FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue

Ksenia Antonova

Magazine issue: 
#1 2006 (10)

The next volume of the Tretyakov Gallery's comprehensive catalogue devoted to early 19th-century panting is scheduled to appear in the nearest future. Even today, in the context of swiftly developing electronic means of collecting and storing information, the book is a major event. It is a fundamental illustrated edition with full and detailed information about painters and their works, and it will certainly attract the attention of both experts and a wider general readership of art lovers.

The approaching 150th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery encourages a retrospective look at the history of the emergence and development of the special catalogue genre, a major part of the gallery's activities. The work on the gallery's catalogue and its publication started in 1893, when the "Inventory List of Art Works in Pavel and Sergei Tretyakovs' Gallery" was first published.

Since the gallery's popularity as well as the number of its visitors were steadily growing it was vital to publish an edition that would present the entire collection to art lovers. In 1890 one visitor wrote in the Visitors' Book, addressing Pavel Tretyakov: "Dear Sir, Your picture gallery gives real delight not only to art lovers, but to anyone who is not entirely indifferent to the arts; that is why we could not but say a Big Russian thank you, for the chance to see your treasure store, where the doors are always open to people. At the same time, however, we would also like to tell you that the absence of a catalogue is a big drawback in your good deed, but this problem can be solved easily - just give a chance to those who would like to buy it, and they'll do so for a certain price ... I heartily hope, dear Sir, that you will lend an ear to our humble request."

When he decided to present his gallery to the city of Moscow, Pavel Tretyakov himself started to prepare the publication of such a catalogue, introducing a system into his collection. In his letter to the art critic Vasily Stasov, he wrote: "What I am making is not a catalogue, but an inventory for the Council - one copy will be necessary, for insurance, and another to compile an index, if only the shortest one..." The "Inventory", in fact, became the first catalogue of the gallery. It was compiled according to the placement of works in the halls, and had an appendix which included "Rules for Gallery Visitors". Simultaneously, it was also a guidebook for the exhibition.

By the time it was published, catalogues of all major museum collections in Russia, such as the Hermitage and the Academy of Arts Gallery in St. Petersburg, the Moscow Public Museum and the city's Rumiantsev Museum, as well as catalogues of the private collections of Svinyin, Kokorev, Pryanishnikov and Botkin had already appeared. Some of them described art works in greater detail; however, this small and modest book with its most laconic information about artists and their works became an important event in the cultural life of Russia and evoked huge response from the public. What mattered most in this first edition was not how full and precise the descriptions were, but the fact of making the collection known to the general public, and the acknowledgement of the gallery as a major museum of Russian national art.

Having received a copy of the new catalogue, Vasily Stasov wrote to Tretyakov: "Dear Pavel Mikhailovich, I have just returned from a foreign trip and suddenly, yesterday morning I received the catalogue of your gallery from N.Sobko. I'm so grateful to you, and it is really so important! You can see how I feel about it from the fact that yesterday, after a very busy day, when I got everything done only late in the evening, I went to bed at midnight and couldn't sleep until four in the morning, because I was reading and studying your catalogue; I was reading, comparing, summing up, checking with other materials, etc. I put aside this book which carried me away as if it was an excellent novel only when it was already morning ... I pray to God that more and more people could appreciate your great historical feat!"

The need for such an edition was evidently great, since in the first week 1,238 copies of the 5,000 ordered were sold, and an additional print-run was under discussion. The catalogue embraced the entire huge collection, covering the history of Russian pictorial art from the 18th century through to the time of publication, and convincingly showing that this was the best collection of contemporary Russian painting.

