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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pushkin Autograph Goes Up for Sale

The little blue book was a gift to a lady of culture from a poet of genius - an autographed copy of Alexander Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin," inscribed by the author to Princess Maria Golitsyna.

After a century and a half's disappearing act, the book - not previously known to scholars and containing one of only 30 Pushkin dedications known to exist - is on public display and even on sale at a Moscow antiques gallery.

Experts at the Gelos gallery, at 2/6 1st Botkinsky Proyezd near Begovaya Ulitsa, won't say much about where the book came from - only that it was put up for sale by a private collector who is now elderly.

Having acquired the book sometime during the World War II years - they won't reveal where or how - the collector then hid it for half a century from the Soviet government, which would have instantly confiscated it and packed it off to a museum.

Now they are hoping they can find a buyer for this memento of Russia's greatest poet and his crowning work, and are accepting purchase proposals - though they won't name a price, or reveal what they think it might be worth.

The owner decided that the time had come to "think about his soul," as Gelos rare books expert Pyotr Druzhinin put it, and give researchers a chance to find something new in a field that has been studied inside out.

The pages of the book, printed in 1825, are worn at the edges, but otherwise it remains in good condition. The dedication, written in Pushkin's sweeping handwriting reads: "To Her Highness the Princess Maria Arkadyevna Golitsyna from Pushkin." It's on view at Gelos through Jan. 10.

It's a rare chance to see an original example of Pushkin's handwriting. Exhibits in museums are typically copies, with originals kept out of direct light - which yellows the pages and makes the ink fade.

It's the only such example in private hands in Russia, Gelos says . Since the late 1920s, it has been compulsory to store all of the poet's manuscripts at the Pushkin House Institute of Russian Literature in St. Petersburg, where the Soviet authorities sent them from provincial museums and library collections.

The autograph's authenticity was verified by the Pushkin institute's chief expert on the poet's manuscripts, Tatyana Krasnoborodko, said another Gelos expert, Alexander Sobolev. The book's emergence comes in time for the 1999 celebrations of the bicentennial of Pushkin's birth.Most rare books and manuscripts relating to Pushkin were catalogued by the mid-1950s, and by the 1970s and 80s the flow of new discoveries slowed to a trickle, according to a Gelos statement.

Although the dedication to Golitsyna is laconic, the gift suggests the relationship between Pushkin, a notorious ladies' man, and Golitsyna, a member of one of Imperial Russia's great aristocratic families, may have been more personal, though no one knows for sure.

A 1823 poem by Pushkin - dedicated to Golitsyna, who was three years younger than he was - was found in the album where guests of her salon wrote their epigrams and poetic vignettes.

It reads, in part: "Long will I carry the memory of her/In the depths of my heart/Her momentary attention has been/A lasting joy for me."

Golitsyna was herself a woman of culture, and a granddaughter of renowned general Alexander Suvorov. She corresponded with several of prominent writers of the time, including Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, and was friends with historian Nikolai Karamzin. She caused a stir among her peers by leaving the Orthodox Church to become a Protestant and died in exile in Switzerland in 1870. She is buried in St. Petersburg.

The poet, who was killed in a duel at the age of 37 in 1837, met the princess in the late 1810s at the house of poet Vladimir Zhukovsky, say the Gelos experts. The two may also have seen each other in 1823 in the Black Sea town of Odessa, where Pushkin was in exile after displeasing the court and where Golitsyna would have been visiting her sister. They met again several times in 1828 in St. Petersburg.

Her album, discovered in the 1920s and now kept at the Pushkin House, is the only piece of Golitsyna's long searched-for personal archive. The Golitsyn clan numbered over 2,000 when they largely emigrated from Russia during and after the 1917 revolution. They're now scattered around the world.

The present owner is not one of Golitsyna's descendants, the experts said.

The book cannot leave Russia under cultural heritage laws, and the Gelos experts say the owner hopes that a wealthy Russian buyer will come forward and donate it to a museum.

Persuading the owner to come forward and submit the autograph for verification has let Sobolev and Druzhinin feel the pride of history-makers.

"We've got a chance to actually contribute [to Pushkin studies] rather than just waste words about it,"Druzhinin said. "Absolutely everything has been said about Pushkin. ... This short text is worth more than an enormous amount of articles and speculations."