The Musée d’Orsay in the Tretyakov Gallery

Yekaterina Selezneva

Article: 
CURRENT EXHIBITIONS
Magazine issue: 
#2 2006 (11)
The Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay

The exhibition halls of the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val saw on April 24 the grand opening of the exhibition of French painting and sculpture from the unique and unrivalled Musée d’Orsay, that prides itself on its collection of art created between 1848 and 1914. The project is sponsored by Vneshtorgbank.

The exhibition was held within the international programme dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery. “The French Project” is the second part of the gallery’s cooperation programme with the Musée d’Orsay; its first stage in Paris last year hosted a comprehensive and distinctive exhibition of Russian art of the second half of the 19th century.

The exhibition of French art displays masterpieces of the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries - a period closely connected with the collecting activities of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov. It is focused on a short period of the national culture distinguished by its aspiration to bring art up-to-date with life. The historical paths of Russian and French art and artistic trends have not always been parallel, but sometimes they overlapped and revealed comparable features. The exhibition provides food for thought with regard to distinctions, and prompts comparison of artistic and social standards chosen by Russian and French artists.

The Musee d'Orsay has lent for the exhibition in Moscow 55 of its masterpieces - 38 paintings and 17 sculptures, among them world-renowned works of such followers of French realism as Charles-Franpois Daubigny, Jean-Franpois Millet, and Gustave Courbet. An honorable place is reserved for the great artists of impressionism and post-impressionism represented in Moscow by a distinguished circle: visitors to the Tretyakov Gallery will see "The Village Dance” by Auguste Renoir, and "The Saint-Lazare Station” and "Ice Floes on the Seine” by Claude Monet, "The Balcony” and "The Portrait of Emile Zola” by Edouard Manet, "The Italian Woman” by Vincent van Gogh, "Still Life with Fan” by Paul Gauguin, "The Seine and the Louvre” by Camille Pissarro, "The Orchestra of the Opera” by Edgar Degas, "La Toilette” by Toulouse-Lautrec, and still lifes by Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin. The French symbolists Puvis de Chavannes and Gustave Moreau, the artists of the "Les Nabis” movement Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, and sculptors Carpeau, Daumier, Rodin, Bourdelle, and Maillol, are also represented - any such listing of these names inevitably stirs up excitement among experts and connoisseurs of French art.

Such an exhibition is as great a gift to the public as any museum can dream of. And the Tretyakov Gallery sincerely thanks their colleagues from the d'Orsay Museum - which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year - for such a generous present to the first museum of Russian art on its 150th anniversary.

 

Dites, qu'avez-vous vu ?
Charles Baudelaire. “Le voyage”

(Say, what have you seen?)
The Voyage

In 1863 two seemingly unrelated events took place in France and in Russia almost at the same time. The “revolt of fourteen” burst out in St. Petersburg led by Ivan Kramskoi, as students of the Imperial Academy of Arts refused to paint an exam picture on the given topic (“The Feast of Valhalla”) and asked for permission to choose topics of their own. Their request denied, they left the Academy in protest and later organised the Artel (Union) of Artists in St. Petersburg, the first step towards the Society of Wanderers' (“Peredvizhniki”) exhibitions founded in the early 1870s. “It was like a thunderstorm in 1863, and the atmosphere of Russian art cleared. A bunch of young artists, poor, helpless, weak, suddenly did what only giants or strong men could do. They turned all the previous canons upside down and freed themselves of the old shackles. It was the beginning of new art,” wrote the art-critic Vladimir Stasov, who regarded the act of the Russian artists as a turning point in the history of Russian art.

The same year in France, the jury of the Paris Salon - an art exhibition held each spring in the capital - refused entry to 70 per cent of the works submitted for display, which raised resentment and agitation among painters.

