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#3 2011 (32)
There have been four solo exhibitions of Nikolai Ge’s art in his homeland in the period since his death in 1894: a posthumous one in St. Petersburg in 1895; then another from the Ukraine museum collections in Kiev in 1956-1957; the third one in 1970-1971 which toured in Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev and Minsk; and the fourth from 1981 which was held in Moscow. The most extensive exhibition was that of 1970-1971, already 40 years ago, but it did not feature works from foreign museums and private collections. That exhibition’s catalogue, prepared by Natalya Zograf, was most comprehensive and informative, but had very few illustrations. Two new generations of the art-going public have little knowledge of this outstanding master, so to introduce Ge’s legacy to the contemporary viewer will bring new attention back to his work.
The relationship between Pavel Tretyakov and Nikolai Ge has never been examined in any detail in publications devoted to the art collector. Alexandra Botkina barely touches upon the subject in her memoir, while Sofia Goldstein states definitely that Ge’s late work, so highly valued by Leo Tolstoy, was never appreciated by Tretyakov. When art experts write about Ge, they stress that the master’s art stood alone as original and ahead of its time, deeming the details of the relationship between the artist and the collector less of a priority.
Vibrant and extraordinary, Nikolai Ge’s personality fascinated his contemporaries. His image is captured in numerous portraits by two generations of artists - Ivan Kramskoi, Ilya Repin, Grigory Myasoyedov, Nikolai Yaroshenko, as well as Leonid Pasternak, Viktor Borisov-Musatov, Nikolai Ulyanov, and Alexander Kurennoi. There are also Ge’s self-portraits and photographs from different stages of his life. Many of his contemporaries left written descriptions of Ge’s appearance - the list includes his friends and students, fellow artists, and the family of Leo Tolstoy, with whom the artist became especially close during the last ten years of his life.
Nikolai Nikolaievich Ge was a descendant of the old French aristocratic family of “de Gay”. His great-grandfather Mathieu (Matvei) de Gay immigrated to Russia in 1789, at the time of the French Revolution. He settled in Moscow, “joined the emigre community and began to live quite comfortably”; a little later he even started a factory. No information about his wife is available today; we do know he had children — a daughter Victoria (17751852) and son Joseph (Osip) (born between 1775 and 1776, who died before 1836.) They may have been twins, given that the years of their birth seem to be the same.
Compiled by Tatiana Karpova and Svetlana Kapyrina
In May 2011, with the financial assistance of VTB Bank, a set of Nikolai Ge’s drawings was returned from Geneva to the artist’s homeland: the collection is an important fragment of Russian cultural heritage that vanished from Russia into exile more than 100 years ago. This is a landmark event which had been eagerly anticipated by Russia’s museum community for more than 20 years.
I came across the idea of this article by sheer chance, when a group of reporters from Grozny “descended” upon the Tretyakov Gallery. Unprepared, I was to give an interview about the art of Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets. In the introductory room, my attention was caught by an old photograph featuring the interior of the gallery in 1898, which showed that Zakharov-Chechenets’s portraits fitted in perfectly with those hanging beside them, including masterpieces of Russian art of the 1830s-1840s by Karl Briullov and Fyodor Brum. Almost all of his best works in the collection were purchased by Pavel Tretyakov. What was it that attracted the demanding collector? Images of the people who were “dear to the nation’s heart”? Or the quality of the artist’s craftsmanship? How, and under what circumstances, were his paintings acquired by the Tretyakov Gallery? Looking for answers, I researched at the department of manuscripts of the Tretyakov Gallery, and in the newspaper and dissertation departments of the Russian National Library.
Many a creative genius of 20th-century art was overshadowed by the two great Spaniards - Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Nobody was discussed, disputed or written about as much as they were; no other artist’s work was covered as extensively as that of these two titans in books, albums, brochures and articles.
Did Vorticism, that little-known British avant-garde movement that existed so briefly in the second decade of the 20th century, really deserve the major exhibition “The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World” (June 14 to September 4) at London’s Tate Britain? Despite being Britain’s first truly radical artistic movement, it was, after all, held in such little regard after the World War I that it was all but forgotten for decades until the early 1950s. That was when the English art critic Herbert Read published his seminal survey “Contemporary British Art”, a book that championed the radicalism of British art. It was a publication that also gave the impetus for the Tate Gallery’s 1956 exhibition “Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism”, placing the difficult and irascible Lewis at the helm of the movement - as Read had done - and exciting some interest in avant-garde circles.
A solo exhibition of the Moscow-based sculptor Viktor Korneev, an art project distinguished by its elaborate conceptual framework and original execution, runs at the Tretyakov Gallery’s Engineering wing from September 1 to October 30 2011.