Acquisitions over the Last Decade

Dina Lavrova, Irina Lomakina

Magazine issue: 
#1 2005 (06)

The central mission of the Tretyakov Gallery today remains undoubtedly its role as a treasury and promoter of Russian art. Still, another task - that of growing and updating the collection - is no less important. Purchasing new works, or acquiring them by other lawful means, keeps the museum's employees both restless and resourceful.

The range of this work has, in any terms, grown enormously since the time of Pavel Tretyakov: he accumulated around 2,000 works of art under the roof of his gallery over more than 20 years of collecting, while now, 106 years after the founder's death, its total numbers around 140,000.

Following the traditions laid down by Pavel Tretyakov and other remarkable Russian patrons of art and art collectors from the turn of the 20th century, contemporary sponsors, benefactors and donors also lend generous support to the Gallery. Their efforts have allowed the collection to remain alive and growing.

There have been many pressing and critical occasions when their help was absolutely indispensable to raise funds for the purchase a work of art. These benefactors are, primarily, such important corporate donors as SURGUTNEFTEGAS, CentreInvest Group, OLMA and Citibank, as well as a number of private sponsors: Alexander Novikov, Oleg Yachnik, Igor Tsukanov and Galina Proskuryakova.
The dozens of works that the Gallery has purchased with such support over the last decade prove the importance of such co-operation, one from which the nation's culture can only benefit. The names of painters whose pictures have been acquired to enhance the Gallery's collection - Mikhail Vrubel, Vasily Surikov, Dmitry Levitsky, Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov and Isaak Levitan - speak for themselves.

In addition, the list of the Gallery's new purchases includes some Russian icons of great rarity, a collection of drawings by Nikolai Sapunov and valuable documents for the archives of Pyotr Konchalovsky, as well as the unique 18th century manuscript book of "Litsevoi Apokalipsis" - as the text of the Apocalypse with miniature illustrations was traditionally referred to in Russia - acquired for the Gallery research library.

The period of the early 1990s was a difficult time for the Gallery, as it was virtually excluded from the ranks of state-supported institutions. The question of how to raise further funds became a very challenging one - and an answer was found.

The year of 1995 brought the idea of establishing a "Friends of the Tretyakov Gallery" society to pool the resources and ambitions of many donors - including those mentioned above - for the purpose of philanthropic support of the Gallery's acquisition of works of art.

Furthermore, the Tretyakov Gallery never lost touch with its traditional friends - renowned art collectors, the heirs of famous painters of the past, as well as with contemporary artists. Thus there was a gift from Vera Dulova, the world-famous musician, another from the widow of Pantelei Nortsov, a singer, the Bolshoi Theatre soloist, and a third from Mikhail Konchalovsky, the painter's son and a painter himself: all of them are a sign of the contributors' great benevolence and high respect for the Gallery.

Though the administration of the Tretyakov Gallery generally tries to rely on its own budget if the need to enrich the collection arises, the Russian Ministry of Culture is, of course, always ready to lend generous support when a piece is of great value and cost. And in the case of a purchase being of rare significance for the nation's culture, the administration of the Tretyakov Gallery has been able to fall back on the personal authority of the Russian President, who has never turned down the Gallery's appeal.

Any expression of praise and gratitude for the generosity of the Gallery's friends is inevitably insufficient and only viewing the works of art that they helped to recover for public display is enough to judge the true significance and calibre of their contribution.

Any inspection of the Gallery's permanent exhibition, and attempt to spot the new pictures that have been acquired over the last few years, is significant: all such works are on display. When examining the exhibits, viewers pay attention to their nameplates: each contains information about the donor concerned. The policy of the Gallery is now such that it primarily purchases items for display, while archival materials, so valuable for research, are a luxury the gallery can rarely afford.

Among such is the "Portrait of Darya Yakovlev nee Baratov", acquired specially to enhance the Vladimir Borovikovsky show. The portrait, painted in 1801, shows the outstanding 18th century master at the peak of his career; the canvas was purchased from a private collector in Paris and recalls a curious story already more than a century old.

Alexandra Botkin, Pavel Tretyakov's elder daughter, who was a member of the Gallery's board of trustees after her father's death, was eager to buy the work from its owners, who were the heirs of the model. But for some reason, she failed to do so.

After 1917 the portrait was removed to Paris where it found its way into the famous Garik Basmajan collection that was shown in the Tretyakov Gallery in 1988. Borovikovsky's "Portrait of Darya Yakovlev" was the gem of the exhibition, so accomplished was its composition and the painter's brushwork.