Emperor Napoleon III received numerous complaints against the rejection of the works of art by the jury. The ruler, wanting to let the general public decide for themselves whether their complaints were justified, decreed that “the rejected paintings should be exhibited ... The show is going to be voluntary, and the artists who do not want to take part in it will only have to inform the administration, and their works will be immediately returned to them ...,” announced the official newspaper “Moniteur”. This new show, referred to as a “supplementary exhibition of works estimated too weak for the competition”, was opened on May 15 1863 and soon was given a symbolic name by the public - the Salon of the Rejected[1]. Not wanting to spoil their relationship with the jury and the Academy, some of the painters decided not to provide their works for the “supplementary” exhibition.

Among those “rejected” by the official jury was Edouard Manet who had exhibited his works at the Salon two years earlier for the first time. (It is worth mentioning that in the same year - 1861 - his painting “The Surprised Nymph” was displayed at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in Russia.)

Manet, like many young French and Russian artists of the time, was not attracted by the academic style of painting. He tried to use the themes and motives of old masters by reviewing them, filling them with a new modern meaning, and setting new artistic goals. However, for most of the Salon visitors, it was not the kind of art they wanted to buy for decorating their homes.

For Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the Salon was a shop where art was sold. However, for many artists the possibility to display and sell their works was vital. Auguste Renoir wrote a few years later: “There are hardly 15 art-lovers in Paris capable of esteeming a painter without the approval of the Salon. At the same time, there are 80,000 people who are not going to buy anything that has not been displayed at the Salon.” According to Eugene Delacroix, it was due to the Salon that art presenting “'sentimental' stories, religious and pseudo-patriotic scenes as well as accurately depicted pretty nudes” received the name of “salon” art.

Nevertheless, many artists had the courage to display their works at the alternative exhibition, believing, quite naively, that the public would understand what they were worth. In fact, crowds of idlers, who laughed and mocked at the paintings, came to the show. That was exactly the reaction that Napoleon III and the jury had reckoned on.

The public and journalists were especially infuriated by the work named “The Bath” in the Salon catalogue. The painting that Napoleon III considered “indecent” was “Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe”.

The characters of Manet's work of 1863 were his contemporaries although the subject was borrowed from “The Pastoral Concert” by Giorgione who had depicted dressed and nude figures against a landscape. “A wretched Frenchman translated the painting into the language of modern French realism, enlarged its size and changed fine Venetian dress into dreadful French clothes . ” wrote the famous English critic Philip Hamerton in the “Fine Arts Quarterly Review”. “There are other paintings of the same kind making us conclude that nudity depicted by vulgar people inevitably looks indecent,” he continued.

Nevertheless, there were people in France who valued the new French painting and believed in its future. It is worth mentioning that in 1856, when the Muscovite Tretyakov bought two paintings of the Russian artists Khudyakov and Shilder to form the basis of his collection, a Paris gallery-owner Durand-Ruel decided to sell the works of French artists in Europe. Up to 1870, among Durand-Ruel's favourite artists were Corot, Millet, Courbet, and Daubigny. The same artists attracted Sergei Tretyakov's attention when he started to systematically collect European paintings in the early 1870s.

Sergei Tretyakov often went abroad on his family business. He had his headquarters in Paris where he stayed for long periods of time and met with artists. When buying works of art, he asked for advice from Ivan Turgenev and Alexei Bogolyubov. Sergei Tretyakov's collection included six paintings by Daubigny, five works by Camille Corot, and the grand painting of Gustave Courbet's "The Calm Sea”. It is no surprise that in the 1870s-1880s Sergei Tretyakov was much attracted by paintings depicting peasant life. His collection consisting of works created by foreign artists had obviously much in common with the Russian collection of his brother Alexander Bakhrushin once said: "Pavel Mikhailovich's brother collects modern art. He has got only a few paintings but they are all chefs d'oeuvre.” The younger Tretyakov enriched his collection with Jules Breton's large-sized "Fishermen in Menton” and Bastien-Lepage's "Rural Love”, very famous in Russia. This painting played an important role in the development of such Russian artists as Mikhail Nesterov and Valentin Serov, the latter claiming that he used to go and look at it "every Sunday”. It is also obvious why Sergei Tretyakov could not start collecting the impressionists - it would be too early not only for Russia, but also for France. Even in 1890, the Louvre did not accept Manet's "Olympia” offered as a gift.

