Pavel Tretyakov and His Gallery
"He alone maintained the whole school of Russian painting. An unprecedented and grandiose deed!" In such words the Russian painter Ilya Repin expressed both his own attitude and that of his contemporaries towards the collecting activity of Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. For more than 100 years the Gallery has proudly, and gratefully, born the name of its founder, who turned the institution into a prominent cultural monument to Russian art that has been appreciated by many generations.
The history of the Tretyakov Gallery dates back to 1856, when the young Moscow merchant Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898) purchased his first two paintings by Russian artists that would lay the foundation of his collecting activity: Vasily Khudyakov's "Armed Clash with Finnish Smugglers" (1850), and "Temptation" by Nikolai Schilder. From then on and through to the end of his life, Tretyakov purchased consistently and diligently the paintings of Russian artists - by the dozen, and sometimes even by the hundred each year.
In 1860 he composed a "Letter of Testament" in the case of his sudden death, in which he defined his main wish, even the goal of his life: "I have inherited from my father a total capital of 108,000 in silver rubles including property; my wish is for that capital to be shared between my brother and sisters equally. As for the amount of 150,000 silver rubles, I bequeath that to organizing an Art Museum in Moscow. For me, who loves painting so candidly and ardently, there cannot be a better wish than to lay the foundation of a public Fine Arts depository, affordable for all, bringing benefit to many and pleasure to everybody.” "I would like,” added Tretyakov, in words that are of paramount importance, "to establish a National Gallery, in other words a gallery containing the works of Russian artists."
The idea of creating a public museum in St. Petersburg or Moscow and the history of collecting in Russia has its own history, one both long and remarkable. Back in the 17th century among educated Russian noblemen the first collections of works by local painters emerged alongside paintings by European masters. They were family portrait galleries, painted either by local serfs, or by invited artists. Many years later, after passing through the hands of various owners, the portraits enriched private collections and later ended up in museums.
In the 17th century at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts the first systematic collection of paintings by Russian artists was initiated. It was planned in the beginning as a collection of "art study aids" for the Academy's students. But soon the museum began to accumulate the best works of Academy alumni, those for which they had received medals. An attempt to create a Russian collection was also made by Emperor Alexander I, who in 1825 founded a Russian Gallery in the Hermitage with its rich collection of European painters. It contained several of the most significant paintings by Russian artists, among them "The Last Day of Pompeii" by Karl Bryullov. Nevertheless, the gallery, existing under the highest auspices of the emperor, did not become a centre for the systematic collection of Russian art.
Regardless of official directions and views, an interest in national art also grew among the educated Russian nobility. In 1820s the editor of the "Home Notes" magazine, Pavel Svinyin, gathered a collection which contained more than 80 paintings by Russian artists. It was formed from works by outstanding painters like Fyodor Alekseev, Orest Kiprensky, Alexei Venetsianov, and Vasily Tropinin. Svinyin also collected sculpture by Russian masters, and articles of applied arts and Russian silver; in his voluminous library there were even manuscripts from the 14th century. But due to financial difficulties in 1834 he had to sell the whole collection at auction.
Other collections that appeared in the first half of the 19th century had similar fates, though each was unique, with its own peculiarities and background. The only collection of Russian paintings displayed to the general public during the lifetime of its owner was the Picture Gallery of the prominent Russian dignitary Fyodor Pryanishnikov (1793-1867). In the mid-19th century it was the best-known and most respected collection in St. Petersburg, including works by Pavel Fedotov, Venetsianov, Tropinin, and Bryullov - in total 173 paintings by 84 Russian artists.
It was no accident that the young Tretyakov, who came to St. Petersburg for the first time in 1852, not only visited the Hermitage every day, but paid equally enthusiastic attention to Pryanishnikov's gallery as well. This collection had a profound effect on fostering his own idea of establishing a "public museum”. When composing his "Letter of Testament", he even "proposed to purchase the Gallery of Pryanishnikov to the largest possible benefit" and to combine it with the existing collection of his own, expecting Moscow art lovers ... to assist in composing a Gallery by donating each a picture by a Russian artist".
