Photograph (1892/1892) by Sherer, Nabgolts & Co.Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy "Yasnaya Polyana"
Leo Tolstoy was born in Russia, 1828, to an aristocratic family. But he is best known for his Realist fiction and philosophical essays. Many regard him as one of the greatest authors of all time.
He rejected his aristocratic heritage, and embraced a personal philosophy of anarchism, pacifism, and a return to nature. His writings have inspired many, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior.
An avenue of birch trees lines the path to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's birthplace. In Russian culture, birch trees are a symbol of lightness, grace, beauty, and of closeness of nature. Birch trees also furnished peasants with branches and bark for tools and clothing.
Yasnaya Polyana was the rural home of the Tolstoy family. Leo Tolstoy was born here, and after a youth spent travelling Russia from Moscow to Sevastopol, lived here in his later years. Today, the house is a museum dedicated to his life.
Inside Yasnaya Polyana
While the house is undoubtedly grand, the rustic, unadorned wooden furniture of Yasnaya Polyana fits with Tolstoy's idealised view of peasant life.
Tolstoy used the house to entertain many of his famous literary and artistic contemporaries, including Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, and Maxim Gorky.
It was at this desk that Tolstoy wrote much of his two most celebrated novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).
Tolstoy Leo Nikolaevich Count 1828-1910LIFE Photo Collection
Tolstoy at his Desk, c.1901
The house retains the charm and idiosyncrasies of its owner. As Tolstoy's eyesight deteriorated, he had the legs of his writing chair cut down to allow him to sit closer to the paper.
Behind his writing chair is a leather sofa, the same sofa that he was born on in 1828.
LIFE Photo Collection
While staying at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy would wake at 7am, exercise, and often then work in the fields with the peasants.
His increasingly staunch belief in the rejection of wealth and the virtue of labour caused his marriage to deteriorate. On November 28, 1910, he secretly left Yasnaya Polyana and took a train heading south east.
"I am doing what old men of my age usually do: leaving worldly life to spend the last days of my life in solitude and quiet," he wrote in a final departing letter to his wife, Sonya.
After a few day's travel, he succumbed to pneumonia.
Tolstoy was buried at Yasnaya Polyana in a simple grave in the tranquil woods known to the family as 'The Forest of the Old Order'. The trees here were amongst the oldest on the estate.