A tawny-skinned lady wearing, in the fashion of the times, an Empire gown and a turban is depicted against a landscape. The roses - a decoration for which Borovikovsky always showed a preference as a symbol of beauty - stress the fullblown youth of the model who was a descendent of an old Georgian princely family. The melancholy and languor, characteristic of the painter's early portraits, turns here into a lively image of a strong personality. The master tends to accentuate the figurative, prominent, almost three-dimensional forms.

In 2000 this gem from Garik Basma- jan's collection reached a Paris antique- dealer, who sold the canvas to the Tretyakov Gallery. Thus, a century was to pass before the dream of Pavel Tretyakov's daughter came true with the assistance of the Russian Ministry of Culture.

February 2004 saw a new rarity in the Karl Brullov exhibition, his landscape "View of Fort Pico on the Island of Madeira". The Tretyakov Gallery spent a whole three years raising funds for the purchase: the story of that remarkable recovery was described in the first issue of the "Tretyakov Gallery Magazine" from 2003. Located by the Gallery's employee Yelena Bekhtieva on Madeira in 2000, the canvas was acquired for the Tretyakov Gallery exclusively with the assistance of President Putin and the Ministry of Culture.

The story of "Haymaking", painted by Alexei Venetsianov in the 1820s, is no less thrilling. Works by the artist are very rare in private collections, but, before 1917, the canvas in question belonged to the family of Prince Khvoshchinsky, who were living in Rome. Its fate was later confused, and only in 1987 did the Tretyakov Gallery discover that the canvas was in Britain, owned by a British citizen Viktor Provatorov.

Ten years later, in 1997, the painting was spotted at Christies where it had been sent for appraisal. According to the will of its owner, who had died that year, the canvas was bequeathed to the Tretyakov Gallery. But it was a situation in which concrete action proved very difficult: for four years the rarity remained in London, with no possibility of moving it anywhere while the Russian side - representatives of the Gallery, its lawyers and officials of the Russian Ministry of Culture, as well as Russian diplomats - tried to prove the Gallery's claim to the picture.

To complicate matters further, the Gallery faced rivalry from one of the most renowned British museums, the National Gallery, which was seeking to integrate the picture into its own collection in the event that the Russian side's application for an export permit be refused. It was the first time in the history of the Gallery that such a situation had arisen (as was also the case with the "field" expertise conducted with Brullov's Madeira landscape).

In October 2001 a special decree of President Putin authorized the allocation of necessary funds to pay the inheritance tax concerned and other associated expenses, and the following month official export permission was issued by the British authorities. Thus, today "Haymaking" is exhibited alongside two of Venetsianov's other masterpieces from the Tretyakov Gallery collection - "In the Fields. Spring" and "Harvesting in Summer". The name of the donor is written on the nameplate concerned. The pictures, which can be seen as a "triptych", not only share a common subject and the period in which they were painted - all are full of the poetic feeling and the harmony of life that is so typical of Venetsianov's style.

Near the Venetsianov canvases viewers can enjoy the colourful luxury of Pavel Fedotov. A superb painter, Fedotov was also a marvellous draughtsman who excelled in various drawing techniques; unfortunately, his extraordinary drawings are so fragile that they cannot endure long exposition to direct light and, therefore, cannot be permanently displayed with his paintings.

For this reason, his recently-acquired rarity "Fording during the Army Manoeuvres", has to stored most of the time in the Gallery's reserve. The provenance of the watercolour is known to be the collection of Ilya Ostroukhov, a well-known artist and art connoisseur. For many years the drawing, made in 1844, moved from one private collection to another.

The subject is far from new for Fedotov. In 1844 the 28-year-old officer left the Finland regiment and retired from military service to take classes in battle painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. It was at that time that Fedotov drew "Fording", and the watercolour would begin his short but brilliant career. The acquisition of the picture was indeed a "lucky strike", given that Fedotov's heritage is very limited in quantity: it is an example of a drawing being acquired by the Gallery with its own funds.

The Gallery considers the continuance of the so-called "joint in time" significant, and that the traditions of old Russian patrons of the arts can be seen continued in the contributions of contemporary donors. Among such figures is Alexander Novikov, a member of the "Friends of the Tretyakov Gallery" for many years, whose loyalty and important personal donations have been vital. It is due to joint efforts between Novikov and the Russian Ministry of Culture that the Gallery now prides itself on owning "Playing Dice" by Genrikh Semiradsky as part of its collection of academic art.

