An "Historic" Exhibition GRAPHIC ART FROM THE STATE HISTORICAL MUSEUM
The exhibition “Masterpieces of Russian Graphics from the Collection of the Historical Museum. Drawings and Watercolours, 18th-19th Century” at the Tretyakov Gallery showcases the volume and quality of the graphic art held by this unique Moscow institution. It offers a comprehensive and lively overview of a vast and diverse collection, tracing the evolution of Russian graphic art from its inception in the 18th century through to the end of the 19th century.
The Historical Museum was conceived as an all-encompassing, diverse collection that would not only represent major artistic movements, but also pay special attention to the culture of the court and the aestheticized lifestyle of the gentry. Among its main emphases are the significant events in Russian history, portraits of famous public figures, and iconic views of both Moscow and St. Petersburg. The exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery captured the structure and character of the museum's collection, at the same time as it represented the extraordinary mastery that Russian graphic art attained in the period under consideration.
The Historical Museum's collection of graphic art took shape principally over the first three decades of the 20th century. Many works on paper were donations from private collectors, including prominent figures such as Alexei Bakhrushin, Pyotr Shchukin and Pavel Dashkov. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent nationalization of cultural and artistic treasures, the museum received a large number of works previously owned by distinguished noble families, such as the Uvarovs, the Vyazemskys, the Bobrinskys, the Gagarins and the Shakhovskoys. The museum also obtained the entire collections of the Museum of Ancient Moscow and the Museum of 1840s Life, both of which closed at the end of the 1920s.
Rarely-seen works executed during the reigns of Catherine II and Paul I represent the graphic arts of the 18th century. The earliest is Gavriil Kozlov's 1762 “Allegory of the Enthronement of Empress Catherine II", which epitomizes the new sovereign's reign, showing the Empress as the goddess Minerva, warrior and patron of the arts, surrounded by the allegorical figures of Faith, Justice, Hope and Russia. The Imperial Academy of Arts commissioned Kozlov to create this monochrome composition on the occasion of the 1763 coronation festivities, to be subsequently made into a lithograph by Nikolai Kolpakov.
These rare works of historical graphic art include watercolours such as “The Khan of New Shamakhi Qasim Pledges Allegiance to the Russian Empire" (1796) by Gavriil Sergeev, and two graphic works by Alexander Orlovsky dedicated to Emperor Paul I releasing Tadeusz Kosciuszko from imprisonment at the Petropavlovsk Fortress (1797). Mikhail Ivanov's multi-figure watercolour composition “The Death of His Highness Prince Grigory Potemkin on the Steppes of Bessarabia, October 5 1791" (1791) holds a special place in the collection: the artist had served in the army under Field Marshall Potemkin, and Vasily Popov, a trusted representative of the latter, commissioned this work.
That watercolour was later reproduced in lithographs by the famous printer Gavriil Skorodumov. The early works by Orlovsky, who was closely aligned with Polish culture, are exhibited alongside pieces by foreign artists, namely Peter Edward Stroehling with his historical compositions, and Joseph Hearn and Friedrich Hilferding - both with views of Moscow. As for Giacomo Quarenghi, his virtuoso drawings may be considered an example of Rossica in architectural forms.
The Historical Museum lays claim to one of the best collections of graphic rural landscapes and perspective city views of the 18th-19th centuries. Watercolours by the founders of the landscape genre, such as Mikhail Ivanov, Gavriil Sergeev, Vasily Petrov and Vasily Prichetnikov, are worthy of special mention. Outstanding amateur watercolours by the famous memoirist Andrei Bolotov (who also created the first landscape garden in Russia) and his son Pavel Bolotov depict Catherine Il's Bogoroditsk residence, which was later to become the ancestral estate of the Bobrinsky noble family.
Under special orders from Emperor Paul I, Fyodor Alexeev and his students travelled to the old Russian capital to execute the famous graphic series of views of Moscow, “to reproduce from nature all the surrounding areas that are historically and archeologically worthy, or simply picturesque"; that assignment was completed not long before the fire of 1812. Among those, a unique view of the Kremlin from behind the Kamenny (Greater Stone) Bridge stands out (it was the basis for Alexeev's famous oil painting). This particular view became popular and was later reproduced by engravers on numerous occasions, in lithograph form as well as on all manner of decorative objects. Executed in watercolour with light ink contours, Alexeev's works are striking for their dazzling lightness, and are true to the real-life landscapes with their ancient monuments and detailed, eye-catching figures in the foreground.
