PAVEL MIKHAILOVICH HAS BEEN TO ENGLAND, AS USUAL...
MARKING THE 450TH ANNIVERSARY OF DIPLOMATIC AND BUSINESS RELATIONS BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE UNITED KINGDOM
THANKS TO THE METICULOUS AND PRECISE MANNER RUSSIAN MERCHANTS, AMONG THEM PAVEL TRETYAKOV, USED TO DO BUSINESS, THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY ARCHIVES FOUND THEMSELVES IN POSSESSION OF SOME MOST INTERESTING EVIDENCE OF HIS WORK AS AN ART COLLECTOR: HIS LETTERS, NOTE-BOOKS, DIARIES, BILLS AND OTHER MEMORABILIA BEAR VALUABLE TESTIMONY TO HIS LIFE-LONG ENDEAVOUR OF BUILDING UP THE FIRST NATIONAL COLLECTION OF RUSSIAN PAINTINGS. EVEN LESS KNOWN, BUT NO LESS INTERESTING, ARE THE FACTS OF PAVEL TRETYAKOV’S REGULAR JOURNEYS ABROAD. BESIDES SERVING BUSINESS PURPOSES THE TRIPS ALLOWED TRETYAKOV TO VISIT NUMEROUS ART EXHIBITIONS AND MUSEUMS, AND TO ACQUAINT HIMSELF WITH CONTEMPORARY ARTISTIC TRENDS IN EUROPE. HE WAS COMPARING AND ANALYZING, ACCUMULATING IMPRESSIONS, BUILDING UP KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE, AND DEVELOPING THE CONNOISSEUR’S TASTE - ALWAYS WITH THE IDEA OF A NATIONAL ART COLLECTION IN MIND.
SIR DAVID WILKIE. Pitlessie Fair. 1804
(Cat. 278) *. Oil on canvas. 58.5 × 106.7 cm. Detail
* International Exhibition 1862. Official Catalogue of the Fine Art Department. London. 1862
His daughter and bibliographer remembers: ...Pavel Mikhailovich has been to England, as usual. Tretyakov visited Britain many times, and his first visit dates back to June ’860 when, still a young man and an emerging art collector, he made his first trip in Europe. The itinerary included "all major cities on the Continent, except Vienna," and also Britain and Ireland. His first impression of London becomes clear from his sister's letter:
Moscow, June 22, 1860 ... Your letter from London shows that your impression of it [London] is the same as that of oth ers who had seen it for the first time: it struck you with its wealth, hugeness, its remarkable animation. But all that was your first impression which seems to have been followed by you getting bored, which I really cannot understand. How could you, so curious about everything, get bored in such an interesting place as London?... May it have been from the local weather, foggy and rainy, enough to make anybody bored?...
About a year later the English topic came up again: Tretyakov received a letter from one of his correspondents. He urged Tretyakov, a member of the Art Lovers' Society and an authority with contemporary Russian painters, to persuade them to adopt Shakespeare's heroes and similar dramatic historical events and characters as subjects for their pictures. The author of the letter, incidentally, noted the high moral spirit that Shakespeare must have intended to be read in the tragic deaths of his heroes: ...Ophelia who was drowned while brooding on the sorrow of her heart's reflection or Hamlet killed in a fencing match... attempting to save his name from aspersion; Lear mourning the death of his beloved Cordelia, innocent Desdemona strangled by Othello...
That appeal seemed to sound quite apt, considering the crisis of Russian academic historical painting that was then evident. There was reason, too, in addressing it to one of the most liberal-minded collectors and judges of art. Is it not possible to see Ophelia as the prototype of a series of "drowned women" which appeared in the pictures of many Russian painters of the late 19th century? Or does Vasily Perov's famous canvas of the same subject ("Found Drowned") not look as if it was inspired by something similar? Or does King Lear's anguish over the dead body of Cordelia not bring to mind the image of Ivan the Terrible grieving theatrically over his son? Indeed, critical realism, accumulating as it was at that time, was encouraged by Tretyakov, who commissioned some of the pictures. The painters tended to choose, following Shakespearean pathos, tragic subjects for their historical canvases. Those made it possible to better reveal the moral aspect of the heroes' sufferings and deaths. They might also be taken as a suggestion of blame, as well as a challenge, to contemporary social evils.
