Russian Museums Congratulate the Tretyakov Gallery on its 150th Anniversary
Masterpieces of the 14th through to 20th centuries from the Russian art collections of Moscow, St. Petersburg and regional museums of Russia May-August 2006
A major event marking the 150th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery which opens in the gallery on 24 May 2006, the exhibition “Russian Museums Congratulate the Tretyakov Gallery on its 150th Anniversary” collects works from the gallery’s long-term partners and friends. Co-sponsorship of the project was provided by the Severstal Group and Anatoly Novikov.
The idea of the exhibition came about as a result of the acclaimed predecessor project "Russia's Golden Map” that has been running in the venues of the Tretyakov Gallery since 1999; for many years every exhibition in the project has enjoyed continuing success with the general public. In 2004 "Russia's Golden Map” was awarded a State Prize of the Russian Federation in the field of literature and art. The curators of the project, supported by the foundation "Treasures of the Homeland” that encourages the activities of Russian museums, have worked out various versions of the jubilee exhibition meant to demonstrate Russian art from a two-way frame of reference: both "vertically”, presenting works of art chronologically from early times through to the present day, and "horizontally”, showing the nation-wide network of Russian museums from North to South, and East to West, which actually imply the idea of a national cultural heritage. A panoramic exhibition of national art in the gallery was under discussion long before the launch of its variant "for export”, the blockbuster "Russia!” show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and now in Bilbao. The "Golden Map” project has been appreciated by Russia's museum community, as well as by the general public and the Russian government, as an important cultural initiative that deserves promotion and continuation. That explains the ready response of our sponsor partners and would-be participants to our proposal to take part in a large-scale show dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Tretyakov Gallery by lending the best works from their collections for display in Moscow.
The exhibition is made up of more than 100 works of Russian art from the 14th to the first part of the 20th centuries, lent by 30 Russian museums and arranged chronologically. The explanatory texts contain interesting stories about each work. The information about the participating museums outlines their own histories, as well as the history of their ties and relations with the Tretyakov Gallery. Special attention is given to paintings that were acquired by Pavel Tretyakov himself, and later transferred from the Tretyakov Gallery to regional museums. The list of such works includes paintings by Dmitry Levitsky, Sylvester Shchedrin, Fyodor Moeller, Vasily Perov, Isaak Levitan and many others.
Early Russian art is represented by unique icons. The processional icon "The Petrovskaya Mother of God” (first part of the 16th century) from the Cherepovets Museum Association has on its reverse side an image of St. Nicholas dating from the late 14th-early 15th century. Also on display is the copy of the most venerated Russian icon "Our Lady of Vladimir” (12th century, currently in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery), painted by Andrei Rublev in the early 15th century and today a gem of the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve. Viewers will appreciate the world-famous wooden sculptures of Perm and the beautiful examples of Northern Russian icon-painting that were returned to Russia by Finland after World War II. After restoration in the Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Karelia they became the subject of scientific research alongside some rare signed icons.
Russian paintings of the 18th and first part of the 19th centuries are represented by well-known artists, though reveal new information. "Children with a Sheep” by Vladimir Borovikovsky (Ryazan Museum of Fine Arts named after I.P Pozhalostin) features a rare example of a group portrait - a genre scene against a landscape, with a beautiful palette and lively emotional atmosphere.
The landscape "View of the Ostrovki Estate from the Great Island” (1846) by Grigory Soroka, Venetsianov's major disciple, is a real discovery. Mention of the painting first appeared in the "Staryie Gody” (Old Years) magazine in 1916, as belonging to N.K. Milyukov, the grandson of the landlord of the then serf-painter. After the revolution of 1917 the painting was lost, and even by the time of the 1975 Grigory Soroka exhibition nothing was known about its fate. In 1982 when the fundamental research work "The Artists of the Venetsianov School” was published, its author T.V Alexeyeva was completely unaware of where the painting might be located. It was only in 1998 that the landscape was found in a private collection in Tver. Tretyakov Gallery experts confirmed that the painting was by Grigory Soroka and the canvas was acquired for the collection of the Tver Picture Gallery; its condition was so poor that restoration lasted for some years.