The young Moscow collector considered it to be of paramount importance that the conceived establishment of a national museum should not depend on either bureaucrats or government, but rest fully on private initiative. Indeed, Tretyakov performed his great deeds alone, quietly and with no haste, for 42 years, without any external assistance or official support.
It was not only "the shops in the row of Ilyinka linen stalls" that the descendant of Moscow merchants of the fourth generation Pavel Tretyakov, together with his younger brother Sergei, inherited from his father, a merchant of the 3rd guild, but a special nobility in business: "My word was always more reliable than a contract," Tretyakov said. Due to such characteristics and to the sensible and diligent running of the inherited business, the Tretyakov brothers' trade was always booming. They traded not only in Russia, but in Europe as well; those latter contacts were maintained by the younger brother, Sergei. A linen factory in Kostroma expanded and needed constant attention, and Pavel devoted much time and energy to that. Such trading and manufacturing brought in income, which was mostly spent on expanding the other business - the collection. And here Tretyakov had no match: in some years he spent from 7,000 to 200,000 rubles a year on purchasing pictures.
With no special training in art, and with only a home education (as was the practice among merchants), Tretyakov tirelessly expanded his knowledge throughout his life. Books on history and archaeology, and Russian and European classics were his main reading. Among the books selected to be read back in the early 1850s were those of Vasily Trediakovsky, Ippolit Bogdanovitch, Vasily Kap- nist, and the works of Ivan Lazhechnikov and Grigory Danilevsky. He read "The History of the Russian State" by Nikolai Karamzin, "The Memoirs of Catherine II", subscribed to "Otechestvennye zapiski" (Notes from the Fatherland) and "Sovre- mennik" (The Contemporary); received "Russkij khudozhestvennyi listok" (The Russian Art Leaflet) by Vasily Timm, introducing novelties of Russian paintings and graphics.
Every autumn Pavel Tretyakov traveled to Europe, in turn visiting all European countries, both large and small, and examining all globally known and sometimes even half-forgotten cultural artefacts. Painting, architecture and archaeology - he was interested in everything, and demonstrated a deep knowledge in various areas of history and art. He maintained a passion for travel to the end of his days, and never begrudged resources for that purpose. "To see a different country, to look at the way people live, is a useful thing, therefore I spare no expenses here,” Tretyakov said in connection with a planned family trip to America. He liked to travel in Russia and Europe with all his family, but often traveled alone, and the fact that he knew no foreign languages did not prevent him from expanding his knowledge. In the course of constant selfperfection he became one of the best- educated people of his circle. "By his character and knowledge Tretyakov was a man of science," the artist and art historian Alexander Benois, a figure of the next generation, respectfully said about him.
Tranquility, reason and thrifty prudence in all his businesses, including the purchase of paintings - such were the qualities that Pavel Tretyakov inherited from his ancestors. It was his social status that helped him to form his personality, way of life and daily lifestyle. Tretyakov was a man of habit and did not like to change it even in small matters. His clothes were always of the same cut, so he seemed to have worn one and the same frock coat, soft felt hat and double-breasted coat all his life. His day always followed his once-established routine - coffee in the morning, office work and business trips. In such a rhythm, much was derived from old patriarchal traditions. But his life itself, and the abundance of its interests, was directed towards a new age that would encroach on that established way of life.
Tretyakov's circle of acquaintances was extremely wide and included not only partners in trade and manufacturing. The most frequent and welcomed guests in Tretyakov's house were artists, with whom he corresponded extensively. Apart from artists, Tretyakov's house in Lavrushinsky Pereulok was visited by Ivan Turgenev, whom all the Tretyakovs loved dearly, and Lev Tolstoy, whom Pavel Mikhailovich hugely respected, although he often argued and disagreed with him. The highest literary and moral authority for Tretyakov and his family was Fyodor Dostoevsky, although they never met in person. Tretyakov took the writer's death hard, understanding the great loss for Russian literature. In his letter to Kramskoi he called Dostoevsky "an apostle and a prophet, our social conscience, a teacher of all that is good".