The Moscow architects Alexei Bakarev and Ivan Lavrov painted views of Russia's ancient capital and its picturesque surrounding areas. Lavrov, for example, chose an iconic event for one of his works - the first visit (in 1816) that Alexander I paid to the Kremlin after his defeat of Napoleon in the war of 1812. Maxim Vorobiev, the leading landscape painter of his time, was represented at the exhibition with his cityscapes of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In these views, the translucent watercolour images are complemented by their appropriately varied palette and highly detailed renditions. Vorobiev also made watercolours of important historical events, such as “Public Prayer in Palace Square to Commemorate the Russian and Allied Forces' Entry into Paris" (1816) and “The Persian Envoys' Ceremonial Procession in Front of the Winter Palace, December 20 1815" (1815-1816).
Views of the Northern Palmyra were favourites with Benjamin Patersen (in the 1800s) and Johann Barth (in the 1810s); Karl Friedrich Sabath and Samuil (Solomon) Shiflyar collaborated on a unique series of black and white views of the northern capital in 1824 for “Views of St. Petersburg and Its Environs", created for the set of lithographs commissioned by the Society for the Encouragement of Artists. These drawings reveal the artistic collaboration of the two masters: one was responsible for drawing the architectural elements, while the other used a separate blank sheet to create the staffage, or accessory scenes which brought life to the veduta cityscape compositions.
Selected from the vast collection assembled by the travelling artist Yemelian Korneev, 12 views of Siberia, towns along the River Volga, the Caucasus and Crimea, showcase the heightened interest in watercolour landscape painting that prevailed at the turn of the 19th century. In 1802-1804 the artist travelled with the Spreng- porten expedition, creating images of nature in many areas of Siberia and Central Russia, including Kazan, Cherkassk, and Balaklava Bay, as well as ethnographic compositions such as his “View of Kalmyk Fish Traps". Korneev's elegant, translucent drawings and realistic lively watercolours echo the refined poetry of his topographically precise perspective. Korneev created some of these compositions in Munich in the early 1810s, where, already a member of the Academy of Arts, he was working on a commission from Count Karl Rechberg. Some compositions stand out: the semi-fantastic scenes with Chinese traders are particularly enticing for their bright colours and pronounced ethnic elements.
The golden age of Romanticism in Russian art is associated with the work of the artists Karl Bryullov, Orest Kiprensky, Alexander Orlovsky and Vasily Tropinin. Among the graphic works by Bryullov, his pencil drawing for the mythological painting “Nymphs Lure Hylas into the Water" (1823-1827) is particularly worthy of attention. More than 400 drawings, formerly held by the artist's family, form a unique and comprehensive collection of Tropinin's graphic oeuvre at the Historical Museum. This priceless archive covers almost 60 years of the artist's career, from his early sketches and student studies to genre scenes and portraits by the mature master. Most of Tropinin's drawings are accomplished in black chalk and are neither dated nor signed - they reflect the artist's search for the perfect composition, the correct pose, the right image. His drawings were stepping-stones on his path to the finished oil portraits, and thus were never meant to be seen by the public. As precise and individual as these drawings are, their soft strokes remain unfinished: they are simply executed, effortless and inimitably spontaneous. Only a few of Tropinin's finished studies are held by the museum, including his portrait of Ivan Lazarev (1822) and the portrait of Dmitry Voieikov with his daughter and her English governess Miss Sorock (1842). Many graphic sheets were studies for larger compositions or sketches of details - thus, the drawing for the head-and-shoulder portrait of Prince Sergei Volkonsky (1824) appears on the same sheet as the studies of the model's lower face and the hand for the portrait of Karl Leberecht. In his masterful studies of human hands, one can trace Tropinin's desire to capture and depict an expressive gesture. The same artistic quest marks his sketches of the 1820s, executed for his painting “The Lace-Maker" (1822), and the drawing of hands with an album and a drafting-pen for the portrait of Pavel Svinyin (1823-1824).
