Andreeva, Maria Fedorovna (1868–1953)

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Andreeva, Maria Fedorovna (1868–1953)

Russian actress, theatrical manager, and one of the founders of the Bolshoi Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg. Name variations: (stage name) Maria Andreeva; also known as Maria Fyodorovna or Feodorovna Andreyeva; (real name) Maria Yurkovskaya. Born Maria Yurkovskaya in 1868; died in Moscow on December 8, 1953; studied at the Moscow Conservatory; married A.A. Zhelyabuzhsky, though she left him in 1903 for the playwright Maxim Gorky.

In a family that was part of the theatrical community, Maria Yurkovskaya grew up surrounded by artists. Changing her name to Andreeva, she joined the Russian Society of Art and Literature in 1894, and was an actress at the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) from 1898 to 1905 where she worked with Constantin Stanislavski.

Andreeva was married to A.A. Zhelyabuzhsky, a state official who worked for the railroad department, when she met the playwright Maxim Gorky, in 1900, while touring with the MAT. A relationship grew as the theater rehearsed his play The Lower Depths. In 1903, Andreeva left her husband, Gorky left his wife Ekaterina Peshkov , and the two began living together. At this point, Andreeva put her artistic career on hold to work with him and to spend time on her factional goals.

Andreeva's politics had always been radical; she donated money to various underground organizations and helped in the distribution of illegal brochures. But in 1904, she settled down to work with one party, the Marxist Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, for which she had done sporadic work since 1902. During the Russian uprising of 1905, she edited the party paper Novaia zhin' (New Life).

In 1906, she and Gorky left Russia in an effort to raise funds for underground groups. They first went to Europe, then the United States, where Andreeva—conversant in several languages—served as Gorky's interpreter. When their status as an unmarried couple was discovered in the United States, it caused a scandal, and they were unceremoniously booted out of their hotel. More important, those from whom they had hoped to solicit money shunned the couple, and their fundraising trip was not nearly as successful as they had hoped.

In September 1907, they left the United States for Italy, where they settled on the island of Capri. Andreeva served as Gorky's secretary and translator as he continued to write. Remaining on Capri until 1913, they then returned to Russia, and Andreeva resumed her acting career in Kiev and elsewhere, performing with, among others, the Nezlobin Theatre. She later did other work for the Bolsheviks and earned the nickname "Phenomenon."

After the February 1917 Revolution, she was made chief of Municipal Theatres under the State Duma. Her relationship with the Bolsheviks cooled somewhat after the October Revolution, though only for a brief time. In 1918, she was appointed the commissar of Theatre and Entertainment of the Northern Commune as well as chief of the Commission of Experts of the Commissariat of Foreign Trade.

Still pursuing her acting career, she portrayed Lady Macbeth at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in 1918. The success of the production led Andreeva, Gorky, and their two partners (Fedor Chaliapin and Yuri Yurev) to found a theater for the purpose of producing classical repertory suitable for revolutionary times. Together, they founded the Bolshoi Theatre of Drama in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in 1919, with which she also acted. Prominent figures of the art world joined them, including poet Alexander Blok, who became the theater's manager. The Bolshoi Theatre opened on February 15, 1919, with Schiller's Don Carlos, and continued until 1926.

In 1920, Andreeva was made chief of the Petrograd section of the Commissariat of Enlightenment. In April of the following year, her relationship with Gorky ended when the Bolsheviks sent her abroad on a cultural mission for the new government. One of her duties was the international sale of art, which included both articles from museums and pieces found by the Bolsheviks after they had liquidated the houses and the owners of the bourgeoisie.

In 1922, Andreeva was part of a trade delegation that the Soviets sent to Berlin; she handled film negotiation on behalf of the Commissariat of Enlightenment. Returning to Russia in 1930, she directed the Moscow House of Scholars until 1948, when she retired from active political life. Maria Andreeva died in Moscow on December 8, 1953, at the age of 85.


Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts Under Lunacharsky October 1917–1921. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Stanislavski, Constantin. My Life in Art. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1925.

Troyat, Henri. Gorky: A Biography. NY: Crown Publishers, 1989.

von Geldern, James. Bolshevik Festivals, 1917–1920. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993.

Wieczynski, Joseph L., ed. The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History. Vol. 1. Academic International Press, 1976.

suggested reading:

Voloxova, Nina. Fenomen (Phenomenon). Leningrad: (Russian-language biography), 1982.

Susan Brazier , freelance writer, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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Andreeva, Maria Fedorovna (1868–1953)

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