The wide scope of Tretyakov's interests, his sincere concern for the destiny of Russian painting, and his persistent desire to reach the goal defined back in 1860 distinguished his activity from all other contemporary collections. The main difference was determined by the acquired maturity of Russian art, its new distinctions and penetration into a wide social stratum, stimulating the emergence of new artistic interests and ideas.
At first, Tretyakov bought the paintings of his contemporaries. Those were mainly his peers: Nikolai Nevrev, Vasily Pukirev, Аlexander Rizzoni, Nikolai Schilder, who initiated the Russian realism of the second half of the 19 th century. Extending his connections in the artistic world, Tretyakov determined his basic collecting interest to be among artists of the democratic trend.
Back in the early 1860s paintings by Vasily Perov, landscapes by Alexei Savrasov, Ivan Shishkin and later portraits and paintings by Ivan Kramskoi were added to his collection. The younger generation of painters of the 1880-1890s is represented by the names of Ilya Repin, Viktor Vasnetsov, Vasily Vereshchagin, Vasily Surikov, Vasily Polenov and Isaak Levitan. Their works express the profound maturity of Russian painters: it was on those masters that Tretyakov pinned his main hopes for the success and flourishing of Russian art. All of them were members of the "Peredvizhniki” (Wanderers) Society, established in 1870, and the very fact of its establishment signified the maturity of democratic art. Tretyakov's involvement with the artists of that movement, as well as acquisition of pictures from the Wanderers' exhibitions made his collection an outstanding phenomenon. From the first Wanderers' Exhibition of 1871 Tretyakov was the only collector to purchase paintings like Nikolai Ghe's "Peter I Interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich at Peterhof, Lev Kamenev's "The Mist. The Red Pool in Moscow. Autumn", the portraits of the artists Fyodor Vasilyev and Mikhail Klodt by Kramskoi, Klodt's "Mermaids", as well as all three pieces exhibited by Perov: "Portrait of the Playwright Alexander Ostrovsky", "Hunters at a Halting-place" and "The Fisherman". The landscapes by Shishkin "The Pine Grove", Savrasov "Losiny Ostrov in Sokolniki" and his true masterpiece "Rooks Have Come" were also acquired at that exhibition.
In the following years Tretyakov added many more paintings to his collection from the Wanderers' exhibitions or directly from the artists' studios: "Christ in the Wilderness" by Kramskoi, "Railway Repair Work" by Konstantin Savitsky, paintings and portraits by Nikolai Yaroshenko, vast landscapes by Shishkin and Arkhip Kuindzhi, paintings by Vasnetsov and many other pieces without which we are now unable to imagine not only the Tretyakov Gallery collection, but also the history of Russian art in general.
The historical canvases by Surikov, "Morning of the Streltsy Execution", "Menshikov in Beryozovo" and "Boyarynya Morozova" duly found their place in the gallery. Tretyakov rated highly the art of Ilya Repin and bought all the most significant pieces painted by the great master. As a result, while the collector was still alive, his gallery housed a most comprehensive collection of the artist's works. The same was also true for other important masters of Russian painting. The collector displayed extreme responsibility and thoughtfulness in choosing paintings by Perov, Kramskoi, Vereshchagin, Vasnetsov and Ghe for his collection. Though not always agreeing with the interpretation of this or that character in the works of the artists - for example, in Repin's "Not Awaited" and "Religious Procession in the Kursk Province" - or not accepting Ghe's "What is Truth? Christ before Pilate", Tretyakov on no account wanted to miss these paintings as he perfectly understood their great meaning for Russian culture.