Since then, inventories and gallery catalogues were published annually up to 1917, reflecting the growth of the collection, the scale and directions of Tretyakov's collecting activities and, after his death, that of the gallery's board. Even despite the fact that the information given was still very brief, almost every catalogue presented some new names and works. The last catalogue prepared by Pavel Tretyakov was published after his death, appearing in 1898; it was the most complete catalogue of all published to date. It included 1,634 works by Russian painters and 85 works by foreign painters from the collection of Sergei Tretyakov. It is worth noting that the catalogues published in the course of 19 years following the death of the gallery's founder left the composition of the collection unchanged, keeping intact even the numbers of works, thus becoming a documentary witness of the integrity of the collection. The acquisitions made by the gallery's board after 1898 were reflected in a separate list which started from No. 1635. The catalogues, being the only museum publication popularising the collection, were translated into a number of foreign languages. The French catalogue was first published in 1897, when Tretyakov was still alive. It saw its second edition in 1899, and was first published in English in 1911 and 1912.

The new edition of the catalogue prepared and published by Igor Grabar in 1917 was a major event. It still held the title: "Catalogue of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakovs' City Art Gallery", but Grabar introduced major changes in the collection's composition and restructured the entire research and museum work in the gallery.

The accompanying notes to the new edition mentioned that "in the last four years visitors to the gallery could only obtain an old, outdated catalogue, which did not any longer correspond to the new placement of works and the entire new contents of the exhibition. Also, a major part of the catalogue information was outdated.” Working on a new edition, staff members not only followed the changes in the works' placing and corrected the information provided, they fulfilled a principally new task - they made the catalogue reflect the current condition and demands of contemporary art theory. Igor Grabar wrote that ”for the first time studies of Russian art had acquired a strictly scientific character, and a considerable amount of new facts about the painters and their works had been established. A new branch of science, museum studies, was gathering momentum, raising new challenges for the gallery. The new edition was an attempt to make the gallery catalogue meet the demands of its time.”

A huge amount of research work was done in preparation for the new edition, with the collection systematised and studied in greater detail in order to get a science- based inventory of the works. In 1913, simultaneously with reshuffling the collection, Grabar, together with his assistant N. Chernogubov, the chief curator, and A. Skvortsov started measuring and describing the works. The next year, 1914, they started a careful attribution of works in the collection. As it was noted ”it was a mad enough task - searching for the authors and real subjects, not mythical ones, shown in a number of portraits...”

Taking into account the amount of the collected material on the gallery's inventory list, it was already then quite enough to start the publication of a fundamental science- based catalogue. The bulk of it was used in the 1917 edition, and in its contents, precision of research and the logic of its presentation it surpassed other contemporary editions of the same type (the catalogues of the Moscow Public Museum and Rumiantsev Museum, and the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). In fact, the quality of this publication and the employed methods of processing information make it the first example of a proper scientific volume devoted to the collection.

The 1917 catalogue was the 27th edition of the Tretyakov Gallery inventories and catalogues. It preserved its traditional function as a guide-book addressed to the general reader, and, like previous editions, included the plan of the museum and guidelines for visitors. An important new feature was an article on the gallery's history and the Tretyakov brothers, and catalogue guidelines, which gave an idea about the contents of work done to research the collection.

The first few decades after the October 1917 revolution were a time of active expansion of the gallery's collection, as well as those of many other Russian museums. The Tretyakov Gallery received more works from the Rumiantsev Museum, the Tsvetkov gallery, the Ostroukhov Icons and Painting Museum, and several private collections.

The issue of compiling new catalogues was repeatedly discussed in the late 1920s and mid-1930s, with a programme of cataloguing and preparing the collection for publication worked out, planned for publication in several editions, and involving a large team of researchers including such major experts as A. Lebedev, N. Mashkovtsev, Yu. Sokolov, and A. Fedorov-Davydov.

On this occasion, the researchers approached their material from the perspective of promoting Russian art, which was reflected in the manner the collection was prepared for publication. By that time, a new generation of museum visitors, demanding a new type of a catalogue, had appeared. The range of information was preserved as in Igor Grabar's catalogue, but a few important additions were made in the text of the first new edition devoted to 19th - early 20th-century painting: not only were the subjects of the pictures explained and information as to who served as the model provided but the revised text also unclud- ed biographical notes on artists and a brief analysis of their work. A dictionary of foreign words and special terms also served the aim of reaching a wide range of visitors.

