Mikhail Bulgakov was often photographed, and he gladly gave captioned photographs to his friends and family.
The famous photo of him with a monocle, the picture of the dashing young writer posing with a cigarette, the portrait of the author of The Master and Margarita in a black hat—each of these appeared in the endpapers of his books, but still no single “official” portrait or image represents Bulgakov in the mind of the public. This is no accident. None of them depicts “the same” Bulgakov; sometimes it is even hard to believe that all of them actually show the same person.
For many years the museum has collected a variety of portraits of the writer—photographs, drawings, friendly cartoons, caricatures from the Soviet newspapers. Among them are the “canonical” portraits of Mikhail Bulgakov, as well as rare images, many of which were little known or not published, including official photographs, works of art, pictures made by his circle of family or friends, and home sketches. We felt it was important to show the writer’s milieu as well: his wives and friends, who appeared in photos with him, as well as his places of study, which were undoubtedly a reflection of his personality. In addition, we have gathered verbal portraits written by Bulgakov’s friends and acquaintances and throughout their memoirs and correspondence, which provide a new perspective on the famous photographs, drawings, and cartoons. Bulgakov stands before us in all the diversity and complexity of his personality, as a writer, playwright, actor, Moscow dandy, husband, lover, friend, and rival. From all of these images and texts, an integral portrait of the writer is being formed.s is no accident. None of them depicts “the same” Bulgakov; sometimes it is even hard to believe that all of them actually show the same person.
“No one gave such biting and lasting nicknames like Bulgakov.”
“I remember how he took out a cigarette and a match, lit up, and deliciously inhaled the smoke. His eyes grew cheerful and sly. This meant that now an interesting new topic would arise, or a brilliant new improvisation would begin.”
“Where did you study?” Here I must reveal a small secret. The thing is, I graduated from two faculties at the university and was concealing this fact. “I graduated from the parish school,” I said, clearing my throat. “Really!” said Rudolfi, and a slight smile touched his lips. Then he asked: “How many times a week do you shave?” “Seven times.” “Sorry for being nosy,” continued Rudolfi, “but how do achieve that part in your hair?” “I rub brilliantine into it. And allow me to ask, what is all this about...” “For goodness’ sake,” said Rudolfi, “I was just curious,” and he added: “It’s interesting. A man graduates from a parish school, shaves every day, and lies on the floor near the kerosene stove. You are difficult to make out!”
“Bulgakov decided to update his wardrobe. He ordered a Sunday suit and a tuxedo. He bought a watch with a repeater. After a long search, he acquired a monocle. For some reason he consulted me about where he could acquire a bowler hat. I offered him my own, which had been lying in my closet since 1913, and which I had brought back from Italy once... Mikhail Afanasyevich was delighted with this gift, just like a child. “Now I can make an impression!” he laughed.”
“Among modest and unremarkable people, he appeared in his dashingly ironed black suit, black bow tie on a starched collar, in shining patent leather shoes, and even with a monocle, which he sometimes gracefully took from his eye, and, playing with the string for a while, replaced it absentmindedly in his other eye.”
“If I remember correctly, he had dark blue eyes on a lean, well-fashioned, but not always well-shaven face of a not-too-young blond man, with a freely ironic and sometimes even arrogant expression, which nevertheless had something of the actor in it, and sometimes even of the fox.”
“He was impeccably polite, educated, witty, but with a bit of “ice” inside. In general, he seemed somewhat “thorny”. It even seemed that when he smiled, he was baring his teeth somewhat. His insightful, inquisitive gaze left a particular impression. You sensed a strong, distinctive, and complex personality.”
“He was a great actor, not only potentially, but in reality. Maybe this quality determines the true essence of a playwright, for a good playwright is necessarily an actor. If you asked him to act out a play written by him, he would act it all with perfection. Thus, in Days of The Turbins, he acted out almost all of the characters, willingly and generously helping the actors. He was not just present at the rehearsals—he managed the play.”
“Tell me, in your opinion, what is the most important human vice?” he asked me one day, quite unexpectedly.
I was at a loss and said that I did not know and had not thought about it.
“Well I know. Cowardice, that’s the main vice, since all the others come out of it.”
I think that this conversation was not accidental.
He probably had moments of despair, but he hid them even from his friends. I personally never saw him become embittered or withdrawn, or surrender internally. On the contrary, you sensed strength in him. He retained an interest in people (in fact at the time, he was helping many people, but few knew about it). He kept his humor, which, it’s true, became more and more sarcastic."
“Bulgakov was surprisingly charming, if a group of friends gathered, at his house or at someone else’s. His extremely obliging politeness combined with an unusual modesty... It was as if he lost his third dimension and for some time stayed somewhere in the background.
He waited through the noise that accompanies a gathering of guests as if in shadow. He never interrupted the speaker, never attempted to become the “life of the party”. But a moment always arose when people would ask Mikhail Afanasyevich to tell a story.”
“In Bulgakov these things that were inaccessible to us—his dazzling fresh collar as stiff as plaster, his carefully knotted tie, his not trendy, but perfectly tailored suit, his pressed and creased trousers, especially his manner of addressing his interlocutors with the suffix -s (sir), obsolete after the revolution, as in “allow me, sir” or “as you please, sir”, his kissing the hands of women, and his almost foppishly ceremonial bow—all of these strongly set him apart from the others in our midst.”
“Sometimes successful phrases or apt nicknames came into life with such health that they began to walk about. And not only among us, but everywhere. In Moscow to this day his words are walking about, as well as quotations from his plays. And when actors rehearsed his plays in the theater, they spoke with those lines in real life.”
“Later on, when—to be honest—it was too late, various institutions presented their reports with descriptions of this man. A comparison of them cannot fail to surprise. Thus, the first of them said that the man was short, with gold teeth and a limp in his right leg. The second said that he was a huge man, with platinum crowns and a limp in his left leg. The third laconically stated that he did not have any special characteristics.
We have to admit that none of these reports will do.”
Curator — Mikhail Bulgakov State Museum