The Volgograd Fine Arts Museum

Tatyana Dodina

Article: 
RUSSIA’S GOLDEN MAP
Magazine issue: 
#3 2005 (08)

Проект Золотая карта России

In Spring 1960, the Russian Ministry of Culture decreed that an art museum should be recreated in the hero city of Stalingrad. The original Stalingrad picture gallery, opened on the eve of the war in 1938, had been totally destroyed in the bombing of August 1942; leafing through the surviving gallery catalogue, published in 194 1, one is overcome by pain and regret. Repin, Surikov, Ivanov, Korovin, Aivazovsky, Levitan and Polenov are but a few of the eminent Russian artists whose works had been in the old Stalingrad gallery Hundreds of works of art by dozens of outstanding Russian and Soviet painters were gone forever.

Thus, faced with the task of creating the new museum, the artists of Stalingrad had to start afresh. The main body of the collection was made up of works donated by some of the country's largest museums. The Historical Museum sent Antropov's "Portrait of Catherine 11”, Tropinin's "Portrait of a Woman”, Solomatkin's "Evening at the Shopkeeper's" and a number of pieces of folk art and engravings. The Russian Museum donated sculptures by Lansere, Golubkina, Rastrelli, Gins- burg, Shubin and Klodt, Shishkin's "Rowan Tree" and Vorobiev's "View of Jerusalem", Korovin's "In the Crimea" and Rylov's "Standing Guard", sketches by Kuindzhi and Makovsky, and drawings and engravings by various other Russian artists as well as Russian china and folk art.

Thanks to the Hermitage, the museum acquired plaster casts of ancient sculptures and a number of Dutch, German, French and Flemish paintings which formed the main part of the museum's Foreign Art section. From the Pavlovsk Palace Museum came paintings by Bryullov, Polenov, Bogolyubov and Chernetsov. The Tretyakov Gallery offered the Stalingrad Museum canvases by Aivazovsky, Varnek and Andreyev, etchings by Serov and drawings by Vasiliev and Borisov-Musatov. Hundreds of other donations were received from the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, the Kuskovo Estate Museum, the Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR, the Museum of Eastern Cultures and the Russian Ministry of Culture.

Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd in 1961. In 1963, the Volgograd Museum of Fine Art was opened to the public. Since then, the museum's collection has continued to grow. Works were purchased at exhibitions and from private collectors; others were donated by the Ministry of Culture or private individuals. One of the first private donations came from the artist David Burlyuk. In 1961 and 1965, he gave the museum a selection of works from his later years: four drawings and two oil paintings, "Flowers on the Sea Shore" and the "Portrait of N. Cherkasov". Burlyuk's final years were spent abroad, and this period is barely represented in Russian museums.

In 1980, the widow of the Moscow art collector Kasimir Arming left the museum 38 paintings by Russian and foreign artists. Nina Arning-Zaitseva was originally from Tsaritsyn, as Stalingrad was known until 1925. Thanks to her generosity, the museum acquired works by Fyodor Alekseyev, George Dawe, Vladimir Makovsky, Mikhail Larionov, Nikolai Roerich, Philip Malyavin and Konstantin Gorbatov. These were restored and added to the existing sections, enriching and expanding them.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Volgograd Museum held a number of exhibitions of works by well-known Soviet artists, thereby acquiring some wonderful paintings by Alexander Samokhvalov, Vladimir Ivanov, Pyotr Ossovsky and Pyotr Konchalovsky.

The collection is still growing today, with new works by local artists forming an important part of this treasure trove. Altogether, the Volgograd Museum now possesses over 6,000 works.
From its very outset, the museum has played a vital role in the cultural life of Volgograd. Besides organising exhibitions, it holds talks and lectures on art for children, and in recent years has also offered educational events for students and art teachers.

 

Ilya Mashkov at the Volgograd Fine Arts Museum

Within the framework of "Russia's Golden Map", the Volgograd Fine Arts Museum presents a collection of paintings by Ilya Mashkov at the Tretyakov Gallery. Mashkov's name is associated with bold innovations in early 20th-century Russian art; he is also widely known for his gorgeous still-lifes, now seen as classic works. The collection contains 38 paintings and 60 graphic works, and embraces almost all of Ilya Mashkov's artistic career.

In 1964, a year after the Museum's public opening, two still-lifes, "Wild Cherry’ (1939) and "Still-life against a Blue Background" (1930s), came into the museum's possession via the Art Exhibitions and Panoramas Board.