In Russia, only the next generation of collectors dared to take this step forward. However, in France, Durand-Ruel had already taken this major step. He was the first to help the impressionists, and he helped them more than anyone else. Renoir, Monet and Pissarro often remembered him with gratitude, and he was respected by Manet, Degas and Sisley. Apart from being an art dealer, he organised two art journals[2] hoping that art critics' professional reviews might help him support the painters in whom he believed and whose works he was buying. The first exhibition of those who later became known as the "impressionists”, united in the "Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.”, was held in April-May 1874. (The first exhibition of the "Peredvizhniki” was organised in St. Petersburg in 1871). It may seem strange today that Degas called this exhibition the "salon of realism”. Trying to attract as many participants as possible, he wrote to James Tissot in London: "The realistic trend doesn't need to fight with other trends any longer. It is there, it exists, and it should be displayed separately ... Exhibit your works. Stay with your country and friends. I assure you that we are moving forward and getting recognition even sooner than I expected.”

Despite humiliating reviews about the "extremely ridiculous exhibition” and other malicious attacks, Camille Pissarro wrote: "The show is going on fine. It is a success. The critics abuse us and accuse us of lack of craftsmanship. I'm getting back to my work and it's more important than reading all that.” The first show was followed by the second in 1876. "A so-called art exhibition has just been inaugurated at Durand- Ruel's. A peaceful passer-by, attracted by the flags decorating the facade, soon after entering the hall is repelled by a ghastly view: five or six crazy men, . a miserable group suffering from vanity, have gathered here to display their works. Many people are laughing their heads off looking at their paintings, but as for me, I am depressed. These so-called artists ... take a canvas, paints and a brush, make several accidental strokes and sign the whole thing ... Try to make Monsieur Pissarro understand that trees are not violet, that the sky is not of the same colour as fresh butter, that there is no country where we could find things he depicts, and that there is no mind capable of sharing those delusions. Indeed, try to convince Monsieur Degas, tell him that art is made of certain elements such as drawing, colour, completeness, measure, and he will laugh at you and will consider you a reactionary. Or try to explain to Monsieur Renoir that a feminine body is not a piece of rotting meat with green and violet spots indicating the final stage of decay,” wrote the influential "Figaro” critic Albert Wolf.

