Sergei Diaghilev and the Tretyakov Gallery

Yelena Terkel

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#3 2009 (24)

Sergei Diaghilev, whose aim was to popularize Russian art, looked up to the selfless enthusiast Pavel Tretyakov, who devoted his whole life to collecting Russian art. From the very start Tretyakov inspired in Diaghilev a great respect. In 1901 Diaghilev wrote in an article “On Russian Museums”: “Studying the superb collection of the Moscow gallery, one can easily notice that Tretyakov, for all his sensitivity and fondness of his creation, nevertheless belonged to a certain time... He felt it was his duty to showcase all of Russian art... Thus, his collection is an amazingly comprehensive journal spanning 30 years of his life as a collector.”[1]

Tretyakov was quite interested in new art trends, something which more conservative art figures criticized him for. He sympathetically responded to the idea to publish a magazine and arrange exhibitions, put forward by the young artists close to Sergei Diaghilev and Alexander Benois. When Diaghilev, in January 1898, put together a show of Russian and Finnish artists, Pavel Tretyakov bought the following works: Valentin Serov’s “Little Pool”[2], Alexander Benois’ “Cemetery”[3], Konstantin Somov’s “In the Dusk”[4], Maria Yakunchikova’s “Autumn”[5], and Sergei Malyutin’s illustrations to Pushkin’s “Tale of Tsar Saltan”[6]. This is reflected in Diaghilev’s letter from March of the same year to Pavel Tretyakov: “The paintings you purchased were dispatched to Moscow long ago[7].”

Nevertheless, Diaghilev believed that “Tretyakov felt no enthusiasm for the new art either... He was no admirer of this art. Vrubel intrigued him, Korovin inspired a half-hearted enthusiasm, and when he bought a Benois or a Somov, he did it more for ‘conscience’s sake’ than for anything else.”[8] Yet, Tretyakov placed great hopes on the new art magazine — the brainchild of Diaghilev and his friends. Whenever Diaghilev wanted to have images of artwork in Tretyakov’s possession printed in the magazine, his requests were granted (Tretyakov allowed permission to photograph the pieces and publish the pictures). The Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department keeps Diaghilev’s letters to Tretyakov[9] discussing the prospects of publishing in the magazine prints of certain artwork; in addition to Tretyakov’s permission, Diaghilev also had to solicit consent of their creators.

Regrettably, the first issue of the “World of Art” magazine disappointed Tretyakov, which is evident from his letter to his son-in-law Sergei Botkin of November 18 1898: “My dear Seryozha, you have surely received the first issue of Diaghilev’s magazine; I haven’t, but I saw it. Oh my, I don’t know who is worse — Sobko[10] or Diaghilev... To use a vulgar phrase, either one shot at a pool of mud! What a mess! [in Sobko’s magazine], I had nothing to expect, and [in Diaghilev’s magazine], I’ve found something I wasn’t expecting altogether! So bad, so bad!”[11] Tretyakov, while pointing to good qualities of the magazine, criticized the disorderliness of the content and presentation, and a lack of logic in the layout.

Sadly, Pavel Tretyakov did not live to see a second issue of the “World of Art” magazine; little by little the young publisher gained experience, and the selection of articles and illustrations became more apt. Moreover, in 1903 a separate publication of the “Chronicles of the ‘World of Art’” was launched, relieving the “World of Art” proper of the necessity to publish articles of short-term importance — the sort of items Tretyakov did not favour (along with commercial advertisements), saying that “the tailpiece of the issue, with different advertisements, is much worse and less taste-ful”[12] than that of the “Art and Art Industry” magazine. Advertisements, however, continued to be published in the magazine all along, including one in 1904 about subscription to the publication “Moscow City Art Gallery of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov” (with editing and explanatory notes by Ilya Ostroukhov and Sergei Glagol)[13].

