How Russian Artists Imagined in 1914 What Moscow Would Look Like in 2259

In the days of pop­u­lar retro­fu­tur­ism—say, the first half of the twen­ti­eth century—people tend­ed to imag­ine the world of tomor­row look­ing very much like the world of today, only with a lot more fly­ing cars, mono­rails, and video­phones. This is true whether those doing the imag­in­ing were titans of indus­try, mar­ket­ing mavens, ide­al­is­tic Sovi­ets, or sub­jects of the Tsar, though we might think that peo­ple liv­ing under an ancient monar­chi­cal sys­tem might not expect much change. In some ways we might be right, but as we can see in the 1914 post­cards here—printed as Rus­sia entered World War I—the coun­try did antic­i­pate a mod­ern, tech­no­log­i­cal future, though one that still close­ly resem­bled its present.

Per­haps few but the most far-sight­ed of Rus­sians pre­dict­ed what the ail­ing empire would endure in the years to come—the dis­as­ter of the Great War, and the waves of Rev­o­lu­tion and Civ­il War. Cer­tain­ly, who­ev­er paint­ed these images fore­saw no such cat­a­stroph­ic upheaval.

Although pur­port­ing to show us a view of Moscow in the 23rd cen­tu­ry, they show the city very hap­pi­ly “still under monar­chi­cal rule,” writes A Jour­ney Through Russ­ian Cul­ture, going about its dai­ly life just as it did over three hun­dred years ear­li­er, “with the addi­tion of every­thing from sub­ways to air­borne pub­lic trans­porta­tion, things prob­a­bly seen as stan­dard meth­ods of trans­port for the future.”

Of course, there would be hot-rod­ded sleds on St. Peters­burg High­way with head­lights, fan­cy wind­shields, and what look like Christ­mas elves perched in them. Lubyan­s­ka Square, fur­ther up, would still host mil­i­tary parades of men on horse­back, as chil­dren whizzed by on motor­bikes and sub­way trains rum­bled under­neath. The Cen­tral Rail­way Sta­tion, above, might seem entire­ly unchanged, until one looks up, and sees ele­vat­ed trams stream­ing out of the ter­mi­nal like spider’s silk. Red Square, how­ev­er, just below, would appar­ent­ly host drag races, while peo­ple in trams and giant diri­gi­bles looked on from above.

The images have a children’s book qual­i­ty about them and the fes­tive air of hol­i­day cards. (If you read Russ­ian, you can learn more about them here and here.) They were appar­ent­ly redis­cov­ered only recent­ly when a choco­late com­pa­ny called Eyinem reprint­ed them on their pack­ag­ing. Like so much retro­fu­tur­ism, these seem—in their bustling, yet safe, cheer­ful orderliness—tailor-made for nos­tal­gic trips through Petro­vsky Park, rather than imag­i­na­tive leaps into the great unknown. For that, we must turn to Russ­ian Futur­ism, which, both before and after World War and the Rev­o­lu­tion, imag­ined, helped bring about, but did­n’t quite sur­vive the mas­sive tech­no­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal dis­rup­tion of the next two decades.

See more of these Tsarist-futur­ist post­cards at the site Meet the Slavs.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sovi­et Artists Envi­sion a Com­mu­nist Utopia in Out­er Space

How the Sovi­ets Imag­ined in 1960 What the World Would Look in 2017: A Gallery of Retro-Futur­is­tic Draw­ings

Down­load Russ­ian Futur­ist Book Art (1910–1915): The Aes­thet­ic Rev­o­lu­tion Before the Polit­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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