Nikolai GHE. Christ and His Disciples Going Out from the Last Supper into the Garden of Gethsemane. 1888
Oil on canvas. 65.3 by 85 cm
If Tretyakov saw the Wanderers as kindred souls of a similar creed, the artists viewed him as their collector. The gallery is indebted to Tretyakov's feverish activity for the fact that even now the realists' paintings of the second half of the 19th century are represented in its collection as fully as possible, representing one of the major sections of Russian art.
When the tall, lean figure of Tretyakov appeared in the studio of some painter, the encounter turned out to be a special event in the artist's life, especially for beginners. Quite often the artists, both young and respected, made considerable concessions to Tretyakov, as his purchase of a painting signified public recognition of a painter and was considered to be a great honour. "Let me sincerely confess,” wrote Repin to Tretyakov back in 1877, "that I can only sell my piece into your hands, and without any regret, since, speaking candidly, I reckon it to be a great honour to see my works in your Gallery."
With infallible artistic intuition, Tretyakov made his choice of works of art most typical for the Russian school of painting. In doing so, he was never guided merely by his personal taste and preferences - he could assess without bias the significance of paintings for Russian art history. The collector's authority among artists was enormous, and both their support and confidence in creating the first Russian museum of art were invariable. The collector and the artists became really like-minded in a common cause. Using the artists' advice, considering their opinions and thoroughly weighing them up, Tretyakov always remained independent and self-reliant in his acquisitions.
Tretyakov's collection gained a new character in the 1870s, when he started to accumulate a collection of portraits of Russian cultural figures. Deeply understanding the significance of his prominent contemporaries and wishing to retain their images for the future, Tretyakov commissioned portraits of "writers, composers and art figures in general" (in Tretyakov's words) from the best artists - Perov, Kramskoi, Ghe, and Repin. It is due to Tretyakov's involvement that portraits of Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Apollon Maikov, Tolstoy, Anton Rubinstein, Petr Tchaikovsky, Fyodor Tyutchev and many other prominent figures of Russian art were painted. The very choice of figures portrayed proved the collector's understanding of their contribution to Russian culture.
Tretyakov's gallery, as well as the collector's personality attracted many outstanding individuals of the time. His house on the quiet Lavrushinsky Pereulok, not far from the Kremlin, became one of the most important spiritual centres in Moscow back in the 1870s. Artists saw in Tretyakov not only a buyer of their paintings, but a man of wide artistic interests and of the best human qualities. Despite all his outer strictness, reticence and rare smiling, Tretyakov attracted people with his democratism, loyalty to his word once pledged, unlimited modesty, sincerity and cordiality. "The Tretyakov family, where I find so much kindness, warmth and amiability, is an embodiment of the best qualities of Russian life," recollected the artist Vasily Maximov.
Tretyakov did not limit himself to the art of the Wanderers. His collecting interests were much wider, and he could recognize talent in young artists who had just manifested themselves, as well as in new art trends. "I aim at collecting the Russian school as it is, in its consecutive development," wrote Tretyakov to one of his correspondents. He had perfect understanding of the vibrant connection of the past and the present in the development of Russian culture. The art of the early 19 th century - the works by Bryullov, the studies by Ivanov, the pieces by Tropinin and Venetsianov - and paintings from the 18th century, and later Old Russian art - all gradually appeared in Tretyakov's collection, comprehensively presenting Russian painting in its historical development. It is now difficult to imagine a collection of 18th century paintings without such true masterpieces as "Portrait of M.I. Lopukhina” by Vladimir Borovikovsky, "Portrait of F.S. Rimsky-Korsakov” by the then little- known Fyodor Rokotov, and the "View of the Palace Embankment from the Peter and Paul Fortress" by Fyodor Alekseev. Altogether in Tretyakov's collection there were 36 pieces by masters of the 18th century, a period then insufficiently known and awaiting its true discovery. The first work acquired from the "heritage" of earlier artists was a marvellous portrait of the Italian archaeologist M.-A. Lanci by Bryullov: Tretyakov bought it at the very beginning of his collecting activity in 1860. Later, in 1893, he purchased Bryullov's brilliant "Horsewoman". With special persistence Tretyakov looked for any opportunity to buy studies by Alexander Ivanov. His exceptionally significant studies of high quality "A Bough", "Via Appia", "The Pontic Marshes" were finally acquired by Tretyakov. Altogether he bought 75 studies of Ivanov's "The Appearance of Christ to the People”. Tretyakov sought out with no less diligence landscapes by Sylvester Shchedrin and Mikhail Lebedev, as well as portraits by such recognized Moscow artists as Vasily Tropinin. He also bought the most important paintings by Venetsianov "In Tillage. Spring" and "Harvesting. Summer.”