For his brilliant and powerful talent Karl Bryullov was nicknamed "Karl the Magnificent”. Famous for his "Last Day of Pompeii” and marvelous portraits, the artist was less known for his canvases on Oriental themes and works that were inspired by famous pieces of poetry, such as the popular ballad "Svetlana” by Vasily Zhukovsky. From such sources Bryullov painted his "Svetlana Reading Her Fortune in a Mirror” in 1836 - now in the Nizhny-Novgorod Museum of Fine Arts. It should be noted that this kind of Christmastide fortune-telling was considered the most mystical in Russia; the artist must have been absorbed by the atmosphere of the early folk cult and the subject of "God's providence” so typical of Romanticism. The work became one of only a few genre paintings that Bryullov dedicated to the so-called Russian theme; the canvas was painted by the artist soon after his return from Italy, during a short stay in Moscow, and the main character looks very much like those of Vasily Tropinin, whose work Bryullov appreciated greatly. "Svetlana” was not the only work by Zhukovsky that took Bryullov's fancy. His picture "Peri and the Angel” (1839-1843, Volgograd Regional Museum of Fine Arts) was painted to the subject of Zhukovsky's ballad of the same title. Against a bright Oriental landscape a vagrant robber in colourful clothing is pictured kneeling in front of a refreshing spring saying his prayers and shedding tears of penitence.
The history of Russian painting of the second part of the 19th century became associated with the name of Pavel Tretyakov, and works from that period comprise the core of the main part of the gallery's collection. Works by the artists whom Tretyakov especially loved and respected, such as Vasily Perov, Ivan Kramskoi, Ilya Repin, Isaak Levitan and Valentin Serov, receive special attention. The "Portrait of A.F. Pisemsky” (1869) by Perov was acquired by Tretyakov and in 1930, during the Soviet era, was transferred to the Ivanovo Association of Fine Arts Museums. "Portrait of a Woman” (1881, the Kursk Picture Gallery named after Alexander Deineka) was painted by Kramskoi at the time of his artistic experiments in academic and salon painting of the kind highly in vogue in the last decade of the 19th century. Ilya Repin's masterpiece "Beggar (A Fisher Girl)” (1874, from the Irkutsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after V.P. Sukachev) features such a brilliant combination of artistic skill and correspondence to the ideological tendencies of its time that it can be viewed as a perfect example of the mature work of the leader of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) movement.
With its self-sufficient mastery in painting, comparable to the best examples of the European schools, and a subject that is neither superficial nor didactic, Levitan's landscapes "On the Lake” (1893, the Saratov Museum of Fine Arts named after A.N. Radishchev) and "Water Lilies.” (1895, the Astrakhan Art Gallery named after B.M. Kustodiev) demonstrate important traits of the national artistic tradition, namely a rich emotional pitch and sensitivity in portraying the sitter's mood. Both landscapes were part of the Tretyakov Gallery collection in the 1920s. The "Portrait of Sophia Dragomirova” (1889, the Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan) by Serov does not look like a Serov, and, unlike other of the artist's works, the portrait "brims over with health”. The story of how the idea of the portrait was created explains much: Serov met Sophia Dragomirova in Repin's studio. Later she wrote to Igor Grabar about the episode: "I remember coming to sit for Repin in October 1889 ... I found there a gentleman unfamiliar to me. Repin introduced us to each other. After making a circle or two around my chair and looking at me all round he told Repin something. The latter addressed me with a request to allow Serov to paint my portrait. He worked on it all the time he was staying in Petersburg. <...> Valentin Alexandrovich left for Moscow without finishing my portrait and Repin, handing it to me, made a few brushstrokes on the dress and accessories but did not touch the face. I think those brushstrokes are easy to recognize. As far as I remember he only made some final touches on the chemise.” Repin gave the portrait that had been left in his studio as a present to its sitter, of which he informed Serov in his letter of 16 January 1890: "I gave your study to them because I felt that, secretly, you wanted me to do so. But you should excuse me, Anton, [only very close friends used to call Valentin Serov by that name - author's note], for I gave a little touch to the sleeve on the elbow, the breast and the right sleeve and the right hand (the left one was perfect), in the same manner as yours - I did not make a mess. They were very happy ...” The early 20th century is little represented in the exhibition, but every piece from this period is a real gem, highlighting a certain trend, group, or outstanding personality of the time. For instance, Boris Kustodiev's "Holidays in the Provinces” (1910) was donated by the artist's widow in 1929 to what is now known as the Kostroma History, Architecture and Arts Museum- Reserve. There are several reasons for it being selected for the exhibition. Firstly, it was widely acclaimed by the public during Kustodiev's lifetime and shown at the exhibition staged by the Union of Russian Painters, and was a success abroad as well, in Rome in 1911. However, it was not shown at the Kustodiev exhibition in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2004. Secondly, it comes from Kostroma, the town where the famous linen factory that was the Tretyakov family's main property was located.
Regional Russian museums boast magnificent artworks by members of the Blue Rose and Knave of Diamonds art groups. The Tula Art Museum, for instance, has a splendidly luxurious "Scheherazade” by Pyotr Konchalovsky (1917), while the Saratov Art Museum has first-class works by Viktor Borisov-Moussatov, a native of this Volga town.