In 1967 'The Novodevichy Monastery’ landscape (1912-13) was bought from the artist's widow Maria Ivanovna Mashkova. In the early 1970s she also sold to the Museum a large number of Mashkov's paintings and drawings, including such gems as "Portrait of A.I. Milman" (1916-1917), "Crimea. A Park in Alupka" (1923), "Burdock in the Steppe." (1933), and several still-lifes from the 1930s. The works formed the foundation of the Mashkov memorial section in the museum.

In 1976 the museum opened an exhibition of Mashkov's work, showing not only paintings from its own reserve funds, but from the artist's studio as well. When the exhibition was over, more of Mashkov's 1930 works created in the Mikhailovskaya Cossack village, among them "Collective Farm Woman with Pumpkins", "Girl at a Tobacco Plantation", and "A Yard in Mikhailovskaya", were bought. In 1980-81 the museum acquired drawings from different years, and the artist's widow presented another set of his paintings and graphic works.

The latest major addition to the Mashkov collection was made in 1984-85 after the death of Maria Mashkova. The museum bought from Mashkov's heirs his still-lifes from the 1930s, and a large number of graphic works which included portraits from the 1920s-30s and nude studies.

While compiling the Mashkov collection, the museum showed interest not only in the so-called Mikhailovskaya period, but in his thematic still-lifes as well, although they did not then provoke significant interest among connoisseurs; they also showed interest in works from his "Spa" series and wartime drawings. These two aspects of his art were little known to the public, which knew Mashkov mainly as a leading figure of the "Bubnovy Valet" (Knave of Diamonds) group.

It was no accident that the Volgograd Fine Arts Museum showed interest in Mashkov's art. Although his life and art are mostly associated with Moscow, he was born and spent his childhood in the Cossack village of Mikhailovskaya, where the Don Cossacks lived, a territory today part of the Volgograd region.

As a child Mashkov already showed his inventiveness and artistic talent, but his life in Mikhailovskaya, or in the small provincial towns of Filonovo and Borisoglebsk, where the boy served in merchants' stores, was in no way conducive to the development of his artistic inclinations. However, many years later these provincial impressions found their way into his pictures, as did the primitive folk art of the "lubok" and the style of shop and photographers' studio signs with which he dealt in his youth.

In 1900 Mashkov enrolled in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, where he mastered the basics of his future profession. He had to work really hard during his early years, finding himself in completely new surroundings and avidly absorbing new impressions. This period is presented in the Volgograd museum collection by modest landscape studies, drawings and nude sketches. A graphic selfportrait signed and dated by the author stands out: "Made during a single session, May 20, 1901. Signed: I. Mashkov."

"Portrait of a Girl" (1903-1904) attests to the artist's considerable professional achievement. However, it is still too early to talk about Mashkov's individual style. The genuine Mashkov style, well known to connoisseurs, art critics, researchers and art lovers, and immediately recognized in any collection, appeared around 1910.

In January 1910 Mashkov was expelled from the school, and in December he was already among the founders and most active participants of the "Bubnovy Valet" exhibition which opened in Moscow. Mashkov's breathtaking artistic experiments and discoveries of the period are reflected in the "Novodevichy Monastery” landscape. A familiar Moscow landscape had been transformed by the artist's vigorous brush; the colour patches recall a powerful and joyous music. All the elements of the picture are caught in an impetuous whirlwind.

In 1916 Mashkov painted the portrait of Milman, the painter who was Mashkov's pupil and partner in the "Bubnovy Valet” group. A refined colour scheme and an original composition, and a combination of the traditional naive portrait style with bold cubist devices makes it an outstanding work of art.

Mashkov's paintings and drawings from the 1920s are numerous in the museum collection, with pride of place given to landscapes drawn in the summer of 1923 in the Leningrad region and in the Crimean seaside town of Alupka. These landscapes demonstrate how Mashkov's style of painting was changing with time: Expressionism had been replaced by a multi-layered blend of paints and fine brush strokes.

In 1 925 he joined the Association of Painters of Revolutionary Russia and showed a series of his remarkable still-lifes, "Moscow Food" at the seventh exhibition of the Association. Anatoly Lunacharsky, in charge of Russian culture at the time, valued the result extremely highly, comparing Mashkov with the best Dutch classical painters. He remarked that, although the works did not treat the theme of the revolution, they demonstrated the superb skill of a realist painter, and the convincing and vivid style necessary for creating genuine revolutionary paintings. Lunacharsky wrote that Mashkov wanted to postpone work on such pictures and that he [Lunacharsky] also felt there was a major distance between "the vivacious grapes and cream cakes, which Mashkov showed at the exhibition, and any revolutionary picture, but the artist was so full of vigour, and his awareness of the ultimate goal so strong, that even his preparatory work produced gems of a kind..."