It was under Tretyakov that the collection of drawings and water-colours began to take shape. The first pieces were presented by artists themselves, but soon Tretyakov started to buy graphic arts to create a more thorough representation of the Russian masters' art. In the gallery's present collection drawings, watercolours, pastel and pieces in other graphic techniques comprise one of the most extensive parts. Tretyakov did not consider sculpture to be of major importance for his collection; however, even in this area he made some significant purchases of works by Mark Antokolsky, Nikolai Laveretsky, Petr Klodt and Sergei Ivanov. Thus, Tretyakov's collection embraced all kinds of fine arts and presented a vast panorama, as well as the historical perspective of its development.
The acquired paintings occupied all the living rooms in Tretyakov's house. But by the early 1870s it became obvious that the construction of gallery display rooms was required. Such a need became especially clear in 1872, when Tretyakov planned to buy Vereshchagin's Central Asian series of paintings. By the time it was purchased in 1874, the first addition to his house had already been finished. After that Tretyakov had to add new exhibition rooms three more times, the last completed in 1897-1898 not long before his death. By the early 1880s the Gallery acquired the status of a museum, open for admission to the general public, regardless of rank and title. Tretyakov's contemporaries highly appreciated his collecting activity. "Should Tretyakov not have appeared in his time, should he not have devoted himself totally to the great idea, should he not have started to put Russian Art together, its fate could have been different: we might never have known either 'Boyarynya Morozova', or 'Procession', or all those pictures, big and small, that now adorn the famous Tretyakov Gallery,” wrote the artist Mikhail Nesterov.
In 1892 Tretyakov presented to the city of Moscow all of his collection, including a small but beautiful series of European paintings that had belonged to his late brother Sergei. By that time it contained more than 2,000 works of art. Until the end of his life in 1898, Tretyakov remained the gallery's custodian, tirelessly taking care of its replenishment. As a sign of special appreciation of Tretyakov's great services to Moscow, his tremendous gift made to his native city, and his devotion towards the gallery even after ceding it to public property, in 1897 the City Council awarded him the title of "Honorary Citizen of Moscow”.
Throughout his life he was guided by the idea of service to society that inspired him to act for the public good. ”Since a very young age my idea has been to acquire in order to return the acquired, from the public back to the people in the form of some useful institution, and that thought has stayed with me for as long as I've lived,” Tretyakov wrote to one of his daughters at the end of his life.
After Tretyakov's death the Gallery was headed by a board elected by the Moscow City Council. It included some eminent Moscow collectors like Ilya Ostroukhov and Ivan Tsvetkov, as well as the artist Valentin Serov and Alexandra Botkina, Tretyakov's daughter. The board continued to expand the collection, trying not to lose any significant works of art. It was enriched by pictures by artists who identified new trends in their works as well, with works by Mikhail Vrubel, Konstantin Korovin, Valentin Serov, Viktor Borisov-Musatov, Philipp Malyavin, Natalia Goncharova and Boris Kustodiev becoming an indispensable part of the collection.
In 1900 according to the decision of the Gallery Board, Tretyakov's former house was turned into exhibition rooms, with both buildings united under the same facade. The idea to decorate the facade in the "Russian style" received the unanimous approval of all the members of the Board and the Moscow City Council. The Board invited the artist Viktor Vasnetsov to realize it, and his project was implemented in 1904.