On December 4 1898 Pavel Tretyakov died. Diaghilev deeply mourned the loss. He instantly thought about immortalizing the great collector of Russian art in the “World of Art” magazine, and wrote about his plans to Ilya Ostroukhov as soon as December 6: “I have something important to ask of you — you cannot, you ‘would not dare’ to turn me down: not for my sake, of course, but for the sake of the cause at the heart of my request: please, take the pen right now and write for us an article about Pavel Tretyakov... Dear friend, you cannot say me nay, it is your immediate duty vis-avis Tretyakov...”[14]

Ostroukhov responded with an article[15] and sent to the magazine authentic photos of Pavel Tretyakov, which is reflected in Dmitry Philosophov’s grateful letter to Ostroukhov: “Today the magazine received two photographs of Pavel amidst your family members, which you sent. Diaghilev has not returned from Paris yet, so it fell to me to express, on behalf of the editors, deep appreciation for your gift... For as long as the ‘World of Art’ is published, the editors will forever remember, proudly and gratefully, that you, the closest associate of Pavel [Tretyakov], deemed them deserving of keeping the deceased’s portrait in their office.”[16]

Tretyakov’s death did not put an end to Diaghilev’s relationship with the Tretyakov Gallery. Diaghilev kept thinking about publishing a major article about the Gallery, a venture that would require gathering considerable material, including illustrations. It was decided that the story would cover the expansion and remodeling of the Gallery’s building and be illustrated with the picture of a new fagade designed by Viktor Vasnetsov. After the death of Pavel Tretyakov and his wife Vera Nikolaevna (who died in March 1899) no one lived in their home, and it was decided to build an extra storey on to the house, and to refurbish and connect it with the main edifice. Simultaneously it was planned to make a new fagade for the Gallery, uniting the two buildings. The design was commissioned to Vasnetsov, who, on August 10 1900, submitted the outline to the Gallery Board; the draft was approved and recommended to the Moscow City Council (Gorodskaya Duma).

Eager to have the renovations covered in the “World of Art”, Diaghilev exchanged letters with Vasnetsov and Ostroukhov. Diaghilev wrote to the latter in July 1900: “Thank you for the interesting information about the Gallery. Now I have something to ask of you: may I run in the “World of Art” a picture of Vasnetsov’s facade? That would be very important and interesting. Besides, I hope you have not forgotten your promise to send us a brief article about the renovations in the Gallery. This article should be placed alongside the picture of the facade.”[17]

Vasnetsov liked the idea and agreed to send his drawing[18]. As for Ostroukhov, it took him a long while to write about the Tretyakov Gallery. Diaghilev, impatient to run the story, asked Ilya Ostroukhov to visit the magazine’s office with his manuscript about the Gallery: “If you have some time to spare for a visit to the office at about 5 pm, you will meet there Philosophov and other editors, who will be not only happy to see you but also eager to read your manuscript”[19]. Finally, the issue 21/22 ran a brief article (anonymous) about the remodeling of the building. A special emphasis was put on the fact that the renovated building would have a room (“hall”) dedicated to Pavel Tretyakov: “The room will feature the late Tretyakov’s portraits and bust statues, as well as different objects in some way or another related to his public activities. This room will be linked to the one, in the former building, where the works of old Russian masters, arranged chronologically, are kept. Thus, in accord with the concept of the Gallery’s late owner, the visitors will tour the museum according to an elaborate plan.”[20]

The rest of the material about the Gallery was ultimately handed by Ostroukhov to the “World of Art” editors, and he apprised Botkina of this in October 1904: “Philosophov took from me all of the stuff; he writes a very big article about the goings-on in the Gallery...”[21]. Philosophov regularly wrote about the Gallery for the “Chronicles of the ‘World of Art’ magazine”[22], championing the views of the progressives on the Gallery board (Ilya Ostroukhov, Anna Botkina, Valentin Serov). However, at a new election of the board, which took place in June 1903, Ostroukhov was voted down, with a member of the municipal council Nikolai Vishnyakov appointed in his stead. Diaghilev wrote to Ostroukhov a sympathetic letter expressing his concern about the Gallery’s future: “...Just now I happen to have a minute to spare to write to you and tell how sad I am over the news about your defeat. The whole enterprise has been put at risk now. What to wish for? How to find a way out of the morass and rescue the enterprise that is bound to sink without you. For it takes one year to corrupt the Gallery, and it will take years and years to set things right. All this in unspeakably sad.”[23]