In 1877 the third exhibition took place. That is when its participants started calling themselves "impressionists”, using the mocking nickname that they had been given, and they founded the magazine "L'im- pressionniste”. Yet Durand-Ruel's belief in the impressionists brought him to ruin. Paradoxically, it happened in 1886 when these artists started achieving more and more success. At the same time, however, their predecessors - Corot, Millet, Daumier, Courbet - went out of fashion, and Durand-Ruel had to sell their works at a loss. At the Paris World Fair in 1878, the French section jury, consisting of officially recognized painters, rejected not only Manet and the impressionists but also Delacroix, Millet and many others. That is when Durand-Ruel, who by that time had lost all of his collection, appealed to his former clients and organized a superb exhibition of French paintings (380 works) covering the period from 1830 to 1870. It showed 88 works by Corot, 32 by Delacroix, 30 by Courbet, and 18 by Daubigny. The general public did not appreciate its true worth but experts and connoisseurs of French art were amazed. However, Durand-Ruel - a courageous, energetic gallerist and entrepreneur with stunning intuition - failed to estimate the true value of Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Perhaps it is appropriate to mention that it was at that exhibition of 1878 that Pavel Tretyakov for the first time acted as one of the main organizers of the Russian art section. He performed the function of an informal arbitrator between the Academy and the "Peredvizhniki” (Wanderers) who, like their French fellows, rebelled against the attempt of the Russian academic jury to represent Russian art in a biased and one-sided way. Kramskoi even suggested building "an additional barrack” and, "via the printing press” explaining the duties of the academic commission which the latter had obviously misinterpreted, criticizing its members' "actual competence”, and "if it's not respected, we'll announce that we are taking all our works from the exhibition and getting them to Paris at our own expense”. In his letter to Tretyakov, Kramskoi recounts all the details of the conflict and complains that selection is not his task, "but the task of those appointed for that purpose from above and, since they are the persons designated by the highest authorities, we artists must therefore implicitly obey, because imagine, if artists sent what they wanted, would these gentlemen be of any use?”. When Konstantin Savitsky learned about the confrontation initiated by the "Peredvizhniki” against the Academy, he sent an enthusiastic letter to Kramskoi: "I am astonished at the thought that the humane Academy could allow such wilfulness. It makes me feel an absolutely happy person to think ... that a private circle of artists acts concurrently and independently in the area which has at all times been within the jurisdiction of the Academy and the government; yet there is a solid ground to it - we do exist independently and even on a legal basis. But they will argue that is not the same as at home, that's the hell of a scandal that is the final breach in the Academy's spell, they will veto it without any arguments. The very attempt moves me deeply ... I am applauding you from here, my fever's paroxysm is fading and ... turning into a pleasant languor ... and I ... am lying here envisioning the Paris exhibition. There, among all the shine, splendour and magic, we are walking together greeting our fellows in labour and cause ...”

Having assumed the largest share of its coordination, Tretyakov provided 44 works from his collection for exhibition in Paris[3]. The following year Sisley and Cezanne, tired of struggle and indigence, decided to send their works to the Salon. So did Edouard Manet who nearly broke his friendship with Zola because of the article published in the July issue of the Russian magazine "Europe's Bulletin”! Monet left Paris. Pissarro and Caillebotte were fighting to organize the fourth exhibition. Caillebotte, admiring Pissarro's firmness, would write later: "If there is a person in the world who has the right not to forgive Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Cezanne, it can only be you - you suffered from the same hardships but did not give up.”. At Degas's urgent request it was decided not to mention the word "impressionists” on the poster since it irritated everybody so much. Instead, the artists called themselves "independent”. The "independents” came to their eighth and last exhibition in 1886 without Monet, Sisley and Renoir. The faithful Pissarro wrote to his son: "It is so typical for people, and so sad ...” So many similar examples could be cited from the Russian art history of this period so closely connected with the Tretyakov family and their closest companions. Both for France and Russia this was the time when each country was equally living through a period of national cultural history characterized by striving to bridge the gap between art and reality, and to bring art closer to life.

Methods used by the French and Russians and the solution to the problem of choosing their own artistic and social benchmarks determined the difference in the evolution of modernism in Russia and France.

Almost simultaneously in both countries, there grew a wave of resistance to academic conservatism, and independent artists' groups were formed. In different ways they foreboded the impending "advent of modernism”. French art was on the verge of liberating the artistic form, of giving art a new status of an independent - second - reality. "One should be up-to-date!” proclaimed Manet. But how to express this contemporaneity in art? Is it enough to choose actual and topical subjects?

It seems that Maxime du Camp's thoughts could well be shared by some of his Russian colleagues: "Everything moves, everything grows, everything rises around us [...] Science performs miracles, industry works wonders but we remain indifferent, insensible, worthy of contempt, plucking the worn-out strings of our lyres, closing our eyes to avoid seeing, or else staring obstinately at the past about which we have no regrets. Steam energy is discovered - we are praising Venus; electricity is discovered - we are praising Bacchus, the vermilion vine's friend. This is absurd!” It sounds so similar to the social zeal of the "Peredvizhniki”. Although it is partially dissolved in the compromised fusion with academicism, this impulse may be regarded as the materialized energy of a social utopia which later fed the Russian avant-garde.