The exhibition includes several rare early drawings by Alexander Orlovsky, the celebrated master of the genre scene. In the 1810s, the artist created striking images of Bashkir and Circassian riders on horseback, and Cossacks at their bivouacs and rest stops - all were scenes from the Russian Army's foreign campaigns (some of these drawings originated from Pyotr Talyzin's album). Improvisation was characteristic for Orlovsky, and the artist made use of innovative techniques, combining a variety of different media - some drawings are executed in ink, gouache, watercolour, black chalk, sanguine, white chalk and sepia. Orlovsky's portraiture is represented by his self-portrait and several caricature drawings (a dandy, a Catholic priest, and the artist's wife) in his signature “pointed" style that exaggerates his models' facial features. In contrast, Orlovsky's posthumous portrait of Napoleon on the island of St. Helena (1823) is in no way that of a figure of comedy, rather a depiction of the fallen Emperor as a great military leader, proud yet abandoned by all.
The easel pencil portrait was an important phenomenon in the art of the 1810s and 1820s. Brilliant examples of such portraiture are Orest Kiprensky's and Pyotr Sokolov's images their contemporaries.
The Historical Museum is rightfully proud of its collection of Russian watercolour portraiture - the genre made astonishing strides in the second quarter of the 19th century and is represented by some of the genre's true masters, such as the brothers Alexander and Karl Bryullov, Pyotr Sokolov and Woldemar Hau. Watercolour portraits were quite popular during the era of Romanticism, when artists focused on the individual and the private aspects of life, and the quick execution, spontaneity and intimacy typical of watercolour sketching matched the spirit of the time.
The genre of the watercolour portrait is associated with the name of Pyotr Sokolov, who was awarded his status as an Academician of the Academy of Arts for his graphic portraits. In his early works, Sokolov's palette was notably reserved; he drew his models close-up, as if to bring them closer to the viewer. A good example is his portrait of the young Prince Sergei Trubetskoy (1830s): the duellist and bon vivant looks romantic and emphatically free-spirited, his cloak-draped form half-turned to the viewer.
Comparison of the two portraits of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna shown at the exhibition is instructive. Sokolov's head-and-shoulder portrait from 1821 shows her as a young Grand Duchess. Here the artist makes use of his favourite artistic device, applying translucent hues of grey and rose on white paper: the combination of monochromatic palette and masterful use of pearl tones conveys a refined but natural impression of the artist's reserved royal patron. In contrast, in Alexander Bryullov's portrait of the Empress in a striking blue dress, with an elaborate hairstyle, the sense of the sitter's character seems somewhat lost among the many colourful details - the pearl necklace, her gold-embroidered sash, the cornflowers in her hair.
In the 1840s, as fashions changed, so did the style of Sokolov's portraits. The artist turned to three-quarter-length portraits, more complex compositions with heightened decorativeness and more intense colours. Two works serve as excellent examples of this style: the portrait of Prince David Gruzinsky, the grandson of the last Georgian Tsar, and that of cornet Grigory Chertkov of the Imperial Guard Cavalry Division (both from 1847).
In the 1830s, Woldemar Hau, Sokolov's younger contemporary and a court portraitist, paid keen attention to his sitters' personalities as well as to his choice of decor. By the mid-century, he was an established master who created formal watercolour portraits filled with bright, rich colours and elaborate details of background decoration and attire that are reminiscent of the Belle £poque. His portraits combine personal likeness, impeccable appearance and perfect harmony with a sense of the individual's place in the social hierarchy. Hau knew how to flatter his models; his portraits were characteristically reserved and his images true to type, yet his work was expressive. Thus, his portrait of Metropolitan Filaret (1854) transcends the bishop's exalted status to show the viewer the face of a distinguished theologian and visionary preacher.
