Pavel Tretyakov and the Paris World Fair of 1878

Yekaterina Selezneva

Article: 
150th ANNIVERSARY OF TRETYAKOV GALLERY
Magazine issue: 
#1 2006 (10)

It is believed that Pavel Trelyakov generously lent his paintings to exhibitions, including foreign ones, a belief started by Vasily Stasov, who wrote: "... when told about the new World fair he opened the doors of his wonderful gallery and let them take what they wanted." The reality was far more complex.

Tretyakov himself wrote to Stasov in 1879 regarding the lending of Vasily Vereshchagin's paintings to an international exhibition in Europe: "... a collection can be lost up to five times before even reaching the Russian border. They've even stopped traffic on some routes (like the Smolensk, Ryazan and Kozlov directions) and Vasily Vasilievich wants to take 180 paintings, that's almost the whole collection. But if they get lost, burned, damaged on their way ... - the eternal reproach in the event of an accident will be addressed to the one who allowed this." And although Vereshchagin himself assured the collector that he "swears to take the packing and the rolling of the paintings upon himself ... that he will undo any damage if such should occur with paint, not money," Tretyakov wouldn't hear of it. "Paintings, especially large ones, can be damaged during the packing . be lost or burned on the way . No one could ever agree to an artist taking and transporting his paintings to exhibitions whenever he liked. What right does the buyer acquire then? The right of storage? As much as I'd like to show these works to the French I am regretfully unable to fulfill your wish. Those who wish to can come to the gallery to see this type of serious monumental works." These words alone tell us that, feeling responsible for the safety of the collection, Tretyakov disliked lending his paintings to exhibitions.

There were some exceptions, however. In 1878 Tretyakov was at the peak of his collecting activity and his work on the gallery. His correspondence with artists and other people involved clearly demonstrates the history of the organization of a Russian art sector at the World Fair which opened that same year in Paris. Study of the details of preparatory activities makes it clear that, placed by circumstance at the centre of events, Tretyakov acted not only as a collector lending paintings for display abroad, but also proved to be a demanding custodian who made his partners observe the rules of packing, insuring and transporting art objects at a level of contemporary standards, and showed himself to be an artistic expert who discussed the content of the event and made suggestions regarding its improvement. He was also a coordinator and a kind of arbitrator, equally respected by the commissions set up by the Academy of Arts and by the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderers) movement.

Tretyakov wrote a letter to Ivan Kramskoy on January 12 1878 where he expresses his feelings and opinions about the future events with the openness for which he was known: "As I have said before I would be more than happy if they didn't take anything from my collection to the Paris exhibition. You can't imagine how much bother and trouble it is to dismantle, pack, screw on the paintings, etc.; it is even more troublesome to return the paintings, wash them, repair the frames, yet again screw in the rings, make sure the paintings hang at the right angle and so on and so on. Not to mention seeing the atrociously naked and stained walls for almost a year."

The receipt received from Andrei Somov (the Academy of Arts representative in charge of this event) shows that Tretyakov lent 41 paintings from his collection to the Paris exhibition. He visited Paris and went to the exhibition, writing to his wife in a letter dated September 17 1878: ". The exhibition holds most interest in terms of its general decorative appearance, as to any particular interest apart from the art sector there is nothing special about it." There seems no trace of any possible deserved pride that a man, undeniably responsible for the considerable change of the exhibition's general image thanks to its enrichment by works of the new Russian school, might feel. That is why perhaps his description of the Russian sector at the exhibit comes in the form of a dry formal report. Having finished it, Tretyakov switches to describing a concert featuring Russian music, in which he doesn't hold back emotions: "I felt great pleasure at hearing Russian music in the social capital of the world for the first time."

Tracing Tretyakov's correspondence regarding the organization of exhibition tours it is clear that his tone changes over the years, as he masters the art of precise formulation, the skill of expressing his demands firmly and appropriately and the ability to insist on their fulfillment.