It is the presentation of French paintings and sculptures in the Tretyakov Gallery, the largest museum of Russian art, that enables us to observe the links between the cultures, and breathe the exciting air of the changes which occurred at the turn of the 19th century. But, apart from academic comparisons and contexts, the exhibition of the Musee d'Orsay is also a collection of exceptional works of art. The opportunity to come into direct contact with these masterpieces creates the most important aspect of emotional perception: amazement at the masterly brushstroke, delight in the plasticity and freedom of colour, and admiration for the magic of the painterly image. In other words, this means enjoying the art that in Russia has traditionally been considered an exemplary model: in subsequent decades the French school boasted numerous followers in Russia, which invariably enlightened artistic processes both in painting and sculpture, and filled them with powerful energy.

 

  1. It might be considered more appropriate to translate the title as the “Salon of the Refused” (Salon des Refusés). This collocation can be found in art criticism publications in Russian: see “Impressionism”, Leningrad, 1969; however, it never became an accepted term, and we therefore leave the customary name “Salon of the Rejected”.
  2. "Revue internationale de I'art et de la curiosite" (1869) and "L'art dans les deux mondes" (1891).
  3. Ye. Seleznyova. P.M. Tretyakov and the 1978 Paris World Fair // “Tretyakov Gallery” n.1, 2006..

Illustrations

The Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay
Edouard MANET. The Balcony. 1868–1869
Edouard MANET. The Balcony. 1868–1869
Oil on canvas. 169 by 125 cm
Jules BASTIEN-LEPAGE. Haymaking. 1877
Jules BASTIEN-LEPAGE. Haymaking. 1877
Oil on canvas. 160 by 195 cmdiv>
Camille PISSARRO. Red Roofs, Corner of a Village, Winter (Cote de Saint-Denis at Pontoise). 1877
Camille PISSARRO. Red Roofs, Corner of a Village, Winter (Cote de Saint-Denis at Pontoise). 1877
Oil on canvas. 54 by 65 cm
Jean-François MILLET. Spring. 1868–1873
Jean-François MILLET. Spring. 1868–1873
Oil on canvas. 86 by 111 cm
Vincent VAN GOGH.The Italian Woman. 1887
Vincent VAN GOGH. The Italian Woman. 1887
Oil on canvas. 81 by 60 cmdiv>
Paul GAUGUIN. Still Life with Fan. c. 1888
Paul GAUGUIN. Still Life with Fan. c. 1888
Oil on canvas. 50 by 61 cm
Paul CEZANNE. Apples and Oranges. c.1899
Paul CEZANNE. Apples and Oranges. c.1899
Oil on canvas. 74 by 93 cm
Pierre-Auguste RENOIR. Dance in the Country. 1883
Pierre-Auguste RENOIR. Dance in the Country. 1883
Oil on canvas. 180 by 90 cm
Claude MONET. The Saint-Lazare Station. 1877
Claude MONET. The Saint-Lazare Station. 1877
Oil on canvas. 75 by 104 cm
Pierre-Auguste RENOIR. Young Boy with a Cat. c. 1868–1869
Pierre-Auguste RENOIR. Young Boy with a Cat. c. 1868–1869
Oil on canvas. 124 by 67 cm
Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. La Toilette. 1889
Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. La Toilette
Oil on canvas. 67 by 54 cm
Edgar DEGAS. Dancer (First Arabesque Penchée)
Edgar DEGAS. Dancer (First Arabesque Penchée)
Bronze. 28,2 by 43 by 21 cm. The wax original, made c. 1882–1895, is stored at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Honoré DAUMIER. Ratapoil. 1850
Honoré DAUMIER. Ratapoil. 1850
Cast 1891. Bronze. 43,5 by 15,7. by 18,5 cm
Aristide MAILLOL. The Mediterranean (Thought, or Latin Thought). 1900–1905
Aristide MAILLOL. The Mediterranean (Thought, or Latin Thought). 1900–1905
Patinated bronze. 118 by 142 by 71 cm

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