THE ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS AT THE MANEZH EXHIBITION HALL
On June 15 2007 the gala opening of a grand exhibition to mark a momentous date, the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, took place at Moscow’s Manezh Exhibition Hall. The present-day Academy unites within its fold the best artists of Russia, and the spacious halls of the Manezh accommodated only a part of the Academy’s reserve of artwork, a huge collection that receives new additions every year.
The foundation of the Academy of the three "most notable arts” (sculpture, painting and architecture), in 1757, laid the basis for the development of Russian culture and science. Many achievements in the arts in the 18th-20th centuries owe their origin to the Academy's activities. In many ways, it was due to the Academy that Russian visual art had a period of classicism and established a unique art education system, of which Russians today can be proud. The Imperial Academy of Fine Arts - Academy of Fine Arts of the USSR - Russian Academy of Fine Arts... Such are the main milestones in its history, which is anything but simple. The "supreme art-and-research public organization of the Russian Federation,” the Academy is a national treasure of supreme value. This year this honored establishment celebrates its anniversary. Two and a half centuries being quite a long period, today is a time to assess the present and make plans for the future. While a review of past achievements, the exhibition at the Manezh also marks a desire to share with a wide audience the Academy's artistic quest. The multifaceted exhibition featuring about 1,500 items and encompassing different periods of the Academy's history offers a chance to become acquainted with both the past and the present of the art institution.
The first, historical section of the large exhibition features an unusual profile portrait of Peter I (by an unknown artist of the early 18th century), which is displayed here with a symbolic importance. It was Peter I's initiative, as far back as 1724, to establish in Russia, for the first time, an academy of arts and sciences modeled on the French Academy of Arts.
Visitors to the exhibition duly see portraits of the presidents of the Academy and large paintings by famous Russian artists replicating celebrated Western European masterpieces. Copying was an integral part of the curriculum at the old Academy. Today this tradition continues at the Academy-affiliated educational institutions - the Surikov Moscow Art Institute and Repin St. Petersburg Academic Institution of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. This tradition also serves to teach young artists the skills of compositional painting - a very labour-intensive genre of painting that requires special skills, such as creating a composition, subordinating the secondary to the essential, finding a colour scheme, and many others.
At the Academy compositional painting skills were at all times considered a mandatory requirement for an artist. The profession of artist owes its evolution to such masters as Alexander Ivanov, Vasily Surikov, Ilya Repin, Vasily Perov, and others. Education of artists focused on the genre of compositional painting has always been pivotal to the Russian, and later Soviet, art school. Today Russia is the only country to have preserved the tradition of meaningful thematic painting, and to forfeit this advantage would have become an irrecoverable loss to international visual art as a whole.
The preservation of the genre of compositional painting is one of the self-evident and indisputable achievements of the modern academic school, as evidenced by the majority of the works exhibited - from old masters to modern academicians.
A vivid and solemn touch to the commemorative exhibition is added by the ceremonial painting of the famous painter Valery Yakobi "Inauguration of the Academy of Arts on July 7 1765”, depicting the high society at the court of Empress Catherine II. The Tsarina granted the Academy its Charter and "Privileges”, and made a very important step granting a special status in society to people who received training in the arts. The exhibits at the Manezh include the hand-written Charter - a 13-page book kept in a redwood box finished with bronze.
The portraits of the presidents of the Academy of Arts - its founder and curator Count Ivan Shuvalov and Lieutenant-general Ivan Betskoy (both portraits by painter Vasily Khudyakov, 1864), Count Alexei Musin-Pushkin (by Johann-Baptist Lampi the Elder), Count Alexei Stroganov (by Jean-Laurent Mosnier, 1804), Count Alexei Olenin (by Alexander Varnek), the portraits of two women presidents - Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna (by Timofei Neff) and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna - were brought to Moscow from the Academy research institute, located in St. Petersburg on the University embankment.
