Museums

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This regional museum, one of the oldest in Russia (opened in 1896), occupies two buildings: the former governor’s residence in the Kremlin, and the former house of local merchant Dmitry Sirotkin at Verkhnevolzhskaya Embankment. The building inside the Kremlin houses Russian art. Western art is domiciled in Sirotkin’s mansion.   

The museum’s collection has been augmented several times in its history. The Imperial Academy of the Arts gave the museum numerous paintings on the occasion of its opening, including The Deposition of Christ by Academy professor Nikolai Koshelev. From then on until 1917, additions to the museum’s collection would come from private donors and patrons of the arts. For exa.m.ple, the museum owes the monographs of Nicholas Roerich and Boris Kustodiev to Soviet writer Maksim Gorky. Following the 1917 Revolution, the collection was supplemented by the artworks requisitioned from the estates of local nobility and merchants. The Russian 19th-century artist Karl Briullov painted a scene from daily life only once, and that painting, Svetlana Fortune-Telling, is at the Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum. The museum has a representative assortment of early 20th century Russian avant-garde art, including Haymaker by Kazimir Malevich and Improvisation 4 by Wassily Kandinsky, but its late 19th-early 20th-century collection is much larger, including paintings by Isaac Levitan, Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin, and other great Russian masters. The Western European collection in the house on the embankment features such masterpieces as Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder, A Youth with a Lute by Guiseppe Maria Crespi, Piazza Navona in Rome by Bernardo Bellotto, Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Jacob Jordaens.  

A specially built annex adjoining the Sirotkin Mansion is dedicated to just one epic painting: The Proclamation of Minin by Konstantin Makovsky. In this painting, sized nearly 7 by 6 metres, county elder Kuzma Minin is depicted calling out to his fellow-countrymen to form a popular militia force in order to liberate Moscow from Polish invaders.   

The museum runs an art studio for adults and children, as well as a plethora of interactive programmes for the whole family, including classes in sand animation, historical dance, and lectures on art history. The museum building on the embankment hosts musical evenings in its fireplace room, featuring a chamber orchestra and/or soloists of the local opera house. 

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The Museum and Preserve of History and Architecture with eight affiliates under its wing is the largest museum complex in Nizhny Novgorod.

The key general and local historical exhibits from the museum’s enormous collection, numbering upwards of 300,000 items, are on display in two spaces.

The museum has permanent exhibitions in several towers of the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. The main exposition is in the St. Demetrios Tower, which also hosts theme exhibitions with items taken from the museum’s backrooms. The exhibition in the Ivanovskaya Tower is devoted to the Nizhny Novgorod popular militia formed in 1612. The exhibits in the Conception Tower tell the story of the Kremlin and its reconstruction. The exhibits in the St. Nicholas Tower are about the lives of soldiers who were natives of Nizhny Novgorod. It makes sense to buy one ticket for all the towers plus a Kremlin wall-top walk (available May to November). There is a café in the Kladovaya Tower, which is good for a snack.   

One other affiliate of the History Museum is the estate of the merchants Rukavishnikov. The master mansion on the embankment resembles an Italian palazzo. The older generations of Nizhny Novgorodians were accustomed to this mansion being the entire history museum. It housed a wealth of local history exhibits from 1924 to 1994 before closing for restoration, which took 16 years. Nowadays the mansion has two permanent expositions. One offers a panoramic overview of the museum’s complete historical collection, while the other is wholly devoted to the Nizhny Novgorod merchant class. The museum stages narrowly themed shows here from time to time, exhibiting things like antique chairs, old postcards or dolls. The luxuriantly decorated interiors of the mansion serve as a backdrop for concerts, official functions, photo sessions and weddings.

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This is definitely the museum to visit if you wish to explore the folk arts and crafts of Nizhny Novgorod in all their forms and varieties. Over 5,000 exhibits are on display here, in a space sized around 1,000 square metres. The exhibits include painted tableware, ceramic tiles, carved lacquer boxes and chests, ethnic dress and furniture. There’s a theme to every room, representing the interiors of a peasant hut, a village church, and a merchant’s house. Items crafted by modern artisans and Nizhny Novgorod souvenirs are available in the museum shop on the ground floor, which happens to be the biggest folk arts and crafts shop in town. 

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Russia’s first photography museum was opened in 1992 in the former studio of the world renowned 19th-century Nizhny Novgorod photographers Andrei Karelin and Maksim Dmitriev. Karelin is acclaimed as the pioneer of art photography, while Dmitriev is credited with pioneering press photography. On display at this museum are unique photographs from the late 19th-early 20th centuries, some of them printed on tin, glass and porcelain. There are also holograms and stereo photos, as well as a huge collection of photographic equipment, from Maksim Dmitriev’s camera obscura and his 100-kilo travel camera to the legendary Leica compact cameras. The museum stages the annual Andrei Karelin and Maksim Dmitriev Photography Festival every October. The festival entries are exhibited on the second floor. The museum runs a photography school and a photo studio, where visitors are apt to have their photos taken wearing 19th-century historical dress.   

The museum of Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod (or GAZ), included in the Motor Museums of Europe catalogue, occupies two floors. The first floor is devoted to the permanent Automobiles and Their Creators exhibition. The exposition on the second floor traces the history of the enterprise from its foundation in 1932 to the present. The collection, currently numbering 29 perfectly restored, shiny chrome-plated cars, all in good working order, was started in the mid-1950s thanks to the wide-ranging search effort undertaken by the museum’s enthusiasts. Some of these cars are the only copies extant in the world.   

The first car manufactured in Nizhny Novgorod – a 1.5-ton lorry - is here, bearing an unusual label: NAZ-AA (before Nizhny Novgorod was renamed Gorky, the factory’s name was Nizhegorodsky Avtomobilny Zavod, hence the acronym NAZ). The legendary Pobedas, Chaikas and Volgas share the space with the 1.5-ton lorries that worked the “Road of Life,” shipping supplies to besieged Leningrad on the ice of Lake Ladoga during the Great Patriotic War, and other models up to the modern GAZelle trucks and vans, which nowadays account for about a half of all light-duty commercial shipping traffic in Russia. There are some really rare specimens of GAZ machinery on display, such as the body of a T-70 lightweight tank GAZ manufactured during the war, parts of an air-cushioned hover-car, and a turbojet race-car. It’s advisable to call ahead of time to order a tour, and allow a few hours for the visit.   

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This is the only memorial home of the famous Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who was on the team of the creators of the Soviet Union’s H-bomb. There exist other Sakharov memorial spots, but the status of a “memorial home” belongs solely to this four-room flat on the ground floor of a regular Soviet multi-storey apartment block in the bedroom neighbourhood of Shcherbinki. Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was sent into political exile here after publicly protesting the Soviet Union’s troop deployment to Afghanistan. The museum recreates the exact interior of the flat, in which the Soviet Union’s No. 1 dissident lived with his wife Elena Bonner from 1980 to 1986. The museum display includes documentary material about the exile and some documents from the time when Sakharov worked at the nuclear centre of the high-security town of Sarov (then code-named Arzamas-16) in the region of Nizhny Novgorod.