When sending paintings to Paris, Tretyakov, who had gained considerable experience of exhibition organization, wrote to Kramskoy: "I am enclosing a description of the content sent in eight boxes and reminding you of the indispensable condition under which I agreed to this matter. A member of the Movement must be present during the opening of the boxes. Firstly, in order to safely return the objects, and secondly in order to make sure that their withdrawal is done with care. As the packing was done in a simple and cheap manner and took four days, the unpacking will most likely be done by a special person who spent so much time and effort into packing the first transport that I will feel better if I am sure that the unpacking will take place with one of your Movement members watching." We learn what happened upon the return of the works from Somov's answer to Tretyakov: "To my utmost regret I have learned that the frames of the paintings returned by us have been damaged by excessively long screws." Somov apologizes to Tretyakov and asks him to repair the damage and mail the bill to him.

With a thoroughness typical of Tretyakov he studies matters of the collection's material value and painting insurance: "The comparison of the money the authors received for their paintings with the prices paid when these paintings were later passed on to others is of great interest and may be necessary for the future in order to describe the history of some works and their authors. I know this better than anyone else and I am most interested in this; I know that I would give thousands for some paintings (by Perov) sold in my absence for hundreds, and vice versa. I carefully record the paid prices and when the City Administration, having received my inventory, asked for what sum they should insure the Gallery I gave them precise figures from the inventory and left it up to them to insure the gallery for the sum they considered appropriate. Thus in the future when someone needs to know the prices for our paintings we know that we have them but for many reasons of a personal nature I find it unnecessary and inappropriate to disclose these prices or place them in the catalogue at this time," Tretyakov wrote to Stasov on July 24 1897.

As early as in 1877, however, Somov confirms to Tretyakov: "According to your letter of December 1 I have the honour to ... bring to your knowledge that the enclosed assessment of your paintings selected by me for the Paris exhibition ... will serve as the basis for insuring these paintings during their travel to Paris and back."

Tretyakov was always known for his clear understanding of the material value of "goods and services" - he knew how to count money. He undoubtedly wouldn't be scared by the word "estimate", one which causes many modern museum employees to tremble in fear.

The material mentioned shows that when organizing the Russian art sector in Paris Tretyakov thoroughly considered all the key provisions related to its journey. He didn't draw up a contract but he consistently stipulated all the main provisions in his letters. This includes packing, transportation and the "formal receipt". Tretyakov also insisted on the presence of people he trusted during the opening of the boxes. He prohibited any restoration works without the knowledge of the proprietor in case of damage to paintings, demanded that the costs be distributed and, naturally, that the paintings be insured. All such provisions match those of any properly executed such agreement today.

As to the content of the Paris exhibition Tretyakov had a firm opinion of his own, expressed in his letter to Stasov: "I can't quite agree with you that our exhibition is excellent: it may be very interesting and could have been even more interesting if we'd added a few things to it and excluded some others but, unfortunately, we can never arrange things to be the way they should be. Apart from the faults you mention why is your Repin portrait absent? Why is Vasiliev represented by only one work and not his best at that? Why are Kovalevsky's works chosen also not of his top quality, etc. And then we are sending three works by Pelevin when one is too much already? ... But what can you do, we must be grateful for small mercies."

Yet another answer of Somov to Tretyakov reads: "We eagerly await the arrival of these works as they will enrich and adorn the collection made up for the exhibition . As for Ilya Repin . we don't have any of his works so his portraits are very welcome. I wonder if you'll see him and discuss this matter with him . Although the exhibit is not complete yet it is already very impressive. At least we can say that never before was Russian art displayed to such a degree and grandeur at world fairs. We owe this mostly to you of course, the catalogue being printed at the moment mentions over and over again: property of Pavel Tretyakov."

