Room 28. Economy and Classes of the Population of the Russian Empire. The 18th — First Half of the 19th Century

In the 18th century the territory of Russia continued to expand. By the mid-19th century the country’s territory stretched for many thousands of kilometers — from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific. The expansion of Russian territory can be traced by the maps presented in the exposition. One of them related to the 1790s is in case 7, another related to the 1840s is nearby case 19.

The vast expanses of the empire were inhabited by 43.7 million people. A class system existed in Russia, which took the final shape in the later half of the 18th century, when the rights, duties and privileges of the classes and sections of the population were finally legalized. A considerable part of the exposition in room 28 is devoted to the social status and ways of life of different classes and sections of the population of Russia. It opens with materials devoted to the peasantry, the most numerous and downtrodden class (cases 1 and 2).

By the mid-18th century the number of peasants exceeded 30 million. About 15 million were the so-called state-owned peasants. They paid taxes and were subject to recruitment to the army, but, in contrast to the serf peasants owned by the landlords, they enjoyed greater freedom and had more land.

case 1
The serf or “landlord” peasants (more than 14 million) lived mainly in the central black-earth gubernias. They were divided into “plough-field” and estate peasants. The former worked on the land for their owner (corvee) and paid tribute in kind and cash, while the latter did service in the house and in estate workshops. The community of plough-field peasants had the right to use part of land belonging to the landlord as their own. They had a house, kitchen-garden, cattle, fowl and utensils in their possession. Landowners tried to get rid of lazy and weak peasants by giving them out as recruits (case 1 shows a sample of a recruitment receipt).

House serfs, as a rule, had no property, except personal belongings, and received board and lodging and clothes from their master. True, some of them got encouragement for diligence and loyalty. The fate of the house serf Ulyana Petrova was an example of this: she received a legacy from her lady-owner (case 1).

The house serfs were regarded as the most educated and advanced part of the peasantry, although they depended on the personality and will of their master and suffered from his or her bad moods more frequently. It should be noted that at the end of the 18th century landowners’ mores and morals became considerably softer and outright sadism with regard to peasants was very rare. However, the serfs fully depended on their owner, as before, and their purchase and sale were an ordinary thing. A sample of the deed of purchase and sale is in case 1.

In the latter half of the 18th — beginning of the 19th century many landowner economies passed from forced corvee to tribute. The infertile land of non-black-earth regions did not give big yields. The need to pay state taxes and the landowners’ requirements for cash forced peasants to leave for cities and towns to take various jobs. While there, they joined teams of carpenters or bricklayers, did work at numerous small workshops or became factory workers. Such peasants received a corresponding document from their owner, an analogue of passport or residence permit, which was valid for a limited term, and should have been renewed after expiry (case 1).

Many peasants who moved to cities took up trade or carrier’s trade. Case 1 contains coachman’s hat and mittens of the first decades of the 19th century. Oft en serf peasants who left their master’s estate for towns and cities and took up work there, paying duty to their owner, became rich, even millionaires, while remaining fully dependent on their landowner. Factories and plants of such serf millionaires were formally considered the property of their owners, and the peasant-entrepreneur made every effort to redeem from serfdom and receive a corresponding document confirming his freedom (such document is shown in case 1). On the whole, the slow but steady property stratification of the peasantry proceeded in the serf village, as well as the emergence of commodity relations, which is shown by the household inventory of the village of Dubovik listing the peasant property (case 1).

case 2
Among the exhibits of this room there is a uniquely preserved and artistically decorated peasant cupboard of the beginning of the 19th century (case 2) and excellent portraits of peasants, above case 1.

case 4–6
Case 4–6 are devoted the economic development of Russia in the 18th — the first half of the 19th century. Serious progress was scored in the industrial production in the first quarter. Apart from the traditional metallurgical centres (Tula, Olonets, and others), a new important metallurgical and mining region in the Urals began to develop. In the 18th century Russia took first place in the world in pig iron production. The high-quality rust-resistant Ural iron was highly valued on the international market. Views of Ural plants can be seen on pictures by the artist V. Rayev (1837) in case 5 and above case 4.

The textile industry also developed at a high rate. Its centres were Yaroslavl, Vologda, Kaluga, Borovsk, Serpukhov, the Vladimir gubernia (Ivanovo-Voznesensk settlement) and Moscow. Manufactories were the main production units there, just as in the metallurgical and military industry. Among the exhibits are some instruments of labour of metallurgical and mining workers, and samples of iron-and-steel and copper goods turned out by manufactories and plants of Russia. Trade marks of Ural plants can be seen on copper tableware, and majolica, glass and china works were produced at imperial plants and private enterprises.