Mashkov was quite sincere in his desire to produce a genuine revolutionary picture. He travelled to the Caucasus and the Crimea in search of topics in the 1920s and 1930s, and drew joyous scenes from the life of working people spending their holidays by the sea ("Livadia Peasant Spa"), and views of Artek ("September Morning in Artek"). But it is difficult to classify these as artistic achievements, although even here it is obvious that Mashkov was a real master. His scenes from the life of a spa were lively and sincere, while his treatment of light and air was truly remarkable.

Around the same time Mashkov produced a series of graphic portraits of his contemporaries - workers, peasants, public figures, and young pioneers - that are laconic and precise, almost in a documentary tradition. This is how the painter himself saw the aim of these works; he even attached to some of them detailed biographies of the people portrayed. It would be unfair, however, to relegate these graphic portraits to the artist's minor work - they were executed with real mastery and a sincere interest in the people portrayed.

Another favourite graphic genre Mashkov pursued throughout his artistic career was the nude study, found in abundance in the Volgograd collection. The style of drawings made in different years varies considerably; the bulk was created in the 1920s, the rest between 1910 and 1920.

In July 1930 Mashkov visited his native Mikhailovskaya village. It was a fashion at the time for artistic people to draw inspiration from visits to the country's main construction sites; however, for Mashkov this trip marked the beginning of a large project in the area of cultural development in his own village. He was instrumental in setting up a group of local young people eager to be trained in painting.

In September of the same year Mashkov opened an exhibition there showing works produced during his stay. For the village's inhabitants, it was their first encounter with professional art. Also, during this visit, Mashkov worked on a plan for creating a model House of Socialist Culture, later using all his energy and passion to bring it to reality. The House opened on November 7 1931, in the premises of a former church. From then on, and to the end of his life, Mashkov stayed in touch with Mikhailovskaya. Numerous surviving documents testify to the artist's ambitious plans for the future of his village - he wanted to turn it into "a small agricultural town" and the House of Socialist Culture into a cultural and educational centre.

Mashkov's draft notes listed among the parts of the centre not only specialized groups, but also studios, a cinema, library, local folklore museum, agricultural factory, university, technical station, broadcasting studio, newspaper, park, sports grounds, acquatic sports station, parachute tower, botanical gardens, rest home for collective farm peasants, experimental stations and fields, and other elements. He envisioned his countrymen living in a beautiful and harmonious world, and spent considerable effort and several years of his life in putting his plans into practice.

Along with archive materials telling about Mashkov's activities in his native village, the Volgograd Museum also has works from that period painted in Mikhailovskaya. During his first visit Mashkov produced "Collective Farm Woman with Pumpkins", which he showed in September 1930 at the exhibition mentioned above. His subject was Fekla Mironovna Stankova, a local girl. However, both in this portrait and the "Girl at a Tobacco Plantation" he aimed at generalised images; he wanted to show his protagonists' physical and moral health and their inseverable link with their native land. Mashkov drew a number of views of the village, and was particularly precise about the specific details of the local landscape. The pictures are full of sunlight and the air of the steppes, creating a very peaceful effect. Their subjects live in harmony with nature, linking their lives to the recurrence of its cycles.

Mashkov's most important work from this period was a group portrait of the Torshinin family, a family of partisans. This extraordinary work caused fierce argument: it was both a typical official portrait, but also too lively, sincere and popular in its spirit. Mashkov produced several works of this kind. Earlier he had drawn the "Portrait of Partisan A.E. Torshinin", and several portraits of pioneer girls, including "Pioneer Girl with a Bugle", which is now in the Volgograd museum. These official portraits were another attempt to engage with the social order without breaking the rules of his favourite traditional genres.

Mashkov attempted to introduce ideological revolutionary content even into his still-lifes, like "Greetings to the 17th Party Congress" and "Soviet Bread". They shock the viewer by the abundance of objects which fill the entire space of the picture, by their strictly symmetrical composition, and by their subjects. In the first, busts of the classic Marxist-Leninist thinkers stand in a field of giant red poppies, huge roses and gentle daisies; in the second, there are all kinds of baked bread and confectionery (many such objects for the latter picture were specially baked according to the artist's design, like the emblem of the Soviet Union). The picture of abundance, the enormous size of the objects and a naive desire to present everything in a most attractive way and make it look delicious - all of this is rooted in popular tradition, in provincial shop signs, and primitive folk painting. However, Mashkov's thematic still- lifes belong to a different era and represent a typical monument to their times; no wonder that Lunacharsky had criticised young painters from the "Bytiye" (Everyday Life) group - Mashkov was one of its members - for their attempt to develop their artistic techniques using old dull depictions like a pile of apples on a table painted in the style of Cezanne. Why, asked Lunacharsky, would a young painter show himself holding a vase instead of presenting himself as a serious revolutionary, carefully cleaning his gun? Then the result would have been a blend of psychological portrait and an unusual still-life. Any technical study could have been linked to its revolutionary contents, wrote Lunacharsky.