Due to the scientific and reference nature of the catalogue genre evaluative descriptions more typical of guide-books were later discarded. Instead, the focus shifted to the story of how works had been created and acquired by the gallery, the exhibitions they had been shown at and their specific features.

The intensive research and systematisation of the 1930s were never reflected in published editions, the work interrupted by World War II. However, the staff immediately returned to it in the late 1940s, and as early as in 1947 a "Katalog Khudozhestvennykh Proizvedenii, khranyashchikhsya v ekspozit- sii Gosudarstvennoy Tretyakovskoy Galerei" (Catalogue of Works on Show at the Tretyakov Gallery) was published. The book, the 28th edition, carried on the tradition of arranging material according to the pattern of exhibition in the halls - for the last time in fact. However, since the exhibition had seen quite a number of changes, as new acquisitions were made in the course of intensive exhibition activities, it soon became clear that the catalogue did not correspond to reality.

The demands of the time and new scientific and promotional aims were constantly changing expectations as to the scale and character of publications devoted to the collection. In the late 1940s a draft plan for the preparation of a number of new catalogues devoted to the gallery's main collections had been worked out, with plans to publish them over the next few years. In 1947, due to the expansion of this kind of work, a cataloguing department was set up, headed for many years by M.Kolpakchi. Its activities were aimed at the creation of different types of catalogues depending on the specific collection in question, and working out specific methods of processing and presenting materials to be included in catalogues. These tasks were also part of the government's large-scale aim of registering all artistic treasures. Three staff, G.Zhidkov, G.Nedoshivin and M.Kolpakchi, supervised the activities.

As a result, eight publications appeared in the period from 1952 to 1956: ” 18th - early 20th-century Painting” (up to 1917), ''Soviet Painting” (1917-1952), ''Soviet Sculpture” (1917-1952), and five issues of graphic art and watercolour catalogues of 18th-century Russian painters and major 19th - 20th-century painters such as Kiprensky, Venetsianov, Tropinin, Bryullov, Fedotov, Perov, Kramskoy, Vereshchagin, Repin, Surikov, Vasnetsov, Polenov, Levitan, Vrubel and Serov. It would be appropriate to mention here that Alexander Benois highly praised the first issue, ” 18th - early 20th- century Painting”; living abroad, it was difficult for him to imagine how, in the post-war years a museum which had survived evacuation and then the return to its previous location could issue such a fundamental publication.

All of the above-mentioned publications consistently adhered to the principle of scientific cataloguing started by Grabar. Instead of describing the works depending on the hall where they were displayed, the works now followed alphabetical order according to the surname of the painter. The catalogue no longer served as a guidebook, and specific features of every separate edition became more prominent. It should be said that the "Soviet Painting” catalogue (1917-1952) and "Soviet Sculpture" (1917-1952) were the first to present to the public the largest collection of contemporary visual arts from the country's central museum.

However, with the passing of time, cataloguing became increasingly complicated. As the museum business developed catalogues gradually turned into treatises that included fundamental research of separate art works and of artists in general. It is impossible to compile a modern-day catalogue without profound special knowledge, long hours of work in archives, knowledge of special techniques relevant to specific kinds of art, and attribution and explanation of the stories of the pictures.

The first edition of this kind, a two-volume catalogue of Ancient Russian Art, was published in 1963. It was prepared by the leading experts in this field, V Antonova and N.Mneva. The authors meant not only to systemise the material, but also to work out principles of historical and artistic classification of pictures. Works were grouped by art schools and accompanied by detailed descriptions; much attention was given to their attribution, origin and history, as well as the restoration of a work of art. Really unique, this catalogue was to become the basis for a "complete history of ancient Russian painting."