Case 6 is also devoted to the Manifesto of August 10, 1762, on the freedom of trade and economic activity important to Russia, as well as the materials of the Russo-American Company. There are also silver goblets presented for the “financial gains of the Treasury from trade with China”.

case 7
Patrimonial estate enterprises became widespread in Russia at which serfs worked, producing liqueur, textile fabrics, sugar and glass. Case 7 shows a goblet made at the Dyatkovo glass factory belonging to the Maltsov family (the factory is still in operation).

case 7, 8
Cases 7 and 8 are devoted to the development of transport and finances. The former was a bottleneck in the economy of Russia. In the 18th — first half of the 19th century cargo transportation was mainly carried on along rivers. The newly-dug canals made it possible to deliver commodities rather effectively (there is a map of the Ladoga Canal in the case).

In places where there were few rivers and lakes, cargoes and passengers were carried along unpaved highways. Journeys across Russia with the lack of roads or bad roads took long weeks, even months. Even a journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow along a quite decent highway built in the 1820s took about three days, whereas common folk covered the distance in more than a week. Mention should be made of a collection of Valdai bells whose jingling was for centuries associated with a long road to faraway places.

In 1836 the opening of the first “entertainment” railway line between St. Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo marked the beginning of the epoch of railway construction in Russia. In 1851 the railway line between St. Petersburg and Moscow was commissioned, and then the distance between the two cities was covered in a day. The first railway tickets made of brass are really a unique exhibit (case 7).

Among the items contained in case 8, characterising the state and development of Russian finances, attention should be paid to rare Russian banknotes of the time of Catherine the Great, and securities issued by the State Loan Bank in 1850.

case 9
Items in case 9 tell about the internal and external trade of Russia in the 18th — first half of the 19th century. At that time the domestic Russian market was formed and expanded 55 28 Silver bowl for wine with Stroganov’s coat of arms. 1700 territorially, which included, after the abolition of internal customs duties, Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov areas, the region around the Kuban River and the Crimea. Fairs were held at the crossroads of trade routes. In the 1770s there were about 1,600 such fairs. They were organized in Rostov the Great, Irbit (Urals) and other towns, but the biggest and most popular was the Nizhni Novgorod Fair (on the lithograph in this case the Nizhni Novgorod fair looks like it was in the mid-19th century). Every year, in July — August, many Russian and foreign commodities from Europe and Asia were brought to this fair.

The export of Russian commodities began to surpass import and its structure changed: apart from grain, flax, furs, hemp and timber, the export of metal (from six percent in 1749 its share increased to 13 percent in 1796). The number of the trade partners of Russia grew and its trade ties with china and the Transcaucasus expanded.

cases 10–14
Materials in cases 3 and 10–14 tell about the nobility, the richest and most educated class in Russia. The main privilege of the noblemen in the country was their ownership of serf peasants, whose work was the main source of their incomes. At the same time they were the serving section: in Peter the Great time their service to the state was compulsory and for life, under Empress Anna Ioannovna the term of their service was reduced to 25 years in 1736. Thus, upon retirement, a nobleman-landowner was able to engage entirely in economic activity on his estates. After the adoption of the manifesto on privileges of the nobility (1762) which gave them the right to choose between service and retirement, their interest in running their household and estate economy became greater. Although it was considered more prestigious to do the state service and young noblemen devoted quite a few years to the military or civil service and retired only after getting a more or less high rank. This is shown by the “formal record”, a sample of which can be seen in case 11.

Running the estate (or several estates) was the most important duty of a nobleman. A thrift y, rationally-minded landowner supervised agricultural work on his own and peasant lands, the condition of buildings, both for agricultural needs and for living, the welfare of his peasants, etc. In bad years he tried to help them with grain and food. The richest and most educated landowners opened schools and hospitals for peasants on their estates and took care of the training of their house-serfs in different trades.

The exposition shows materials about the various functions of the landowner’s estate, including a sample of a “revision list”, one of the essential documents of the landowner economy (case 10).

At the same time, the end of the 18th century marked the beginning of the gradual degradation of the nobility, its mass impoverishment. Landowners’ estates lost profitableness, were hypothecated more and more often, and finally sold out. Corresponding documents corroborating this process are exhibited in case 14.