In early 1903 the Moscow City Council, in charge of the Gallery, set up a commission to study the activities of the Gallery board; the commission deemed it necessary to amend the Regulations on Managing the Municipal Art Gallery of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov. The first issue of the “World of Art” for 1904 ran a brief news item about the plans of the organizing commission for the Tretyakov Gallery’s reorganization and its principles of purchasing art[24]. The seventh issue ran a brief news item about approval of the new draft guidelines for the Gallery’s management: “The main principles — to wit, elective trustee[25] and a five-member composition of the board — were adopted by the City Council”[26]. The “World of Art” 8/9 issue for 1904 covered managerial reorganization of the Tretyakov Gallery, containing a report of the organizing commission on revision of the Regulations on Managing the Municipal Art Gallery of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov, with background information, the text itself of the Regulations (the version in force and the draft), an excerpt from a verbatim report of the City Council’s meeting of January 14 1903, a copy of the open letter of Sergei Tretyakov’s widow Yelena Tretyakova to members of the Moscow City Council published in the “Russkie Vedomosti” newspaper on April 15 1903 and others[27].

Thanks to the magazine editors’ decision to cover managerial reorganization at the Tretyakov Gallery, the information became available to all who were concerned about the Gallery’s future. Konstantin Yuon wrote to Anna Botkina, in November 1904, about his impressions from the magazine’s seventh issue: “On the last pages, the magazine runs ‘Organizing commission’s report on revision of the Tretyakov Gallery’s Charter’, a fairly expansive one; I haven’t yet closely looked at it”[28]. Because the editors did not manage to publish the comprehensive article about the Gallery, they believed it was important to print the above mentioned items: “Even if you run only official, publicly available documents, this will give a fairly good idea of what is going on, culturally and generally. And this will inspire quite a lot of pessimism regarding the role of art and its importance in Russia.”[29]

At the same time Diaghilev continued to participate in purchasing artwork for the museum; this is reflected in his correspondence with Ostroukhov, a Gallery board member at the time, and later the Gallery trustee, and with Pavel Tretyakov’s daughter Alexandra Botkina, also a member of the board. The board regularly bought pictures from the “World of Art” shows. Diaghilev tried to ensure that the Tretyakov Gallery obtained the best works, sometimes by exchange. In March 1902 he wrote to Ostroukhov: “I secured a place at the Gallery for Lansere’s watercolor ‘Barges’[30]; in exchange for the piece, Serg[ei] Serg[eevich][31] agreed to accept as a gift from the magazine three other Lansere’s pictures ‘Views of St.Petersburg’[32]”.

The letters show that for Diaghilev it was equally important to bring to the Gallery both modern and old artwork. Diaghilev wrote about gaps in the museum’s 18th-century art collection in his article “On Russian Museums”: “One finds the most convincing evidence of this shortcoming in the fact that Mr. Tretyakov in his huge gallery allocated just one hall for the entire collection of artwork spanning the period up to the 1850s — 150 prime years of Russian art”[33]. Never one to let matters drift, Diaghilev would never compromise dealing with the Gallery; for years, doing all he could to get hold of the best artwork for the museum, he often found his efforts unsuccessful. The Gallery board, quite diverse in membership[34], often rejected prominent works and bought mediocre ones.