The next publication arranged as a detailed scientific catalogue was "Sculpture and Sculptors' Drawings of late 19th-early 20th Centuries", published in 1977, prepared by a team of authors headed by Kolpakchi.

Since there were very few research works on Russian sculptors and their work, and even the most elementary data hadn't been published, the authors decided to pay special attention to biographical essays, archive documents and the completeness of biographies. It should be noted that this catalogue was the first attempt in the museum world of the time to develop a form of scientific publication specifically applicable to Russian sculpture.

The time demanded a unified scientific systematisation of the gallery catalogue, with an urgent need for a publication that would fully embrace and present to the public the treasures of the country's largest national museum. With this aim in mind, a multi-volume series of catalogues covering all of the gallery's collections was envisaged. Its nature prescribed that in addition to the descriptions of works, there would also be a maximum of illustrations, with many works presented for the first time. Years of research and accumulation of material helped the team of researchers to prepare their texts. A major figure behind these activities was Yury Korolev, who was appointed the gallery director in 1980 and succeeded in overcoming a host of problems related to the settlement of agreements with interested government bodies and other superiors.

A truly historic event took place on January 12 1984 - a joint meeting of the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Russian State Committee on Publishing, Printing and the Book Trade, which approved the idea of publishing a "Svodny Katalog Sobraniya Gosudarstvennoy Tretyakovskoy Galerei" (Joint Catalogue of the Tretyakov Gallery Collection). The SOYUZKNIGA state company was to start subscription for all of the series of catalogues. The print run was to amount to 75,000 copies in order to embrace the widest network of libraries.

The first introductory volume, "The Tretyakov Library. History and Collection", came out in 1986. This representative album, prepared by a large team of authors, is devoted to the museum's creation and development; it also presents the histories of all of its collections, including the collection of manuscripts, a unique library and photography archive. The volume also contains an extensive bibliography of the collection and memoirs devoted to Pavel Tretyakov and his correspondence with the cultural figures of his time. This volume anticipated the publication of all future catalogues.

A joint catalogue is being published in four series: "Ancient Russian Art of the 10th-17th Centuries. Icons from the 18th-20th Centuries"; "18th-20th Century Painting"; "Graphic Art from the 18th-20th Centuries", and "18th-20th Century Sculpture". Nine volumes already published embrace a major part of the collection, including 18th - early 19th-century paintings and a collection of 18th-20th-century miniature paintings. Besides, the first of the two books in the volume "Late 19th Century Painting" is also ready, as well as a three- volume series on Russian 18th-20th century collection of sculpture. Several volumes of the series devoted to ancient Russian art and 18th-20th-century graphic works have come out as well. Soon to be published are "Early 20th-Century Graphic Works" and "Late 19th - Early 20th-Century Painting". When the last of these volumes is published, the main classical part of the gallery's collection of painting will be completely covered by publications.

This multi-volume edition has a special feature: chronological order. The academic catalogue with its specific manner of presenting information is arranged according to ages, and not alphabetically, despite all the difficulties involved. This allows the cataloque to preserve the nature of the history of Russian art and at the same time take into account the new periodisation of the latest stages of its development.

The way the edition is illustrated is also worthy of note. Although a catalogue is a documentary type of edition which should show all of the works presented equally well, illustrations put a certain emphasis on the more important works. Thus it gives readers a chance to see a sort of monograph of major artists; it also emphasises the meaning of a single but outstanding work of art. This transforms the book into an album.

In today's terms, the genre of a museum catalogue dealing with art and culture presupposes a variety of formats. A joint catalogue of such a huge collection which includes both famous and unknown names, thoroughly studied works of art and those which have just become objects of research, demands a rather specific approach. Both the published volumes and those being prepared differ in the quality of information presented, but all of them fulfil a common task - to popularise the art works accumulated in one of the world's largest museums, the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'
Illustrations for 'FROM AN Inventory TO A MULTI-VOLUME Catalogue'





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