Long before the Paris fair, in 1865 Tretyakov wrote in his letter to Rizzoni: "You might find it difficult to understand my phrase: 'Then we could talk to those unbelieving' - I shall explain it to you; many people positively refuse to believe in the successful future of Russian art and claim that if from time to time some artist paints something good it happens as though by chance, and that that same artist then joins his other equally talent-free colleagues. You know I am of a different opinion, otherwise I wouldn't be collecting Russian paintings but at times I couldn't help agreeing with the presented facts; so each success, each step ahead is very dear to me and nothing would make me happier than seeing the day we win."

This day certainly came in Paris in 1878. The overview article of the weekly "Les chefs-d'oeuvre d'art a l'exposition universelle 1878" on February 21 devoted to the Russian art sector reads: "The bright exhibition lights point out each European nation to us, and each nation in its turn does its best to create an independent and new art which would express its dreams, character and genius. It's as though a wind of rebellion blows through the halls and seems to strangely unsettle the glory of old schools. The past prophecies of realists have come true: with each day art strives to become more and more individual and the old traditionalism is in agony at the ruins of the academy and genre. Russia brings a clear note into this choir of demands of a modern artistic Europe. At least a third of the works shows that their authors have serious background, developed observation skills, sincerity and a great desire to do well. Yes, when one thinks about the fact that only 30 years ago Russian art was still engrossed in copying old masters, or led a pitiful life in the shadow of a few famous names of our school one can't help but feel deep amazement at the long way it has come."

The author of the article notes works by Aivazovsky, Bogolyubov, Kovalevsky, Botkin, Orlovsky and Meshchersky. He pays special attention to the virtues of "Ukrainian Night" by Kuindzhi, "Barge-haulers on the Volga" by Repin and "The Railroad Repair Works" by Konstantin Savitsky.

Another article in the weekly "Exposition de Paris" on August 31 1878, states: "Russian artists make it a principle to be inspired by their national history." The author notes many works, especially "Peter the Great" by Nikolai Ghe, "Moonlit Night on the Dnieper" by Kuindzhi, and the marine paintings by Aivazovsky. He names Vasily Perov as the top master of portraits, followed by Goravsky, Keler, Kharlamov, Litovchenko, Leman, Repin, Chistyakov, Kramskoy, Gintsburg and Frenz.

Tretyakov's role in the organization of the Russian art sector at the Paris exposition cannot be overestimated. It also happened that the "Peredvizhniki" (Wanderer) artists achieved success there, later receiving their first proposals to organize exhibitions abroad.

Illustrations

Ivan KRAMSKOY. Portrait of Pavel Tretyakov. 1876
Ivan KRAMSKOY. Portrait of Pavel Tretyakov. 1876
Oil on canvas. 59 by 49 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Tretyakov’s letter to his wife Vera Nikolaevna Tretyakova sent from Paris on September 17, 1878
Tretyakov’s letter to his wife Vera Nikolaevna Tretyakova sent from Paris on September 17, 1878
Paris. Postcard
Paris. Postcard
Paris. Postcard
Paris. Postcard
Vladimir MAKOVSKY. The Treasury on Pension Distribution Day. 1876
Vladimir MAKOVSKY. The Treasury on Pension Distribution Day. 1876
Oil on canvas. 52.5 by 82.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Vasily PEROV. Hunters at a Halting-place. 1871
Vasily PEROV. Hunters at a Halting-place. 1871
Oil on canvas. 119 by 183 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Vladimir MAKOVSKY. In the Doctor’s Waiting Room. 1870
Vladimir MAKOVSKY. In the Doctor’s Waiting Room. 1870
Oil on canvas. 69.4 by 85.3 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Ivan KRAMSKOY. Christ in the Wilderness. 1872
Ivan KRAMSKOY. Christ in the Wilderness. 1872
Oil on canvas. 180 by 210 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Grigory MYASOEDOV. Zemstvo (Country-states) Clerks at Dinner. 1872
Grigory MYASOEDOV. Zemstvo (Country-states) Clerks at Dinner. 1872
Oil on canvas. 74 by 125 cm. Tretyakov Gallery

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