Nikolai Bestuzhev's oeuvre, with his touching images of the exiled Decembrists and their wives in their gaols and prison cells, makes him one of Russia's best portraitists. The story of the Decembrist military uprising of 1825 represents a very important element of the Historical Museum's collection. The scene of the uprising is depicted in Karl Kolman's “The Decembrist Revolt on Senate Square, December 14 1825" (from the 1830s). Kolman's task was complicated: he had to show the development of the event, complete with its numerous participants. He chose the final moment of the confrontation, when the loyal artillery fired at the confused rebel formations. Commissioned to create a work favourable to the government, Kolman put Emperor Nicholas I and Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich, surrounded by their retinue, in front of the perfect lines of the loyal troops. To make the scene authentic, the gifted genre painter added numerous accessory figures of onlookers, both in the square itself and on the roofs of nearby buildings.
Images of Russia's two capitals and the momentous historical events that have taken place against the background of their majestic views remain an important part of the museum's collection. Karl Hampeln, who was better known for his portraits, demonstrated his considerable talent for landscape and genre compositions in his “Laying the Foundation of the Moskvoretsky Bridge" (1830). In the mid-19th century, a new and vivid, multi-layer watercolour technique gained popularity: overlaying layers of watercolour created a vivid, thicker texture. Rare views of Moscow by local artists, who had been trained at the Palace School of Architecture and the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture, such as Karl-Friedrich Beaudry, Joseph Vivien, Nikolai Makovsky, Vasily Rybinsky and others, are also shown at the Tretyakov exhibition. Those artists impressed their contemporaries with classical panoramic views of the Kremlin, the picturesque embankments of the Moscow river, and ancient churches. In 1853, Joseph-Maria Charlemagne-Baudet created enduring images of Moscow's major 19th century streets, notable buildings and squares as seen from high vantage points. (Graphic landscapes and cityscapes executed by Russian artists in Europe are represented by watercolours by Mikhail Lebedev, Sokrat Vorobiev, Luigi Premazzi and Michael Willie, all of whom were recipients of travel grants from the Academy of Arts.)
The second half of the 19th century saw a new style of cityscape - one which valued fashion and elegance alongside representation - gain popularity, and such famous court artists as Vasily Sadovnikov, Adolphe Charlemagne and Mihaly Zichy created representative and vibrant works in the form. Their formal, showy watercolours were technically superb and provided dramatic, detailed and accurate depictions of events. Watercolour views of Moscow and St. Petersburg by the brilliant court draughtsman Sadovnikov stand out as especially elegant and picturesque works for the subtlety of their palette: three of Sadovnikov's works, executed in 1856 to commemorate Emperor Alexander II's coronation, deserve special attention.
Graphic art in the second half of the century reflected a taste for florid, vibrant and highly decorative art that was characteristic of the reigns of Alexander II and Alexander III. Such tendencies can be clearly seen in the formal portraits of Crown Prince Alexander Alexandrovich (1866) and Prince Baryatinsky (1870s) by Stepan Alexandrovsky, as well as in interior scenes by Andrei Redkovsky (1864-1865) and Vasily Sadovnikov (1872). A collection of watercolours of the interiors of Zinaida Yusupova's country estate in Tsarskoye Selo was one of the most recent acquisitions of the Historical Museum.
Mihaly Zichy created a visual chronicle of the world of the last Russian Tsars in works such as “Alexander II at a Bear Hunt by the Village of Golovino’’ (1862), “Reception in the Winter Palace after the Attempt on the Life of Emperor Alexander II, April 5 1866’ (1866), and “Emperor Alexander III and the Imperial Family Visiting Kiev" (1889). The attention to minute detail evident in his works was a fashion of the time. Zichy, the consummate illusionist, depicted various stages of the same event in a single drawing, so as to illustrate all the particulars of court life on one sheet. Large-scale watercolours of the most important moments in the coronation of Nicholas II, Russia's last Tsar, by the court artists Adolphe Joseph Charlemagne-Baudet and Nikolai Karazin (1896), provide a fitting conclusion for the exhibition.
A significant number of graphic works from the collection of the Historical Museum underwent restoration especially for the Tretyakov Gallery exhibition. In addition, a number of drawings and watercolours were exhibited there for the first time: an allegory by Kozlov, architectural fantasies by Quarenghi, views of St. Petersburg by Vorobiev, a study by Karl Bryullov, various sketches by Tropinin, a unique Rembrandtian piece by Orlovsky, views of the Volga by Chernetsov, and a hunting scene by Zichy.