The most important events in the history of Russian-British cultural contacts of the 1860s-1870s are thought to be the Russian painting shows at the 1862 and 1872 International Exhibitions in London - a highly significant fact in itself, considering that the Crimean war had just ended. It was also the first time that some canvases from Tretyakov's collection were exhibited in London. His own judgment, therefore, of what kind of painting a Russian art exhibition should include is of great value.
Initially, Russian painters were represented by seventy-eight canvases, mainly the works of the members of the Academy of Fine Arts from the Emperor's collection and from those of the Imperial Family, or the recognized Zhadomirsky Collection. It was agreed that the most prestigious independent collections that deserved to participate in the London display were the following: from the Pryanishnikov collection - seven paintings; from the Soldatenkov collection - four paintings; from the Tretyakov collection - three canvases; and from the Kuleshev-Bezborodko gallery - two pictures.
As a young, but promising art collector, Pavel Tretyakov initially suggested a list of four paintings for the show - the "Portrait of Duchess Kutaisov" by Vladimir Borovikovsky, the "Portrait of Lanci" by Karl Brullov, the "Madonna with Child" by Fyodor Bruni, and "Cacciatore" by Vasily Khudyakov: all painters were the most important figures in Russian art of the late 18th-early 19th centuries.
One of the main curators of the Russian painting display at the London Exhibition happened to be Fyodor Iordan, a distinguished engraver and art school teacher who was well-versed in the London art scene from his early years as a boarding student there. He personally acquainted himself with Tretyakov's collection in Moscow to make a better choice for the preliminary display held in St. Petersburg in January 1862. He chose five pictures from the collection, namely:
- " Portrait of the Archeologist Michelangelo Lanci" by Karl Brullov
- "Dying Musician" by Baron Mikhail Klodt
- "Village Dance" by Konstantin Trutovsky
- "Peddler Selling Lemons" by Valery Iakobi
- "Oranienbaum Landscape" by Alexey Savrasov
Even though Pavel Tretyakov had different opinions on what pictures to show, Iordan was insistent. He argued that with a greater number of pictures to choose from, the choice of a smaller quantity became easier. As a result, the Academy Council decided on three genre paintings from the Tretyakov collection: "Dying Musician", "Village Dance" and "Peddler Selling Lemons".
Pavel Tretyakov's mother and sister Sophia happened to be the first of the Tretyakovs who saw the Russian exhibition as soon as they arrived in London in May 1862. The impression they received - first, instant and candid - seems, therefore, more valuable than even the professional one later expressed by the critics Vasily Stasov and V. Grigorovich in the Russian press. In their letter the two women wrote:
The next day, after our arrival, we visited the Exhibition. It is so huge that it would take a few days to see it all properly. Such, at least, was my first impression. What unpleasantly struck all of us was the humbleness and awkwardness of the Russian arrangement. Even our pictures are not hanging in one place: some - in the room where goods are displayed, and the rest together with the others in the room for paintings. Our doctor is very cross because there are too few Russian goods on display and the paintings are scant and not very good quality. 
It may be interesting to note that Tretyakov's future wife, Vera Mamontova of the famous family of the Mamontovs, also visited London in summer 1862. Her brother Nikolai would also become a well-known patron of the arts; at that time he was working in a trading agency in London. Unluckily, in her diary there is no mention of visiting the Exhibition.
Pavel Tretyakov spent August and the beginning of September 1862 in Britain. He went to Manchester on business, but stayed mostly in London and, of course, attended the Exhibition. A valuable witness to that trip is his note-book: alongside a list of expenses, reminders of itineraries, inns and hotels, many pages are devoted to his impression of the paintings he saw at the Exhibition. In the British art collection Tretyakov, a man of practical mind, could not help but be fascinated with the water-colours of architectural designs. His note-book bears the names of all important British painters of the 18th century, as well as of the contemporary ones whose works the art collector admired: Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, George Morland, William Hogarth, David Wilkie, Thomas Lawrence, Charles Leslie, Charles Eastlake, Thomas Webster, Richard Bonington, Edwin Landseer, William Hunt, John Constable, William Turner, John Crome and others. Next to the number of each canvas in the list there is its genre scrupulously mentioned. Altogether, Tretyakov made notes of thirty genre paintings, fifteen landscapes (including marine paintings), twelve historical ones, ten portraits and one [?] battle scene.
It should be noted that Tretyakov's records also included some historical paintings, such as those based on works of literature, for instance, "Faust" by Goethe and "Macbeth" by Shakespeare. The latter might have caught the collector's eye as having been observed in the letter cited above for the special power of Shakespeare's subjects.
