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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.