Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Stray Dog

Imagine that you are a young artist in St.Petersburg in 1912. Perhaps you are a talented musician, a futurist painter, or a dreamy poet. You are deciding on a night out. There would probably only be one choice for you - The Stray Dog.

The Stray Dog was a dark and smoky cellar on a corner of Mikhaelovska Square, decorated by Sudeikin, where artists with new ideas congregated. Here one could watch Tamara Karsavina dance in giant mirrors, listen to Anna Akhmatova recite her latest poem, or flirt with the handsome Gumylov. In her autobiography, Karsavina described how she danced in 'the midst of the audience in a small space encircled by garlands of fresh flowers' to the music of Couperin. Here the latest plays were performed and exhibitions were held. Even the manager, Boris Pronin, was an actor.

People entering the club signed their names in a pigskin book. Those who were not artists were given the derogatory name of 'pharmacists'. They had to pay to watch the artists perform.

The 'Queen of The Stray Dog', Anna Akhmatova used to sweep in dressed in black silk. In spite of her husband, Gumylov, flirting with the beautiful women, she must have had a good time there. She wrote:

"We are all revellers. We are all whores.
How unhappy we are together."

Tamara Karsavina (1910)
The Stray Dog lasted until 1919. It has reopened and is now a hip cafe in St.Petersburg: The Stray Dog

(This is a little bit out of time but I couldn't resist learning about this favourite haunt of Russian artists in the early twentieth century.)

1 comment:

Hels said...

I think those pre-war years, especially 1910-4, must have been a bit bohemian and disreputable everywhere, at least for creative people. Perhaps they suspected that the War To End All Wars was on its way, and these would be the last years of leading a cool life style.

Strangely it made for some great poetry, paintings and novels. And a lot of alcoholism.