How Pushkin sold the statue of Catherine II

In the eighties of the 18th century, the favorite of Catherine II, Grigory Potemkin, ordered a statue of the Russian empress in Berlin. A few years later, the order was completed, as evidenced by the inscription on the monument: "Sculpted Meyer, cast Naukish, processed Meltzer." Even the date was indicated - 1786. The statue was made with a height of 4.5 arshins (about three meters), Catherine II is depicted full-length, with a crown on her head and in a long toga hanging from her shoulder.

But, Grigory Potemkin did not have time to pay for the work performed, and died a few years later. Nikolai Afanasyevich Goncharov, the owner of a linen factory in the Kaluga province, saved the situation. He decided to buy the statue and install it on his estate, in memory of the fact that the Empress visited his factory many years ago. The Goncharov family even had a legend that the real customer of the statue was not Potemkin, but Nikolai Afanasyevich.

But, shortly after the statue was delivered to the Goncharovs at the Polotnyany plant, Nikolai Afanasyevich died, and his son Afanasy, the grandfather of Natalya Goncharova, became the owner of the factory, who, many years later, became the wife of the great poet Pushkin. Apparently, Afanasy Nikolaevich did not really want to bear the high costs of installing the statue, therefore, for many years it lay in a damp basement.

Afanasy Nikolaevich remembered her only before the wedding of his granddaughter with Pushkin. He decided that the money raised from her sale would be a good dowry for Natalya. But, for the sale of the statue of the empress, the highest permission was required. Old man Goncharov considered that it is best to pass these troubles onto the shoulders of the future son-in-law.

In May 1830, Pushkin appeals to Benekendorf, the chief of the gendarmes, with a request for permission to sell. A month later, a notification came that the emperor had agreed to "melt the colossal bronze statue unsuccessfully carved in Berlin, which Goncharov had." But, the amount offered by the copper buyers did not suit Afanasy Nikolayevich Goncharov.

In letters to Pushkin, he regularly reminded of his assignment. The poet again turns to Benckendorff, even naming the amount for which the Goncharovs are ready to part with the statue - 25, 000 rubles. Pushkin even added that this price is only a fourth of what the statue actually costs. The commission from the Academy of Arts, indeed, recognized the monument as a work of art, albeit with some reservations.

"Copper grandmother", as Pushkin jokingly called the monument, was transported to St. Petersburg on Furshtadskaya Street, where Pushkin and his family lived at that time. It turned out that it is not easy to sell a work of art, even in the capital. "Grandma" lay in the basement until the tragic death of Alexander Sergeevich, and then was sent to the foundry, where they decided to remelt her. Pushkin did not have time to carry out the order of Afanasy Nikolaevich Goncharov.

The owner of the foundry Byrd bought the monument for scrap much cheaper than the amount that the Goncharovs planned to receive, for only three thousand rubles in banknotes. But it turned out that the monument to Catherine II still has a long life, a whole century.

And a lucky chance saved the statue from being melted down, the landowner Korostavtsev from the city of Yekaterinoslav saw it. On his initiative, a fundraiser was announced to save the monument. After all, it was Catherine who ordered the founding of Yekaterinoslav in 1775, during a trip to the south of Russia. As a result, the statue was bought for 9817 rubles and was installed in Yekaterinoslav on Cathedral Square in September 1846. 60 years have passed since the statue was made.

The monument adorned the city before the revolution, after which it was decided to demolish the monument dedicated to the empress. Probably, it would have been melted down, but Dmitry Ivanovich Yavornitsky, the director of the local museum, intervened in the matter. Together with students of history, he removed the statue from the pedestal at night and moved it to the courtyard of the museum. Fearing that the "copper grandmother" might be confiscated, Yavornitsky ordered to bury her in a pit, where she lay for two years.

Only in 1922 he managed to get permission to "legalize" the monument to Empress Catherine II. Naturally, no one allowed to install it on the square, therefore, the "copper grandmother" was in the courtyard of the museum, surrounded by stone women, which were found by Yavornytsky during archaeological excavations. So the lifespan of the monument was extended by another twenty years.

But, until our time, the statue that belonged to the ancestors of Natalya Nikolaevna Goncharova, and which her husband tried to sell for several years, has not survived. During the Great Patriotic War, Yekaterinoslav was in the occupation. The Nazis took the monument to Germany, where it was melted down. This time, nothing saved the "copper grandmother", who escaped death several times.