Besides the works of the Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt and some landscapes Tretyakov showed particular interest in British genre painting - such as the anecdotal, especially rustic, scenes in the pictures of George Morland, David Wilkie, Thomas Webster, William Collins and other masters.
Incidentally, about the same time Art Journal published a review by an anonymous author, which pinpointed genre painting, chiefly rustic scenes, as a distinct feature of the contemporary British school of painting: ...that truly English school of home sympathies and rustic simplicity, to which the foreign galleries of the International Exhibition afford little or no parallel ... made sacred in the sphere of poetry by the writings of Crabbe and Wordsworth...
The collector's interest aroused by the British genre painters was more than reasonable. His sharp observant eyes spotted one of the hallmarks of the British school of painting that might have similar traits in Russian art. Considering that it was only a year after serfdom had been abolished in Russia and the peasants' problem was very acute, Tretyakov envisaged that village life was likely to become the focus of attention of Russian genre painters. And it did indeed become so, as far as the early period of the peredvizhnik (wanderers) movement of the 1860s was concerned.
The second most widely exhibited foreign school of painting that received detailed coverage in Pavel Tretyakov's diaries was the French one. But the topic of Tretyakov and French art deserves separate study. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that unlike the British genre painting that he admired so much, the French collection particularly charmed him with the landscapes of the Barbizon school: Charles-Francois Daubigny, Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Francois Millet, Constant Troyon. Their works were just coming into fashion with Russian art collectors: canvases of the Barbizon school were later to be found in the collections of Sergei Tretyakov and Andrei Bogolyubov. Historical paintings by Paul Delaroche and Jean Leon Gerome seem to have also aroused Pavel Tretyakov's interest at the London International Exhibition of 1862.
What did the Russian school of painting demonstrate at the London Exhibition? In retrospect it is possible to say that the merits of the pictures selected for the overseas exhibition were, in general, quite high. Indeed, of the seventy-eight paintings which were chosen seventeen are in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery today, more than twenty canvases are part of the Russian Museum collection in St. Petersburg, while others are on display in many provincial Russian museums. Some of the artists were still quite young at the time, but their names would feature in the subsequent history of Russian art - among them Ivan Aivazovsky, Timofey Neff (the author of the remarkable wall-painting and mosaics in the St. Isaac Cathedral in Petersburg), Alexey Bogolyubov, Valery Iakobi, Mikhail Klodt, Vasily Khudyakov, Pavel Chistyakov and others.
The paintings chosen to illustrate the earlier stages of Russian art were really impressive: portraits by Vladimir Borovikovsky and Dmitri Levitsky, works by Karl Brullov, Mikhail Lebedev, Silvestr Shchedrin, Orest Kiprensky, Vasily Tropinin, and Alexey Venetsianov. The Russian exhibition included such masterpieces as three of the series of portraits of the Smolny Institute boaders (Yekaterina Molchanov, Natalya Borschov, Glaphira Alymov) and "Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress" by Dmitri Levitsky, the "Self-Portrait" by Karl Brullov, "Christ Appearance to Mary Magdalene After His Resurrection" by Alexander Ivanov, and "The Major Makes a Proposal" and "The Young Widow" by Pavel Fedotov.
Unfortunately, the choice of some pictures seemed rather strange and disappointing. Even Pavel Tretyakov, usually reserved and brief in his sayings, could not control himself and wrote in his diary:
The Russian school (of painting): altogether it makes up 78; has the Russian school produced only 78 pictures worthy of being sent to an exhibition? No! To save the Russian school from shame the following ones of the chosen 78 pictures should not be sent... 
Further follows a list of twelve names with the number of pictures against each of them to be excluded from the candidates for the London exhibition: seventeen pictures altogether.
Another nine paintings belonging to such masters as Borovikovsky, Levitsky, Kiprensky and others were judged as a bad choice. Tretyakov also commented on the imperfections of some other selected paintings. Although his reasoning and judgement - about the works by Borovikovsky and Levitsky, in particular - could sound a little far-fetched, his opinion on the subject is by any standards definite and original. All the more so, given that his views found an unexpected champion in Vasily Stasov, a young art critic.
In the wake of the London Exhibition two Russian journals - Sovremennaya Letopis (Contemporary Chronicle), No 11 of 1862, and Sovremennik (The Contemporary) No. 4 & 5 of 1863 - published comprehensive critical reviews of the Russian art display - with no strategy or idea, as the reviewer qualified it. The author of both reviews was Vasily Stasov.