Museums "of Pictorial Culture” are no doubt a phenomenon that originated in Russia during the stormy period of the birth of its avant-garde. Works belonging to this trend were originally housed in such venues, but in the late 1920s the museums were disbanded and their pictures left forgotten for decades in the storage rooms of central and regional museums. Their recent return and "second life” in the framework of different group shows is a reminder that their art is still topical and actual. Among illustrations of that thesis are Natalya Goncharova's "Harvest” (1910s, Omsk Regional Vrubel Fine Arts Museum, originally part of a Museum of Pictorial Culture); Vasily Kandinsky's "Composition” (1916, Tyumen Regional Museum of Fine Arts, previously in possession of the People's Commissariat for Education of the Russian Federation, Arts Department, Moscow); Ivan Kliun's (Kliunkov) "Composition. (Self-portrait with a Saw)” (1914, Astrakhan Kustodiev Picture Gallery, previously in possession of the museum section of the People's Commissariat for Education of the Russian Federation, Arts Department).
The Samara Regional Museum of Fine Arts and the Krasnodar Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after F.A. Kovalenko are famous for their avant-garde art collections. At this exhibition, they present works by classics of Russian avant-garde - Kasimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova and Alexandra Exter, as well as their less famous contemporaries, whose names are ranked no less highly today - Mikhail Men'kov, Alexei Morgunov (son of the renowned landscape painter Alexei Savrasov) and Konstantin Medunetsky.
The concluding part of the jubilee exhibition is represented by the vital and dynamic works of Alexander Deineka, presented by the Kursk Picture Gallery that is named after the artist. A system of values centred on the human being, so characteristic of Renaissance-type thinking and shared by many Russian avant-garde artists who lived and worked in the times of dramatic changes and great hopes, is most vividly manifested in Deineka's creative heritage.
Another separate part of the exhibition project consists of classical Russian paintings and works by those painters who depicted the so-called "Russian” theme from the largest museums of Moscow and St. Petersburg, which will take their place next to works permanently exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Pereulok. Visitors will be able to see such masterpieces as Dmitry Levitsky's "Portrait of E. Nelidova” (1773), Bryullov's "Portrait of Princess E. Saltykova" (c. 1841), Repin's "Zaporozhye Cossacks Writing a Letter to the Turkish Sultan" (1880-1891), and Serov's "Portrait of Princess O. Orlova" (1911), from the collection of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Rare samples of pictorial art from the times of Peter the Great from the Hermitage also feature, like Jean-Marc Nattier's "Portrait of Empress Catherine the First” (1717) and Louis Caravaque's "Portrait of Crown Princess Yelizaveta Petrovna” (late 1720s), and double family portraits from the private collection of the Golitsyn family in Moscow - of Prince Golitsyn and his spouse from 1728, by Andrei Matveev, one of the first painters to receive a pension from Peter the Great.
The Tretyakov Gallery thanks its partners, the regional administrations and the Golitsyn family, as well as the restoration experts, museum curators, photographers, show designers, and those who rendered financial support to this project. Special thanks are due to the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography, whose support was vital for the realization of this huge project and the publication of a catalogue in Russian and English.
Reverse of the double-sided portable altarpiece icon “Petrovskaya Mother of God”. First half of the 16th century
Tempera on wood. 46.5 by 39 cm. Cherepovets Museum Amalgamation
Tempera on wood. 108 by 87 cm. Vladimir-Suzdal State Historical Architecture and Art Museum-Reserve
Tempera on wood. 132 by 55 by 57 cm. Perm State Art Gallery
Oil on canvas. 60 by 48 cm. Tambov Regional Art Gallery
Oil on canvas. 100.2 by 82 cm. Rybinsk State Historical Architecture and Art Museum-Reserve
Oil on canvas. 72.4 by 97.5 cm. Tver Regional Art Gallery
Oil on canvas. 79 by 61.9 cm. Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Arts
Oil on canvas. 74.5 by 53 cm. Mordovia Republic Museum of Fine Arts named after S.D. Erzia, Saransk
Oil on canvas. 108 by 71 cm. Samara Regional Art Museum
Oil on canvas. 66.5 by 59.5 cm. Tyumen Regional Museum of Fine Arts
Oil on canvas. 107 by 88 cm. Krasnodar Territory Art Museum named after F.A. Kovalenko
Oil on canvas. 14.8 by 14.8 cm. National Museum of Fine Arts of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Yakutsk
Oil on canvas. 78 by 128 cm. Kaluga Regional Art Museum
Oil on canvas. 95 by 128 cm. Received from STG in 1927. Astrakhan State Art Gallery named after B.M. Kustodiev
Oil on canvas. 73 by 50 cm. Irkutsk Regional Art Museum named after V.P. Sukachev
Tempera on wood. 159 by 98 cm. Ryazan State Regional Art Museum named after I.P. Pozhalostin
Oil on canvas. 59 by 70 cm. Altai Territory State Art Museum, Barnaul