Diaghilev wrote with bitterness in 1901: “I am closely familiar with this commission’s activities and have seen time after time how courageous and dedicated people become weak and insecure whenever the conversation drifted to the issue of buying ‘with other people’s money’ pictures ‘for a public museum’. For the three years it has been around, the commission, instead of buying masterpieces, was buying up little pieces which, while not arising controversy, provide grist to the Gallery’s mill.”[35]

A connoisseur of Dmitry Levitsky’s art, Diaghilev tried to persuade the museum to buy his paintings. As early as in 1901 the magazine ran a notice: “Starting publication of the prints of the famed Russian artist Dmitry Levitsky’s paintings, ‘World of Art’ kindly asks all owners of his works to apprise the magazine (St. Petersburg, 11 Fontanka) of the pictures in their possession”[36]. Some owners not only told about their possessions but also said they were willing to sell them. In May 1902 Diaghilev wrote to Botkina that an opportunity came up to buy two superb portraits by Levitsky[37]. In 1903 he proposed to Ostroukhov to buy for the Gallery one of Levitsky’s and three of Fyodor Rokotov’s portraits[38].

In May 1905 Diaghilev again offered to the Gallery Levitsky’s paintings: “I have been keeping in my apartment two of Levitsky’s pieces for two weeks now... Both portraits are incontestably his and signed.”[39] Diaghilev’s efforts paid off, and the Gallery Board bought Levitsky’s pictures: “Portrait of Vice-Chancellor Prince Alexander Galitzine”, “Portrait of Anna Davia-Bernuzzi”, “Portrait of Pyotr Bakunin, Sr.” and “Portrait of Pyotr Bakunin’s Wife”.

The close cooperation between Diaghilev and the Tretyakov Gallery ended in 1905, practically simultaneously with the end of the “World of Art”. Diaghilev was becoming more and more involved with his projects publicizing Russian art abroad, arranging art exhibitions, classic concerts, and productions of famous ballets and operas. It is hard to underestimate Diaghilev’s importance as a scholar, collector and populariser of Russian art. And one of the areas where his interest in Russian culture manifested itself was his involvement with the Tretyakov Gallery, his eagerness to continue Pavel Tretyakov’s endeavour to create a museum that would represent Russian art in all its diversity, and his desire to study this art. Not accidentally, Diaghilev wrote, in the first volume of “Russian Art of Painting in the 18th Century”[40] (in fact, it was a monograph on Levitsky): “My research in this domain made a modest contribution to the cause of expanding the Tretyakov Gallery collection.”[41]

 

  1. World of Art. 1901. No. 10. Pp. 164-165.
  2. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 1, Item 4447.
  3. Ibid. Item 4446.
  4. Ibid. Item 4445.
  5. Ibid. Item 4444.
  6. Ibid. Items 4442, 4443.
  7. Ibid. Item 1383.
  8. World of Art. 1901. No. 10. P. 165.
  9. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 1, Items 1382, 1384.
  10. Famous art historian, critic and bibliographer Nikolai Sobko (1851-1906) in 1898 became editor of the “Art and Art Industry" magazine, published by the Imperial Society for Encouragement of Artists in 1898-1902.
  11. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 48, Item 931.
  12. Ibidem.
  13. World of Art. Chronicle. 1904. No. 8/9. P. 201.
  14. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 10, Item 2739.
  15. World of Art. 1899. No. 6. Pp. 45-46.
  16. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 10, Item 6526.
  17. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 10, Item 2761.
  18. Ibid. Fund 66, Item 61.
  19. Ibid. Fund 10, Item 2795.
  20. World of Art. 1900. No. 21-22. P. 212.
  21. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 48, Item 350.
  22. World of Art. Chronicle. 1903. No. 1, p. 2-5; No. 9, pp. 86-87; No.15, pp. 74-76, etc.
  23. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 10, Item 2776.
  24. World of Art. Chronicle. 1904. No.1. P. 24.
  25. Ilya Ostroukhov became the first elected trustee - he was voted in in March 1905.
  26. World of Art. Chronicle. 1904. No. 7. P. 144.
  27. Ibid. No. 8/9. Pp. 171-192.
  28. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 48, Item 881.
  29. World of Art. Chronicle. 1904. No. 7. P. 144.
  30. Lansere, Yevgeny. Nikolsky Market in StPetersburg (Barges). 1901. Paper on carton, gouache, coal, colour pencils. 44 x 59 cm. Tretyakov Gallery.
  31. Sergei Sergeevich Botkin
  32. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 10, Item 2771.
  33. World of Art. 1901. No. 10. Pp. 164-165.
  34. After Pavel Tretyakov's death, members of the Gallery Board included the mayor of Moscow, Prince Vladimir Golitzine, the artist Valentin Serov, the artist and collector Ilya Ostroukhov, the collector Ivan Tsvetkov and Pavel Tretyakov's daughter Alexandra Botkina.
  35. World of Art. 1901. No. 10. Pp. 165-166.
  36. Ibid. No. 4. 1901. Pp. 183.
  37. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 48, Item 59.
  38. Ibid. Fund 10, Item 2777.
  39. Ibid. Item 2774.
  40. Diaghilev, Sergei. Russian Art of Painting in the 18th Century. (V. 1. Levitsky, St. Petersburg, 1903).
  41. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscript Department, Fund 10, Item 2777.