This eye-catching canvas, painted by Semiradsky in Rome in 1899, three years before his death, can be seen near his famous "Dancing among Swords". Semiradsky is considered one of the most talented masters of the Russian academic school, whose works sought an ideal beauty in the ancient world.

It is those two canvases that, alongside his paintings from other collections, represent Semiradsky's work at the recently opened exhibition "Captured by Beauty", the idea of which belongs to Tatyana Karpova, a research worker of the Tretyakov Gallery and the curator of the above exhibition.

Thanks to Anatoly Novikov's financial support the Tretyakov Gallery was able to acquire Mikhail Vrubel's "Portrait of Nastya Vrubel” (1894) and Fedor Tulov's "Portrait of an Unknown Man". Due to financial support of the law firm "Clifford Chance CIS Ltd" Alexei Bogolyubov's red-velvet album was acquired by the Tretyakov Gallery.

To enhance its collection of old Russian art, occupying eight rooms of the permanent display, the Gallery acquired a unique carved wooden polychrome sculpture, "Angel on the Knees», the work of an anonymous master of the turn of the 18th- 19th centuries.

The "Angel" has a tender youthful oval face, outspread arms and head tilted forward: thus did the talented sculptor from central Russia depict the divine image. The originality of the iconographic model, supported by the sculptor's exceptional artistry, appealed to the Gallery's experts who judged it a rare example of church sculpture with no parallel among classical analogues.

Another sculpture, a marble head of the Greek goddess Eos (1912) by the master Sergei Konenkov, stylistically different from the "Angel", was also purchased with funds allocated by the Ministry of Culture. When the sculptor turned to classical subjects he prefered to work in marble, the material favoured by the ancient Greeks, rather than wood. The sculpture of Eos, the goddess of dawn (Aurora, in Roman mythology) was inspired by the early, archaic, period of classical art with which Konenkov established an affinity during his visits to Greece.

Recreating the character of Homer's "The Iliad" Konenkov presents his Eos as one of his "Koras", with a radiant smile on her lips, one that brightens the face after sleep and fills the surrounding world with light and happiness. The sculpture's owners volunteered to gift the work to the Tretyakov Gallery, an act which deserves real respect and acknowledgement.

One of the specific features of the Gallery's exhibition hall on Krymsky Val, where its 20th century art collection is displayed, is the fact that the visitor's experience starts from the entrance itself, with pictures, decorative panels, sculptures and models of monuments exhibited in the foyer.

Among them is the dramatic and colourful decorative panel (actually a design for a carpet) titled "Bova the King", completed by Pyotr Konchalovsky in 1914. The panel, the size of a real carpet (3.62x5.04 m), was meant to decorate and brighten an interior.

The enormous canvas catches the style of a fairy tale with its fanciful scenes from the life and heroic deeds of Bova the King. The unusual work reached the collection as a result of the generosity of the painter's son, Mikhail Konchalovsky, another devoted "friend" of the Tretyakov Gallery.

The Krymsky Val display also includes works by contemporary artists, and in acquiring them the Gallery faced a range of similar difficulties. Following a decrease in state funding from 1994, a "donation committee" was set up in 1995; many artists came forward to help offering their own works, which are usually scrutinized by a committee of experts who either accept or decline the donation.

In 2000, the Gallery opened its new permanent display "Russian Art of the 20th Century", a major step which coincided with generous donations from well- known artists such as Eduard Steinberg and Timur Novikov, as well as from the Ministry of Culture (58 works of modern art, including a painting by the classic of Russian underground art Ilya Kabakov, which is the only one in the Gallery' s collection), and astonishing drawings by Oleg Tselkov. Tatyana Mavrina contributed a collection of her own works, while another, from Vladimir Nemukhin, is expected soon to become part of the permanent display. Such a list of new acquisitions - both gifts and donations - is almost endless.

Although "Russian Art of the 20th Century" has been on display for four years already, the Gallery's curators already face the task of updating it through the introduction of newly- acquired works. Prime among them are the contents of the "Tsaritsyno" collection of modern art, with which researchers have already been working for three years.

Russian masters of the late 20th century include Dmitry Zhilinsky, whose major canvas "1937. To the Memory of Those Innocent who Died during the Repressions and Atrocities of 1937" was recently purchased by the Gallery. Deriving from his late period, the painting not only has the classical composition that is typical of Zhilinsky's work as a whole, but also features his usually bright palette and flat surface treatment of figures.

