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Special issue. ITALY-RUSSIA: ON THE CROSSROADS OF CULTURES
The "Scuderie del Quirinale” in Rome is presenting the first half of a major exhibition "From Giotto to Malevich - Mutual Admiration” that is a highlight of a joint programme "Russia and Italy: A Relationship over the Centuries”. The show, which from February 7 will be on display in Moscow at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, has been organised by major museums in both countries, with support from the Ministries of Culture and Internal Affairs of both Italy and Russia.
It is significant that the year of the 150th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery has witnessed the realization of the long-planned "Russian" cultural project of Intesa Bank, as the exhibition "Wood Sculpture from the Russian Territories, from Ancient Times to the 19th Century" opened in Italy. The Tretyakov Gallery is displaying the best part of its collection there for the first time.
STEPPING INTO THE TWILIGHT OF A LARGE ROOM, IN WHICH THE ONLY ILLUMINATION COMES FROM SMALL SHINING WINDOWS, THE VIEWER INEVITABLY FEELS A SENSATION OF BEING INVITED INTO ANOTHER, UNEARTHLY, WORLD. "ANOTHER" IT MAY INDEED BE -BUT IN NO WAY AN UNEARTHLY ONE. THE WINDOWS CONCERNED ARE CHALK AND PEN SKETCHES WHICH ILLUSTRATE "MICHELANGELO UND SEINE ZEIT" (MICHELANGELO AND HIS TIME), NOW ON DISPLAY IN THE ALBERTINA MUSEUM IN VIENNA. THE OLD SHEETS OF PAPER IN SIMPLE CLASSICAL FRAMES SEEM TO SHINE FROM WITHIN WITH SOME MAGICAL, UNREAL LIGHT. THEY ARE KNOWN TO BEAR THE TOUCH OF THE HANDS OF MANY OF THE GREATEST ARTISTS OF THE PAST: MICHELANGELO, RAPHAEL, LEONARDO DA VINCI AND OTHERS. IT IS THE INSPIRATION, NAME AND PERSONALITY OF EACH OF THEM THAT IS EVIDENT IN THESE ANTIQUE DRAWINGS MARKED WITH THE ARTIST'S PASSION, TENDERNESS OR DESPAIR. LABOURING ON THOSE SHEETS, THE MASTERS CONCERNED MAY HAVE BEEN CONVERSING WITH GOD - AND THE VIEWER FEELS IN SOME WAY, ALMOST INVOLUNTARILY, THAT THEIR HOLY MURMURS CAN BE OVERHEARD.
Italy's great traditions of the past, its role as the cradle of the European civilization, its ancient monuments and architecture, friendly climate and the lifestyle of its cheerful and talented people - all that, since ancient times, have seemed appealing to all kind of travellers, philosophers, poets, men of letters and artists from around the world. Rome has become the treasure-house of unique works of art and artefacts as the landmarks of different epochs and styles. For centuries the city functioned as the Academy of Europe, the major school for students from different parts of the continent. Artists, representing different national schools and movements came to communicate with and learn from each other. In the first half of the nineteenth century there were two communities of painters - German and Russian - who could distinguish themselves from the rest; they were the most numerous, and their representatives were the most acclaimed: for example, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Alexander Ivanov, Julius Schnoff von Carolsfeld, Karl Brullov, Peter Cornelius and Fyodor Bruni. Although Russian painters joined the world artistic process rather late, they turned out to be extremely talented, individualistic and versatile. The author of this article has been studying the history of Russian - German artistic contacts for many years. Thanks to the scholarship granted by the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, Prof. Ludmila Markina, PhD in Arts, had a chance to work in the Eternal City for some time. She is happy to share the discoveries she made there.
In September 2008 the Tretyakov Gallery opened the first solo show of the Russian landscape artist Fyodor Mikhailovich Matveyev (1758-1826), commemorating the 250th anniversary of his birth. Matveyev spent most of his life in Italy, where he gained European acclaim. The great artist’s legacy had the same fate as academic art in general - appreciated by his contemporaries, it was later relegated to oblivion and for a long time considered outmoded and lacking in originality. The present exhibition re-introduces Matveyev to modern audiences. The project brought together many Russian and international museums, including the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the National Art Museum of Belarus, and private collections. The work led to many interesting discoveries: the discovery of previously unknown facts about the artist’s life, a more accurate attribution of the content of his landscapes, and a better knowledge of the specifics and dates of their creation. The catalogue published as a part of the exhibition project is the first dedicated to Matveyev’s works. The panoramic views of Italy and diverse graphic pieces, including journey sketches on display in the Gallery’s Engineering Building, take the viewer on a “painterly journey” in the spirit of the 18th century together with an artist more than fond of the beauty of nature.
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Alexei Vladimirovich Isupov dedicated his whole life to art and was shaped by his years at the Moscow School of Painting, and later absorbed a great deal from Impressionism and the work of the Italian Renaissance masters. But he kept his distinctive style and remained true to the idea that excited the generation of painters of the turn of the 20th century — “the embodiment of the great beauty of everything alive”.
The exhibition’s title makes clear that this is the first truly extensive show of works by the brilliant Italian master in Russia. The artistic legacy of Modigliani is scattered all over the world, in museums and private collections - and only international exhibition projects would have a chance to present any significant number of works by this artist, even if for a limited time only. Over 20 museums and private collections in Europe and America participated in the Moscow project. Ultimately, the exhibition organizers have managed to present 25 paintings, one sculpture, and 27 drawings, accompanied with the archive materials. (Russian museums own only two works of the master - drawings in the Pushkin Museum collection).
The great Italian artist of the 20th century Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) received major renown in New York in Autumn 2008, with a landmark exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accompanied by a range of other shows at other galleries in the city. The largest retrospective in North America for the artist to date, it will move back, in a slightly adjusted format, to the artist’s hometown, Bologna, to be displayed at that city’s Museo d’Arte Moderna from January 22. It was in Bologna that the artist spent the greater part of his life, and where a museum dedicated to his memory occupies an honoured place in one of the city’s central town square buildings.
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Last December Venice paid homage to Zoran Music (1909-2005) with an exhibition, “Estreme figure”, commemorating the centenary of his birth. Hosted by the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, it saluted an artist of international standing, viewed as one of the key figures of the 20th century, who hailed from Dalmatia and became Venetian by adoption. With an oeuvre spanning almost the whole of the last century, his austere, minimal style is indicative of a process of paring things down to their essence. The city on the lagoon proved a source of inspiration and constant point of reference for the artist throughout his career, as a place of fusion between East and West.
Twenty years after his previous visit Jannis Kounellis came to Moscow again this year. In 1991, his art affirmed the absolute value of the material, the matter, and those of its forms, which determine man’s life, its texture and its matrix.
There is no doubt that in the 20th century one of the main features of European and Western art was a pluralism of artistic style. Starting with Impressionism, a powerful stream of centrifugal forces emerged, multiplying and spreading different forms of artistic expression all over the world and reaching giant dimensions with the appearance of the “historical avant-garde” and “Neo-avant-garde” after World War II. This active promotion of new forms would at times slow down, as if taking a break for short reflection, to subsequently give rise to new and more dynamic developments of different artistic styles.