Each portrait can tell a story of bright, unique individuals, historical events, unusual lives and a genuine devotion to the Academy and its cause. Thus, Count Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov, even when he stayed outside Russia for 14 years following the death of his patroness Elizabeth Petrovna, never neglected his most important lifework and continued collecting art in Rome, where he purchased ancient Greek and Roman artefacts for the Academy museum and commissioned copies of prominent antique sculptures.
Ivan Ivanovich Betskoy, appointed president in the reign of Catherine II, made a special contribution to the Academy, organizing under its auspices an art school for children. It is worth noting that Betskoy was also a founder of the famed Smolny institute – the "Society for education of noble maidens”.
Few people know that another president of the Academy, Alexei Nikolaevich Olenin, was not only an art lover and collector, as were most of the Academy's heads, but also a painter, primarily in watercolour, who gained renown with his illustrations to the first edition of the famous poem by Alexander Pushkin, "Ruslan and Lyudmila.”
As for the "rebellion of the thirteen”, this famous event in art history that led to the creation of the "Peredvizhniki” (Wanderers) society, happened when the Academy was headed by Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, the Duchess of Leichtenberg. However, the high-up lady president performed mostly representative and supervisory functions, while guidance over the educational process at the Academy was exercised by its vice-presidents, first by Count Fyodor Tolstoy, then by Count Grigory Gagarin, a painter and graphic artist who also created illustrations to Alexander Pushkin's works.
The collection of portraits is graced by those of honorable dilettantes of the Imperial Academy of Arts. With Russian emperors taking so much care of the Academy, rich Russian noblemen and foreign artists all desired to be elected as its honorary members, and there was a rule requiring that new members should send their portraits. So over time the museum amassed a most interesting collection of portraits of its presidents, professors and honorary members. The current exhibition features the portraits of such honorary dilettantes and honorary members of the Imperial Academy of Arts: Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich, Prince Alexander Golitsyn, Archbishop Gavriil (Petrov), Count Ivan Chernyshev, Count Ernst von Munnich, the King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm III, Cardinal Alessandro Albani, Duke Peter of Oldenburg, Count Pavel Stroganov and many others.
This collection of portraits is continued with representations of famed professors and graduates of the Academy - the painter Alexander Ivanov, architects Konstantin Ton and Andrei Mikhailov, sculptors Ivan Martos, Fyodor Shchedrin, Vasily Demut-Malinovsky, painters Fyodor Alexeev, Ivan Aivazovsky, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Vasily Surikov, supervising instructor of the medallist workshop Carl (Karl) Leberecht, supervising instructor of the engraving workshop Nikolai Utkin, and others. A majority of the sitters are depicted with attributes befitting their chosen art form: these include architectural technical drawings, sculptors' hammers and chisels, paintbrushes, and albums with drawings. The unique masterpieces, many of which are on public display for the first time, include the portrait of a medical doctor on staff at the Imperial Academy of Arts - Emilii Overlach. In such a way, viewers are afforded a unique chance to immerse themselves in the Academy's history, to see and to come to know those who year after year, century after century were creating a unique art school.
Many of the pieces on display are works of "pensioners,” Academy graduates who were awarded gold medals upon graduation, receiving a governmental scholarship ("pension”) enabling them to continue to hone their skills for several years in France and Italy. The graduates continued their studies at the studios of famous European artists, visited museums and art galleries, and copied internationally renowned masterpieces. The exhibition at the Manezh features an array of highly professional replicas of the works of Rafael, Snyders, Veronese, Perugino, Murillo and other great masters.
The works by the graduates were presented to the Academy directors, and then kept at the museum as exhibits and study guides. Sculpted and painted representations of antique architectural landmarks helped the Academy students who remained in St. Petersburg to familiarize themselves with the best international artwork.
The work of the "pensioners” displayed at the Manezh were usually kept in the classrooms and studios. And only by the mid-19th century, when the collection grew much bigger, special "exhibition areas” were created in the Academy building - with students and the general public admitted there only at certain hours of the day.
The Manezh exhibition traces the Academy's eventful history, and it is no accident that a special section is devoted to documentary artefacts: unique photos from different time periods are displayed on the ground floor.