However, when he was not bothered by ideological tasks Mashkov was most successful in his still-lifes - they all date from the late 1930s, and relate to the so-called "Abramtsevo" period, when Mashkov lived mostly in his country cottage near Moscow. These are traditional still-lifes, bouquets of flowers and fruit. He demonstrates a superb skill for rendering the colour, volume and fabric of the object - each of these pictures is a piece of nature, which Mashkov loved so dearly.

In 1939, an Exhibition of Agricultural Achievements opened in Moscow, impressing Mashkov with its abundance and variety of fruit, and their sizes and colours. His impressions resulted in a still-life, "Fruits of Agricultural Exhibition", in which Mashkov revealed, behind the front of successful socialism, the generosity of the land itself and the feat of those working it.

Wartime portraits constitute a special section in the Volgograd collection. From 1941 to 1944 Mashkov worked in the First Moscow Communist Hospital. There, he drew a series of oil and graphic portraits, and developed an idea of a large-scale thematic work "In the Hospital". The pictures are very subtle and precise in rendering the wartime mood, their protagonists reserved and concentrated, their images - laconic and strict.

The wartime portraits make up the last page in the work of the artist, who died in 1944. From the late 1930s critics had gradually lost interest in Mashkov's art - after all, he never managed to create his "genuine revolutionary picture". However, Mashkov's artistic legacy has become part of world art. He is important and interesting both in his most successful works, and in his delusions. The works of this outstanding painter speak not only about his creative search and experiments, but also of the times in which artist Ilya Mashkov lived and worked.

 

The project "Russia's Golden Map" is supported by the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema and the Moscow City Committee for Interregional Relations and National Politics.

Illustrations

Vladimir MAKOVSKY. Girl with Berries. 1873. Detail
Vladimir MAKOVSKY. Girl with Berries. 1873
Oil on canvas. 68 by 45.5 cm. Detail
Alexei SAVRASOV. Bad Roads. 1894
Alexei SAVRASOV. Bad Roads. 1894
Oil on canvas. 62.5 by 79.5 cm
Maxim VOROBIEV. Jerusalem. 1849
Maxim VOROBIEV. Jerusalem. 1849
Oil on canvas. 83 by 133 cm
Pyotr KONCHALOVSKY. Window. Balaklava. 1929
Pyotr KONCHALOVSKY. Window. Balaklava. 1929
Oil on canvas. 107 by 90.5 cm
Viktor POPKOV. May Celebrations. 1972
Viktor POPKOV. May Celebrations. 1972
Oil and tempera on cardboard. 140 by 190 cm
Arkady PLASTOV. Girl in Blue Kerchief. 1963. Detail
Arkady PLASTOV. Girl in Blue Kerchief. 1963
Oil on cardboard. Detail
Novodevichy Convent. 1912–1913
Novodevichy Convent. 1912–13
Oil on canvas. 93 by 120 cm
Portrait of the Artist Adolf Milman. 1916–1917
Portrait of the Artist Adolf Milman. 1916–17
Oil on canvas. 167.5 by 142.5 cm
Backyard in Stanitsa Mikhailovskaya. 1930
Backyard in Stanitsa Mikhailovskaya. 1930
Oil on canvas. 94 by 130 cm
Thistle in Steppe. 1933
Thistle in Steppe. 1933
Oil on canvas. 84 by 62.5 cm
The Crimea. The Park in Alupka. 1923
The Crimea. The Park in Alupka. 1923
Oil on canvas. 56 by 77 cm
Collective Farm Woman with Pumpkins. 1930
Collective Farm Woman with Pumpkins. 1930
Oil on canvas. 120 by 97.5 cm
Soviet Bread. 1936
Soviet Bread. 1936
Oil on canvas. 150 by 180 cm
Bright Bouquet Against Dark Background. 1936
Bright Bouquet Against Dark Background. 1936
Oil on canvas. 86.5 by 69.5 cm
Girl at a Tobacco Plantation. 1930
Girl at a Tobacco Plantation. 1930
Oil on canvas. 107.5 by 80.5 cm

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