual friendship, set against the turbulent era in which they lived.  The first lecture, "Art and Society in Imperial Russia" will provide a cultural context by providing some historical and cultural background.  It will focus on the exceptionally important role played by painting, music and literature under an oppressive and reactionary regime, when writers were sent to Siberia for telling the truth, artists were forced to endure their canvases being censored, and composers had operas personally removed from theatre repertoires by the Tsar.

Both Tolstoy and Chekhov were revolutionaries in their own way, as each recognised.  The last two lectures will explore their remarkable careers, and how they interwove with each other in surprising ways.  Tolstoy, former soldier in Sebastopol and world-renowned novelist, later relinquished his aristocratic title to become an international celebrity preaching an anarchic Christian doctrine of non-violence.  At the end of his long life, when he formed important friendships with the painters Repin and Ge, he enjoyed greater moral authority than the Tsar, despite being excommunicated by the Orthodox Church. 

Chekhov was unusual in coming from a lowly merchant background and initially training as a doctor.  His best friend was the landscape painter Isaak Levitan. Although he never planned to be a writer, and began by writing comic stories to earn money, he proved to be a radical innovator, transforming how short stories were written and creating the first modern drama.  After making an epic journey across the Russian Empire to conduct a census of a notorious penal colony in Siberia, and before his premature death from tuberculosis, he formed a fruitful friendship with Tolstoy, over thirty years his senior.