Illustrations

Pavel Tretyakov. 1890s
Pavel Tretyakov. 1890s
Tretyakov Gallery
Receipt from the exhibition of Russian and Finnish artists issued to Pavel Tretyakov. January 18 1898
Receipt from the exhibition of Russian and Finnish artists issued to Pavel Tretyakov. January 18 1898
Tretyakov Gallery
Envelope of Diaghilevʼs letter to Pavel Tretyakov
Envelope of Diaghilevʼs letter to Pavel Tretyakov
Tretyakov Gallery
List of paintings from Pavel Tretyakovʼs collection selected by Diaghilev for printing in the “World of Art” magazine
List of paintings from Pavel Tretyakovʼs collection selected by Diaghilev for printing in the “World of Art” magazine
Tretyakov Gallery
Cover of “The World of Art” magazine, 1900, #21– 22
Cover of “The World of Art” magazine, 1900, #21– 22
Cover of “The World of Art” magazine, 1899, # 1
Cover of “The World of Art” magazine, 1899, # 1
Contents, “The World of Art” magazine, 1900, #21– 22
Contents, “The World of Art” magazine, 1900, #21– 22
The Tretyakov familyʼs house in Tolmachy. 1890s
The Tretyakov familyʼs house in Tolmachy. 1890s
Tretyakov Gallery
Envelope of Diaghilevʼs letter to Viktor Vasnetsov. December 2 1898
Envelope of Diaghilevʼs letter to Viktor Vasnetsov. December 2 1898
Tretyakov Gallery
Léon BAKST. Portrait of Diaghilev with his Nanny. 1906. Detail
Léon BAKST. Portrait of Diaghilev with his Nanny. 1906
Detail. Russian Museum
Valentin SEROV. Portrait of Ilya Ostroukhov. 1902
Valentin SEROV. Portrait of Ilya Ostroukhov. 1902
Tretyakov Gallery
Detail of the Tretyakov Gallery facade (drawing by Viktor Vasnetsov) printed in the “World of Art” magazine. 1900. No. 21–22.
Detail of the Tretyakov Gallery facade (drawing by Viktor Vasnetsov) printed in the “World of Art” magazine. 1900. No. 21–22.
18th century paintings on display in Room 2 at the Tretyakov Gallery. 1898
18th century paintings on display in Room 2 at the Tretyakov Gallery. 1898
Tretyakov Gallery
Ilya Ostroukhov, Anna Botkina and Valentin Serov. 1900s
Ilya Ostroukhov, Anna Botkina and Valentin Serov. 1900s
Tretyakov Gallery
Sergei Diaghilev. 1920s
Sergei Diaghilev. 1920s
Photo. Tretyakov Gallery
Diaghilevʼs visiting card with the address of the office of the “World of Art” magazine. Late 1890s – early 1900s
Diaghilevʼs visiting card with the address of the office of the “World of Art” magazine. Late 1890s – early 1900s
Tretyakov Gallery
Cover of the book: Sergei Diaghilev. Russian Painting in the 19th Century. Volume 1. Saint-Peterburg. 1903
Cover of the book: Sergei Diaghilev. Russian Painting in the 19th Century. Volume 1. Saint-Peterburg. 1903

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