Tretyakov found many of his conclusions interesting and matching his own observations and reflections.
The crucial question, in Stasov's opinion, that the first large- scale participation of Russian art in an international show raised was.
What is our painting like as compared to other schools?... What are the positive features of our school? What is its character? Which school does it resemble more than any other? His answer was quite definite: Our national school of painting (I am speaking about its previous history) resembles, more than any other, one European school of the past with which it has never been compared before, for no such comparison had been possible until this exhibition. It is the English school. Such comparison will infuriate many Russians. How dare you to compare our talents, our geniuses with the English painters of whom nobody knows anything in Europe! More, nobody wants to know! International exhibitions help to correct your opinions, including those about the English school of painting. Like our's, the English school, for the first time, presented itself before the whole world. With all its merits and faults. 
Vasily Stasov was one of the first to discover that both schools, in their earlier history, had been developing along the same lines. Thus, in portrait painting of the 18th century both schools, as he justly remarked, could boast of great achievements:
... Here we have been going at the same pace with England and all the laurels that the English painters have won, we have won too. The portraits by Levitsky, Borovikovsky, Kiprensky, Brullov deserve to stand next to the best works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney and Lawrence. They contain the same subtlety, truthfulness, extraordinary rich colours., splendid elegance, aristocratic dignity, state grandeur. 
Naturally, Stasov judged the paintings exhibited in 1862 as an adherent of the realistic art which was then appearing. There was much in common, he thought, between the Russian and English schools, both tending as they did to genre painting. But comparing Hogarth's works with Fedotov's the critic commented on both their similarity and a very meaningful difference in the ideas underlying the two arts:
... nowhere else can we see such closeness to the spirit of Hogarth’s paintings as we see in the new Russian school. Fedotov is Russia's Hogarth... still... there is a great difference between the arts of the two nations. Russian painting has never been a copy of English painting. All the more so, given that Russian painters have never been familiar with it. 
Although the last statement is not quite true, there seems to be something that an attentive critic cannot help noticing: the moralistic idea, so traditional for English genre painting, from David Wilkie and Thomas Webster to William Hogarth, is not suited for adaptation to the Russian national character. Such favourite subjects of English genre paintings as the misery of age, the hardships of the poor or the sufferings of the abused, all ending with a happy wedding, the acquittal of a wrongly accused family or the punishment of the criminal, would look strange on the canvases of the Russian genre painters. Here one cannot help but agree with the critic that
... Russian painting is as far from such ideas as morality, good morals and the happiness of the family as are Gogol and the literature to which he gave birth... The originality of Russian genre painting lay in something different: no less talented and understanding satire and good humour, Russian painters sought realism of subject in the great diversity of national social types and their behaviour. 
Such a conclusion was echoed in the review of one English critic who asserted that Russia should pin all its hopes on pictures of national character, based on its traditions and history, if it is going to find its own way in art.
Thus, the lessons which the 1862 International Exhibition taught the Russian artistic community were of fundamental importance. The Exhibition defined Russia's place among other European schools of art, showed the encouraging achievements of Russian portrait painting, and proved the out-dated conservatism of academic art in its current form. It opened up a new horizon for the Russian national school, became a springboard to a free and independent Russian art, realistic in its meaning and democratic in its character. In fact, it heralded the arrival of the peredvizhnik (wanderers) movement: it was only a year later that the famous revolt of the Fine Arts Academy graduates against academic and dogmatized teaching happened in St. Petersburg. The rebels were to join their Moscow allies and in 1871, a year before the 1872 International Exhibition opened in London, the Itinerants' Society of Travelling Exhibitions, as the new movement was officially called, launched their first show. So the 1872 London Exhibition was to see a new Russian art, both realistic and democratic. But this is the topic of another story.
The main inspirer and collector of the new Russian art was Pavel Tretyakov, and one French art critic would aptly nickname the movement as 'the Tretyakov school'. The collector's 1862 British voyage and the participation of his paintings in the International Exhibition, his first-hand impressions of the great multiplicity and variety of current artistic ideas and his understanding of the position that Russian art occupied among them, supported by Stasov's profound analysis, were to buttress Tretyakov's own conception of the structure and the national character of a future gallery.
