TRAMVAI

stop 2 - Nevsky Prospect

 


Nevsky Prospect: early streetcars co-exist with horse-drawn carriages on the city's main thoroughfare


 

As the city's main artery, Nevsky Prospect was plied and crossed by tram-cars: in 1911 six of the then thirteen existing routes passed along sections of the thoroughfare. The street's activities and buildings became as if a moving scene for the viewer from the tram.

"And from the flying front platform
The granite House of Vavelberg
Flashes at me its lakes of mirrored
Glass with playing colors,
Like on the glassy surface of Lake Geneva,
When on its cold waters
A rainbow bends its ripples."

("Autumn" N. Otsup)

Nikolai Otsup was a friend of Gumilev, and a member of the nascent Acmeist group founded by Gumilev, the "Poet's Guild" ("Tsekh poetov"). After the death of Gumilev in 1921, Otsup left Russia, eventually settling in Paris. Before Paris and Petersburg were wed in his biography by emigration, his poetry was already one of the points of contact with the traditions of the Parisian avant-garde.

In his poem of 1920, "Autumn" ("Osen'"), an autumnal tram-ride affords views of a number of the city's buildings, including the House of Singer and the House of Vavelberg (Dom Vavelberga) at Nevsky Prospect, No. 7/9. This building's design, with its rows of arched windows, was apparently in part inspired by the Doges' Palace in Venice—augmenting the city's claim to be the "Venice of the North" and adding to its collage of imitative European design. The House of Vavelberg replaced two more modest premises on the site in 1911-12 - one of which, at Nevsky 9, had contained the editorial offices of the journal Satirikon. Behind this new imposing façade was the Vavelberg Bank, which became the Russian Commercial Bank (Russkii Torgovyi Bank) in 1912.

In the glimpse caught of the building in Otsup's poem, its distinguishing feature is the rows of windows (reminding the lyrical hero not, alas, of Venice, but, as they sparkle, of Lake Geneva). This view is almost a mirror image of the sight of the tram itself - the rows of separate framed windows. As Vladimir Mayakovsky remarked:

"No artist has yet invented an urban landscape like that which is reflected in the windows of a moving tram - and for free, moreover."

The tram's motion and the brand of visual experience it provides appealed to and was transformed by the aesthetics of diverse poetic currents. Acmeists and Futurists (the movements represented by Gumilev and Maiakovsky respectively), each in their own way, investigated the materiality of the world (and the word).

The fragmented, multi-perspectival vision of successive, moving reflections in the tram-windows provided a real-life counterpart to the dynamic aesthetics of Cubo-Futurism. On March 3, 1915 the first Futurist art exhibition opened in Petrograd: "Tramvai V". Among the artists whose works were on display were Tatlin, Malevich, Morgunov, Popova, Puni and Rozanova.

The tram, evidently, had become emblematic of mode of perception behind these particular modernist aesthetics, and the exhibition title attests to their indissoluble link to modern urban experience.



House of Vavelberg, Nevsky 7/9
 
Kazimir Malevich Lady at a Tram Stop (1913). Amongst paintings exhibted at the "Tramvai V" exhibition