In the first years of Soviet rule the Academy experienced dynamic changes, which affected the principles of art teaching. Those were extremely difficult years for the institution - a period when the phrase "artistic heritage” was synonymous with conservatism and political reaction. The intense power struggle in art in the 1920s and early 1930s had an especially strong impact on the state of the museum's collections of paintings, sculpture and drawings, which were divided, with a major part going to other museums. Most of the exhibits were sent to the Hermitage and the Russian Museum. The Academy museum at that time lost works by Gerard ter Borch, Cranach, Dmitry Levitsky, Karl Briullov, Alexei Venetsianov, Nikolai Ge and many other Russian and international masters. A number of museum items were used to decorate various public places. The museum collection was also harmed by the advocates of proletarian culture, who were purposefully purging the museum from all that was "excessive” i.e. not needed. As a result some very valuable works were destroyed, and replicas of antique art broken. In addition, "a large part of the museum collections was transferred to the State Fund to be put up for sale”. Since then the museum has never been the same.
Luckily, the Academy museum managed to retain a unique collection of large-scale architectural models of the 18th-19th centuries, the best of which have been brought from St. Petersburg to Moscow to be displayed at the Manezh commemorative exhibition. A true "gem” of the collection is an architectural model of the Voskresensky Novodevichy (Smolny) monastery, representing one of the versions Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli came up with working on its design. Made of wood and gypsum, the model not only replicates with utmost precision the impeccable design of the monastery, but is also painted in the same way - an elegant combination of golden cupolas and baroque components with the blue of the walls and the white of the columns and pilasters.
The huge space of the Manezh seems to be bridging two philosophical and creative dimensions of the Academy's activity - the past and the present. Not purporting to provide an all-encompassing retrospective of the long and complicated history of Russia's oldest art institution, the exhibition organizers, confronting two time strata, have tried, however, to lend an intriguing quality to the exhibition.
The second section of the exhibition is devoted to the art of older masters and young professional artists who have been connected with the Academy in the 20th century and who work at the Academy today. The Manezh exhibition includes a great deal of interesting works by painters, sculptors, architects, designers, and art critics and scholars, whose publications are displayed in glass cases right at the entrance to the exhibition hall. Historical art is presented in a modern environment. The exhibition features works by the members of the Russian Academy of Arts from Moscow and St. Petersburg, and from the regions of Russia such as the Volga region, the Urals, Siberia, and the Far East, where the Academy has affiliate institutions. The showcased artworks are those of the president of the Academy Zurab Tsereteli, the Academy vicepresidents Yefrem Zverkov, Andrei Mylnikov, Tahir Salakhov, Eduard Drobitsky, Anatoly Bichukov, Mikhail Kurilko-Rumin, Dmitry Zhilinsky, Igor Obrosov, Pyotr Ossovsky, Gelii Korzhev, Alexei Shmarinov, M ikhail Posokhin, Albina Akritas, Boris Messerer, Nikolai Mukhin, Pavel Nikonov, Tatiana Nazarenko, and many other outstanding masters.
Along with works well known to viewers, the exhibition also presents some debut works, on display for the first time. For instance, the president of the Academy Zurab Tsereteli shows one of his new important pieces - a bronze statue of the outstanding musician Mstislav Rostropovich. The statue of the celebrated cello player was created in his lifetime. The sculptor rendered with a stunning subtlety the state of enlightenment and impassioned immersion into the world of musical harmony.
Today the Academy, not unexpectedly, unites within its fold artists of most different trends. The cultural situation has changed drastically, and now no one may dictate to the artist the choice of colours, form and theme. (I suppose few truly creative people would want to return to the time when ideology controlled art.) The right to create is an integral part of human freedom, and anyone has the right to experiment. Meanwhile, what the result will be and who has more chances to succeed, or in other words to create a true masterpiece, is a different question.
The exhibition as it is allows the viewer to trace the development of Russian visual art from its classic models to the latest trends and quest for form. Thus, the sculpture section features both the calm, carefully poised statues of Mark Antokolsky and the grotesquely exaggerated forms and emotionality characteristic of pieces by Alexander Rukavishnikov, Mikhail Dronov, and Dmitry Tugarinov.