That, in turn, led to his further contacts with Britain. It was probably in the early 1860s - the collector is known to have visited Britain in 1863 and 1865 - that Tretyakov attended the National Portrait Gallery, recently opened to the public in London. That visit must have convinced him in his intention to systematically build up a Russian collection of portraits as part of his future gallery. The collection was to comprise portraits of people dear to the nation. Thus, Tretyakov became a champion of the idea of instituting a collection highly national in spirit, able to present the Russian school of painting at its best as an independent and original art. As a great patriot of his country Pavel Tretyakov provided a practical answer to the bitter criticism - mostly true, in fact - expressed by some British reviewers who believed that Russian art, in its previous history, had failed to show itself interested in the national idea or in developing its national style.
Pavel Tretyakov had longstanding contacts with the British Isles: after 1862 he visited Britain many times - in 1863, 1865, 1872, 1887, 1895 and 1896. He made his last voyage to the white cliffs of Dover in the spring of 1897, eighteen months before his death. He had commercial dealings with London and Manchester and visited Glasgow and Edinburgh on business. His interest in Britain was of long-term nature, but not restricted to business. Every time he happened to be in Britain he sought out exhibitions of Russian painters, if there were any running at the time: thus, he once attended Vasily Vereshchagin's personal show. His cultural progammes usually included visits to museums and numerous exhibitions. How crowded those programmes were and how bright the impressions they brought can be judged from his letters, diaries and the memoirs of his friends. Here are some examples:
May 2, 1895
Yesterday I saw four exhibitions and the National Gallery. Here exhibitions are open from eight in the morning till seven in the evening and museums also work from ten till seven (in summer, of course). So you can see a great deal. 
May 4, 1895
On Tuesday I visited the Kensington museum and some small exhibitions too. I spent yesterday in Oxford. Today is my last day. I am going to different museums and tomorrow, at eight in the morning, I am leaving. You are asking about a trip around England. It is very easy to make. There are only 24 [2-4?] towns worth seeing and I visit 30-40 on every trip. I have already been to the two which are the most interesting. But you should know English. Otherwise it is very difficult (to communicate) here. Even in such a big, new and splendid hotel where I am staying nobody speaks any other language but English. 
Every new encounter with Britain made Pavel Tretyakov more and more interested in its rich and exciting artistic life, its theatre and literature. That interest would endure when he returned to Russia. He would attend shows of British watercolours in St. Petersburg, would follow news about London's current exhibitions, theatre performances and new books. Unfortunately, Tretyakov did not know the English language. Nevertheless, he strove to become acquainted with English classical authors. One of the last books he read, a few months before his death, was "Vanity Fair" by William Thackeray.
- Botkina A.P Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov v zhizny i iskusstve (Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov in Life and Art). Moscow, 1993, p.285
- Letter: S.M. Kaminskaya to P.M. Tretyakov, 22.04.1860
- Letter: I. Kutuzov to P.M. Tretyakov, 24.04.1861.
- Letter: F.I. Iordan to P.M. Tretyakov, ...
- Letter: S.M. Kaminskaya to P.M. Tretyakov, 18.05.1862.
- Art Journal, 01.06.1862, p.150
- Pavel Tretyakov’s diaries, The Tretyakov Gallery Archives
- V.V Stasov. Posle Vsemimoy Vystavky (1862) (After the international Exhibition (1862). in: V.V. Stasov. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol. 1. Moscow, 1952.
- Letter: P.M. Tretyakov to his wife, 02.05.1895.
- Letter: P.M. Tretyakov to his wife, 04.05.1895.
(Cat. 1699). Oil on canvas
(Cat. 501). Oil on panel. 54 × 43 cm
(Cat. 277). Oil on panel. 64.4 × 96.6 cm
(Cat. 141). Oil on canvas. 106 × 70 cm
(Cat. 275, Maid of Saragossa). Oil on canvas. 94 × 141 cm
(Cat. 257, The Pifferari with Pilgrims playing Hymns to the Madonna). Oil on canvas. 46×36.2 cm
(Cat. 217. The Carver of Images – Interior of a Neapolitan Saint Manufactory). Oil on canvas. 75×86.3 cm
(Cat. 1652). Oil on canvas
(Cat. 1659). Oil on canvas. 39 × 51.2
The Tretyakov Gallery Archives
Oil on panel, 60.4 × 91.5 cm
(Cat. 252). Oil on canvas. 70.5×90 cm
(Cat. 580). Oil on canvas over panel. 125.9×59.8 cm
(Cat. 413. Caxton Exhibiting a Proof Sheet to Edward IV). Oil on canvas. 218.5×284.5 cm
(Cat. 373). Oil on canvas. 254×341 cm
(Cat. 263). Oil on canvas. 129.5×179 cm