Author Sergei Aksakov started inviting other writers and artists to the colony at Ambramtsevo as his guests. Under Aksakov, the artists talked about ways of clearing Russian art of Western influences to create a purely national style. In 1870, eleven years after Aksakov’s death, the place was purchased by Savva Mamontov, a wealthy industrialist and patron of the arts. He introduced Russian themes and folk art, which both flourished. During the 1870s and 1880s, Abramtsevo hosted a colony of artists who wanted to recapture the quality of medieval Russian art like they did in the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain. Several workshops were set up to produce handmade furniture, ceramic tiles, and silks imbued with traditional Russian imagery and themes.
Working together, artists Vasily Polenov and Viktor Vasnetsov designed a plain but picturesque church, with murals painted by Polenov, Vasnetsov and his brother, a gilded iconostasis by Ilya Repin and Mikhail Nesterov, and folklore-inspired sculptures by Viktor Hartmann and Mark Antokolsky. Around 1900, drama and opera on Russian folklore themes (e.g., Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden) were produced in the colony.
Abramtsevo is now open to the public. You can wander along the many paths through the surrounding forest and cross the wooden bridges that served as an inspiration for the artists at the Abramtsevo Colony. You can also visit many of the buildings to see artworks, like a wooden bathhouse in the shape of a traditional dwelling of Ancient Rus, designed by Ivan Ropet, and the House on Chicken Legs, a fairy-tale abode of an evil witch, Baba Yaga, designed by Vasnetsov. One building, the main ‘manor’, is said to have been the model for the estate in which Anton Chekhov set The Cherry Orchard.