The huge canvas is almost an icon, with a central figure recalling the crucifix and other characters who emphasize the dramatic tension of the situation. For the painter the subject symbolised the saintly sacrifice of the Russian people, victims of the inhuman Stalinist regime. This episode of history touched the painter personally and profoundly: his father was the prototype for the main character of the canvas. Zhilinsky had long dreamt of seeing his painting in the Gallery's collection, and, thanks to the Ministry of Culture, his dream has been realized.

The works of Eduard Steinberg, a contemporary artist now living in the USA, are to be found in many major museums around the world. Recently the Tretyakov Gallery also came to own his "Abstract Composition" (1979), a brilliant example of the metaphysical art of the late 20th century that develops the suprematism of Kasimir Malevich. Steinberg has been known as a representative of the "metageometric" trend in modern art, given his non-conformist stance in the 1960s. A special mention should be made to the long-standing corporate sponsors of the Tretyakov Gallery, such as CentreInvest Group, which have shown their interest in purchasing such avant-garde works: the acquisition of Steinberg's "Abstract Composition" is credited to these two donors.

Last, but far from least, is the extraordinary installation "Soul of the Crystal" by Francisco Infante, an artist who, although Spanish in origin, is known as a brilliant representative of Russian underground art. His works look extremely contemporary: from the early 1960s onwards Infante, along with other European artists, has been working on new forms of figurative artistic expression, distinct from either painting or sculpture. These so-called "objects", created from materials such as acrylic plastic and metal, accentuate the rational geometry of the form.

The unique character of the "object" created in 1961 and now acquired for the Tretyakov Gallery collection is that it is the last of a series made in the early 1960s which the artist left in his Moscow studio. For many years Infante hoped to see it in the collection of Russia's major gallery, even while foreign museums were encouraging him to sell it to them. Eventually, the installation became part of the Tretyakov Gallery's permanent display.

The acquisitions and artists mentioned in the article are only a small part of the huge and painstaking effort involved in adding to the Gallery's treasury of Russian art. It is one that will never cease, and one that will surely bring enormous future benefits.

Francisco INFANTE. Soul of the Crystal. 1961
Francisco INFANTE. Soul of the Crystal. 1961
Acrylic plastic, metal. 30 by 30 by 30 cm
Genrikh SEMIRADSKY. Playing Dice. 1899
Genrikh SEMIRADSKY. Playing Dice. 1899
Oil on canvas. 88.5 by 141.5 cm
Sergei KONENKOV. Eos. 1912
Sergei KONENKOV. Eos. 1912
Coloured marble. 37 by 32 by 42 cm
Karl BRULLOV. View of Fort Pico on the Island of Madeira. 1849–1850s
Karl BRULLOV. View of Fort Pico on the Island of Madeira. 1849–1850s
Oil on canvas. 65 by 77 cm
Pavel FEDOTOV. Fording during the Army Manoeuvres. 1844
Pavel FEDOTOV. Fording during the Army Manoeuvres. 1844
Water-colours on paper with passe-partout. 29.7 by 36 cm
Angel of the Knees. Old Russian polychrome sculpture
Angel of the Knees. Old Russian polychrome sculpture
Alexei VENETSIANOV. Haymaking. Before 1827
Alexei VENETSIANOV. Haymaking. Before 1827
Oil on canvas. 66 by 54 cm
Vladimir BOROVIKOVSKY. Portrait of Darya Yakovlev. 1801
Vladimir BOROVIKOVSKY. Portrait of Darya Yakovlev. 1801
Oil on canvas. 74 by 60 cm
Alexei BOGOLUBOV. View of the Sinop Bay. 1856
Alexei BOGOLUBOV. View of the Sinop Bay. 1856
Spread of the album. Sepia on paper, brush. 24.5 by 66.2 cm
Pyotr KONCHALOVSKY. Bova the King. 1914
Pyotr KONCHALOVSKY. Bova the King. 1914
Decorative panel. Oil on canvas. 362 by 504 cm
Dmitry ZHILINSKY. To the Memory of Those Innocent who Died during the Repressions and Atrocities of 1937. 1987
Dmitry ZHILINSKY. To the Memory of Those Innocent who Died during the Repressions and Atrocities of 1937. 1987
The central part of the triptych. 220 by 190 cm
Eduard STEINBERG. Abstract Composition. 1979
Eduard STEINBERG. Abstract Composition. 1979
Oil on canvas. 119.5 by 150 cm





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