In the centre of the room there is a small but interesting collection of noblemen’s portraits, as well as a canvas of the late 18th century depicting the genealogy of the Putyatin princes’ family.

cases 15–17
Cases 15–17 are devoted to merchants, the class of traders and entrepreneurs. It shows items of merchants’ everyday life — various chests, drawers, box for money, locks, scales, folding measure, as well as documents for merchant activity: certificate of guild, permit for opening and maintaining a shop, etc.

Just as noblemen, merchants had a number of important privileges. They were exempt from several taxes and recruitment to the army. The richest merchants of the first guild had the preferential right to engage in foreign and domestic trade. The second-guild merchants had privileges in large-scale domestic trade, and those of the third guild had privileges in carrying on small trade operations.

Judging by their appearance and everyday life, the merchants were divided into “bearded” and “beardless”. The former retained loyalty to the traditional way of life during pre-Peter time right up to the 19th century. The latter were more educated, they were attracted to the European way of life, dressed according to fashion and tried to imitate noblemen in everything. The richest of them tried to join the nobility. Case 16 contains personal belongings of the big-time entrepreneur A. Batashev — a snuffbox and cup decorated with his newly acquired nobleman’s coat-of-arms. It was only in the 19th century that merchants began to become conscious of their social significance, which contributed to the creation of closely-knit and influential merchant dynasties. Cases 16 and 17 exhibit items which belonged to the founders of such dynasties — merchants P. Botkin and I. Shchukin.

cases 18-19
Cases 18 and 19 contain items of common people’s everyday life and samples of home-made commodities: woman’s festive dress, enamel items from Veliky Ustyug, black polished earthenware produced in the Goncharnaya suburb of Moscow, tailor’s instruments, etc.

Towns-folk was an unprivileged section of the population. It included artisans, petty traders, and hired workers. In the beginning of the 18th century and later they were called Philistines. These urban dwellers were levied with high taxes, had to supply recruits to the army and were not exempt from corporal punishment.

case 20
Orthodox Christianity was the state religion of Russia. The materials in case 20 tell about the Orthodox clergy, which was divided into the secular clergy — parish priests, deacons and sextons (the lower section), and the regular clergy — monks and nuns. The higher church hierarchs — bishops, archbishops and metropolitans, were appointed from among the monks. A small section of the secular clergy received salaries from the state, as to the rest, the main source of their income was payments for church services during christening and wedding ceremonies, burial services, etc., as well as donations from parishioners. In the village, the way of life of a priest was no different from that of a peasant, and in towns it was like that of an ordinary urban dweller or a merchant.

Although the social status of the Russian clergy was not too high, the higher church hierarchs, as a rule, had a great influence. The exposition shows a portrait of the outstanding church dignitary, the Metropolitan of Moscow Filaret (a work by N. Shprevich (?)). He held the post for over forty years and enjoyed great prestige in Moscow. In 1861 the emperor commissioned him to write the text of the manifesto on the abolition of serfdom. There is a canvas “The Holy Family” in case 20, which used to have been in the Metropolitan’s cell. A portrait of the founder and Mother Superior of the Spaso-Borodino Convent Maria (Tuchkova) is of great interest. She was the widow of General A. Tuchkov killed in the Borodino battle with the Napoleon troops in 1812. On display in case 20 are various church utensils, including the unique Holy Gates made by Greek masters (1758).

Gavrila Sukharev
The tumultuous growth of industry was stemmed by the constant shortage of workers. In the first half of the 18th century serf workers predominated, but gradually the elements of the capitalist economy based on free labour became ever more pronounced.

A slow formation of the social group of workers (pre-proletarians, as it were) began. Among the most valuable exhibits is a portrait of the free worker, broadcloth maker Gavrila Sukharev. He worked at the Moscow broadcloth factory all his life, and at the end of it he was taken to an alms-house where he lived to a very venerable age. By order of Catherine the Great the portraits of Sukharev and several other old men were painted.

Current exhibitions

“Portrait of a museum on the background of the history of photography 1876-2015 gg. 145th Anniversary of the museum…”

8 Feb., 2017 — 10 Apr., 2017

“Handsome man. Russian elegant in the second half of the XVIII – beginning of the XX century”.

15 Mar., 2017 — 28 Jul., 2017

Аrs botanica. Floral motifs in the art of the first half of the XIX century.

14 Dec., 2016 — 3 Apr., 2017

Exhibitions in 2017

1 Jan. — 31 Dec., 2017