- Russian Biographical Dictionary. Volume II. St. Petersburg, 1900. P. 16. For more on Fyodor Alexeev’s drawings in the Historical Museum collection, see: Skornyakova, N.N. ‘Graphic Series of Moscow Cityscapes by Fyodor Alexeev’ // “Fyodor Alexeev and His School of Drawing. On the 250th Anniversary of the Artist’s Birth”. Moscow, 2004. Pp. 17-25.
- This series comprises 64 sheets. For more information, see: Yerokhina, I.P.; Mirolyubova, G.A. ‘Drawings of 1820s St. Petersburg by Karl Friedrich Sabath and Samuil (Solomon) Shiflyar. From the Historical Museum Collection’ // “Art Panorama”. Issue #13. Moscow, 1990. Pp. 54-70.
- The Historical Museum has 62 drawings by Yemelian Korneev. It received this collection in 1919 from Yevgeny Yakushkin, the grandson of Ivan Yakushkin, a participant in the Decembrist revolt. Prior to that, this collection had belonged to Alexander von Benckendorff, who took part in the Sprengporten expedition. For more information on Korneev’s oeuvre, see: Goncharova, N.N. “Y.M. Korneev. Russian Graphic Art in the Early 19th Century”. Moscow, 1987.
- The museum received these drawings in 1905 as part of Alexei Bakhrushin’s collection. Bakhrushin had purchased them in 1886 from F.O. Chernetsky, grandson of Vasily Tropinin. For more information, see: Goncharova, N.N. ‘Drawings by Tropinin’ // “Vasily Andreyevich Tropinin (1776-1857). Paintings and Drawings from the Historical Museum”. Exhibition Catalogue. Ryazan, 1986.
- For more information, see: Goncharova, N.N. “Portraits of the Russian Nobility. Graphic Art of the First Half of the 19th Century. From the Historical Museum Collection”. Moscow, 2001.
- For more information, see: Skornyakova, N.N. “Views of Moscow. 18th and Early 19th Century Watercolours and Drawings from the Historical Museum Collection”. Moscow, 2017.
- On the drawings of interiors in the Historical Museum collection, see: “Interiors in Russian Graphic Art, 19th and Early 20th Centuries. From the Historical Museum Collection” / Compiled by Lukyanov, Ye.A. Moscow, 2016. Also, A.O. Vasilchenko. ‘A bit of poetry and good taste. Interiors in Russian Graphic Art of the 19th and Early 20th Centuries from the Historical Museum Collection’ // “Our Heritage”, 2017. Issue No. 123. Pp. 94-111.
Watercolour, whitewash on paper. Detail
Watercolour, ink, pen on paper. Detail
Black watercolour, ink, pen on paper. 42.3 × 33.3 cm
Watercolour, ink, pen on paper. 62 × 98.5 cm
Watercolour, ink, pen on paper. 18.5 × 26.5 cm
Paper, sepia, ink, brush, pen on paper. 26.5 × 41.3 cm
Paper, Italian pencil on paper. 46.5 × 33 cm
Watercolour, gouache on paper. 42.5 × 31.8 cm
Italian pencil on paper. 23 × 36.5 cm
Graphite pencil, watercolour on paper. 20 × 16.3 cm
Graphite pencil, watercolour, varnish on Bristol cardboard. 24 × 16.5 cm (in light)
Graphite pencil, watercolour, varnish on Bristol cardboard. 21.5 × 17.5 cm (in light)
Watercolour, whitewash, varnish on Bristol cardboard. 35.5 × 27.5 cm (in light)
Watercolour, whitewash on paper. 33 × 47 cm
Watercolour, whitewash, varnish on paper. 24 × 24 cm
Watercolour, ink, pen on paper. 21 × 27 cm (in light)
Watercolour, whitewash on paper. 40 × 60.5 cm
Graphite pencil, watercolour, gouache, whitewash, varnish on cardboard. 48 × 63.5 cm
Watercolour, whitewash on paper. 44.8 × 63.2 cm