BCC489154 Demonstrations of patriotic fervour, Palace Square, St. Petersburg, upon the declaration of war in 1914 (b/w photo) by Russian Photographer (20th century); Private Collection; Russian,  it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories

Capturing Saint Petersburg

Step back in time through photography to Russia’s heart of culture on the brink of revolution.

Early 20th-century Saint Petersburg depicts a divided city. On the one hand its inhabitants appeared to live a carefree life of  bourgeois pleasures, on the other hand there were demonstrations, destruction and revolts. Contemporary snapshots all capture a grand, booming city on the brink of violent political unrest.

Between its founding in 1703 and the mid-20th century, Saint Petersburg was Russia’s centre for art and innovation. Known as the “window to Europe” due to its river routes, the city was a hub for cosmopolitan activity attracting prominent figures whose creativity could not have flourished in conservative Moscow.

Bourgeois Life and Leisure

The middle and upper classes could lead a life of luxury with many amusements to occupy their time. They entertained their minds with the theatre, artistic performances and hobbyist pursuits, kept active by playing sports and refreshed themselves in public baths. See more images.

Life class at the Imperial Academy of Art, St. Petersburg, 1913 (b/w photo) by Russian Photographer
Life class at the Imperial Academy of Art, St. Petersburg, 1913 by Russian Photographer

Education and Academies

The growth of opportunities within Saint Peterburg drew in a mass immigration of educated professionals. From science and medicine to the liberal and performing arts, institutions opened across the city attracting both male and female students. See more images.

Left: Students of the Women's Medical Institute in the theatre during a lecture, 1913 Right: Gymnastic students in a pyramid display, St. Petersburg
Left: Students of the Women’s Medical Institute in the theatre during a lecture, 1913
Right: Gymnastic students in a pyramid display, St. Petersburg

Rebellions

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the city was a backdrop to political unrest, including the ‘Bloody Sunday‘ students riots in January 1905 and Kronstadt Revolt, 1921. Harrowing photographs reveal the ruins after these conflicts, the wounded, and soldiers shooting at demonstrators. See more images.

Personalities

In addition to images of the city, this photography collection also holds portraits some of the greatest minds and most influential Russians of the era, including writers Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky, painter Ilya Repin, ballerina Anna Pavlova and the mysterious Grand Duchess Anastasia and her sisters, daughters of Tsar Nicholas II. See more images.

Left: Revolution in St. Petersburg, February 1917 Right: Princesses Tatiana, Maria, Olga and Anastasia, 1914
Left: Revolution in St. Petersburg, February 1917
Right: Princesses Tatiana, Maria, Olga and Anastasia, 1914

Saint Petersburg’s prosperity crashed in 1917 with the rise of the Russian Revolution. By 1930, two million people had fled and the city was devastated by Lenin’s Red Terror and Stalin’s Great Purge. These golden years will always be, however, immortalised through photography.

 

Find out more

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See more social history photography – browse portraits of some of 20th century’s greatest writers, actors and musicians in Bridgeman’s archive.

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