The Academy gives its well-reasoned answer to the most general question about the future of art, which arises every now and then. Artistic disputes will always be there, and they should be approached philosophically wherever possible: in one way or another, time will give everyone their due, no matter what the contemporaries want. The Manezh exhibition shows that the sweeping statements about destruction of the classic language of art and the absence of a demand for it are groundless. Besides, the sheer number of students at art schools and applicants to art colleges indicate the contrary. The desire of new generations to master the skills of classic painting is obvious. The question of whether education today should be developing more intensively is a different matter.
It should be noted that easel painting more and more often becomes an arena for arguments about the future of art. Why? Probably because easel painting suffers from fewer restraints: like an eccentric individual, it takes whatever liberties it wants. Oil painting does not know restraints and invariably incites to experiment. Arguably, all that is natural. The proof is the richest artistic heritage, part of which can be seen at the Manezh exhibition.
It is worth note, too, that religious themes, forbidden in the Soviet period, are back in art today - an encouraging factor. In Russian art, devotional topics are a pivotal tradition, which continues to live in the art of the Academy's senior masters and young painters.
Changes for the best in the life of the Academy began with a momentous and unprecedented event, the restoration of the decor of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, accomplished under the auspices of and with the direct participation of the Academy. As is well known, along with the academicians, many art college graduates took part in this project, colossal both in scale and spiritual significance. The project offered the graduates an excellent opportunity to show their skills, to rise to a higher level of artistic development, and also, not least important, to comprehend their place in the universe.
In memory of this important project and for the 250th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Arts the "Tvorcheskaya Masterskaya” publishing house issued a unique publication - a compilation of all the materials related to the momentous event, the restoration of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. This rarity in a red binding, with gold-edge pages, has been given a place of honour at the Manezh exhibition.
The modern section of the exhibition clearly shows that today, at the beginning of the 21st century, it does not make much sense to talk about the supremacy of a certain style or even trend in art. One would suppose that under the current circumstances, when a new century has replaced an old one, as life goes on, some new stylistic trends will spring to life and grow, but most likely a considerable variety of trends and stylistic preferences are to co-exist in art for a long time to come. As the saying goes, truth is in diversity. A truth, which the creators of the beautiful have been seeking forever, discovering new horizons, enriching existing expressive means, and bringing to perfection old forms.
The exposition gives vivid evidence to the fact that the academicians of different generations demonstrate the genuineness of the Academy's main principles, namely, the value of the heritage accumulated over a long period by Russian visual artists. Moving on, one should keep in mind the shortcomings of the past and realize and analyze their causes, so that the works of Russian artists continue to thrill and rejoice the viewers in the new century, so that the artists never stop to believe in their potential. Today the Russian Academy of Arts confronts a special need for preserving and developing its school. The main artists of the Russian Academy of Arts now work together on the important issues of education and art, making their best effort to ensure that the Russian school of art will continue to rise to new levels.
Oil on canvas. 85 by 68 cm
Oil on canvas. 113 by 87 cm
Oil on canvas. 133.5 by 109 cm
Oil on canvas. 62.5 by 48.5 cm
From the “Great Meteoron, a Monastic Country up in the Mountains” series. Tempera on paper. 64 by 84 cm
Oil on canvas. 100 by 150 cm
Oil on canvas. 100 by 220 cm
Oil on canvas. 180 by 240 cm
Coloured lithograph. 48 by 53 cm
From the “Victory Day” series. Mixed media on paper. 59 by 59 cm
Bronze, marble, granite. Lefortovo Park, Moscow
Bronze, wood. 27 by 39 by 22 cm
Bronze. 180 by 80 by 80 cm
Bronze. 300 by 275 by 280 cm
Холст, масло. 250×200
Oil on canvas. 145 by 180 cm
From the “Old Parisian Doors” series. Oil on canvas. 110 by 80 cm
Oil on canvas. 145 by 198 cm
Oil on canvas. 169 by 142 cm