A new page in the Tretyakov gallery's history opened after the October Revolution. On 3 June 1918 a decree was issued with regard to nationalization of the gallery, which changed its status: from a city museum it was turned into a national museum. According to that decree the name of the gallery's founder, Pavel Tretyakov, was assigned to it forever.
The 1920s saw the rapid growth of the gallery's collections. From nationalized private collections and some smaller reformed museums in Moscow an enormous number of works of the 18th-early 19th centuries were added to the gallery to fill the gaps in Tretyakov's original collection. The painting section of the second half of the 19th century, which seemed to have been exhaustively collected by Tretyakov, was enriched. The collection of artworks by masters from the 20th century increased considerably.
In the period after the revolution new sections appeared. Today's Tretyakov Gallery takes pride in its collection of Old Russian painting: by the late 19th century that area of the national culture had only just started to draw the attention of scholars and collectors, with 62 works of Russian icon painting in Tretyakov's collection. At present its unique collection of Old Russian art numbers more than 5,000 works from the 11th to the 17th centuries. That includes such icons of exceptional artistic value as "Our Lady of Vladimir", the rarest work of the 12th century, or the renowned "Trinity", created by the early-15th century master Andrei Rublev. The gallery's collections of Russian drawings and sculpture were also comprehensively developed in the years after the revolution.
However, the most dynamically growing part of the Tretyakov Gallery's collection is that devoted to painting, graphics and sculpture by modern artists, comprising at more than 140,000 exhibits the major part of the museum.
The Tretyakov Gallery has long been not only the largest national art depository, but also an important scientific centre involved in art research and popularization. Exhibitions in the gallery and in other museums of Russia, as well as in many countries of Europe, Asia and America have made the Tretyakov Gallery one of the most internationally known museums.
Back in 1898 the famous art critic Vasily Stasov wrote: "Should a man from Archangelsk or Astrakhan, from the Crimea or the Caucasus, or from the Amur river come to Moscow, he immediately sets a day and an hour to pay a visit to the remote part of Moscow, Zamoskvorechiye, and Lavrushinsky Pereulok on the right bank of the river.” Those words were written more than one hundred years ago. Lavrushinsky Pereulok has long ceased to be a "remote part of Moscow", but people continue coming here, to the house of Tretyakov, and the gallery meets them with its invariable cordiality.
Konstantin SOMOV. The Twilight in the Old Park. 1897
Gouache and pastel on paper mounted on cardboard. 47 by 64 cm
Oil on canvas. 98 by 75.8 cm
Oil on canvas. 67 by 55 cm
Oil on canvas. 38 by 46.2 cm
Oil on canvas. 76 by 69 cm. Studies for «The Appearance of Christ to the People» (The Appearance of Messiah)
Oil on paper mounted on paper and on canvas. 48 by 64.5 cm. Studies for «The Appearance of Christ to the People» (The Appearance of Messiah)
Oil on paper mounted on canvas. 44.3 by 30.5 cm. Studies for «The Appearance of Christ to the People» (The Appearance of Messiah)
Oil on canvas. 60 by 48.3 cm
Oil on canvas. 53.5 by 42.5 cm
Oil on canvas. 72 by 53.5 cm
Oil on canvas. 58.7 by 41.5 cm
Oil on canvas. 70 by 89 cm
Oil on cardboard. 39.8 by 30.7 cm
Oil on canvas. 48.3 by 37.1 cm
Oil on canvas. 116 by 90 cm
Oil on canvas. 173 by 136.5 cm
Oil on canvas. 69 by 57 cm
Study. Oil on canvas. 61 by 50 cm
Oil on canvas. 74 by 125 cm
Oil on canvas. 111 by 84.4 cm
Oil on canvas. 111.2 by 80.4 cm
Oil on canvas. 63.5 by 50 cm
Oil on canvas. 247 by 132 cm
Oil on canvas. 214 by 187 cm
Oil on canvas. 142 by 125 cm