Tretyakov Gallery History

A little over a hundred years ago - on 31 August (Old Style) 1892, to be precise - the noted Moscow collector, merchant and industrialist Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov (1832-1898) approached the Moscow municipal duma (council) with the proposal for the city to accept his picture gallery as a gift. This already celebrated collection comprised 1,287 paintings, 518 drawings and nine sculptures by Russian eighteenth and nineteenth century artists, as well as 75 paintings, eight drawings and five statuettes by European artists that had belonged to Tretyakov's brother Sergei Mikhailovich, a former mayor of Moscow and another noted art collector. The duma accepted Tretyakov's priceless gift with gratitude. Thus history of the State Tretyakov Gallery as a public museum began, and no other institution of the kind enjoys such general recognition and affection among the Russian public.

The establishment date of the Tretyakov Gallery is generally considered to be the year 1856. It was then that the young Pavel Tretyakov acquired his first paintings by contemporary Russian artists and set himself the goal of forming a collection that could in the future develop into a museum of national art. No such museum existed in Russia at that time.

The overwhelming majority of paintings by Russian artists were dispersed among numerous private collections; a few - the most famous and officially acceptable found their way into the Imperial Hermitage and the museum of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Among the private Moscow and st. Petersburg collections in the 1840s and 1850s there were some that could make a museum of national art (those of Pavel Svinyin and Fiodor Pryanishnikov among others) but failed to realize that potential. They proved short-lived and were broken up on the death, or more often the bankruptcy, of their owners. Tretyakov alone succeeded in turning a private collection into a true museum of significance for the whole nation, public in spirit and historical in character. This astonishing achievement was to a large degree rendered possible by distinctive traits in Tretyakov's character, his pragmatic efficiency, his personal integrity, in conjunction with the unprecedented rise in national self awareness that occurred in Russian public life in the years around 1860. By the early 1860s Tretyakov's collection comprised several dozen paintings, not only by contemporaries, but also by artists of the previous decades. The collector's attention was particularly directed towards the nascent realist tendency. "I do not need rich nature, nor splendid composition or striking lighting, no wonders of any kind, he wrote in the late 1850s. "Give me a dirty puddle, if you like, but let there be truth in it, poetry, and poetry can be in anything: that is the artist's business". This understanding of aesthetics naturally brought Tretyakov in the late 1860s into close contact with the large group of realist artists who a little later would form the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, the largest association of its kind in the whole history of pre-revolutionary Russian art. From the first exhibition in 1871, Tretyakov became the main purchaser of paintings by the Itinerants, doing both the individual artists and the whole of Russian art an inestimable service. Subsequently Ilya Repin, one of the leading figures in the Itinerant movement, would remark: "Tretyakov ... alone carried on his shoulders the issue of the existence of a whole Russian school of painting". The support was mutual, however. Appreciating Tretyakov's noble intentions the artists quite often gave him preferential treatment, not selling their paintings until the great collector had seen them and expressed his opinion. The range of Tretyakov's collecting activities, and the scope of his interest, was truly astonishing. Each year at exhibitions and directly from studios, he bought several dozen works, on occasion as many as a hundred, at extremely large expenses, regardless of all his respect for money, if his adopted cause demanded it. Tretyakov bought, despite the disdain of the critics and the disapproval of the censors, notable instances being Perov's Easter Procession in the Countryside and Repin's Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan. He was purchasing, even if certain aspects of the painting clashed with his own views but were in harmony with the spirit of the times, as was the case with Repin's Religious Procession in Kursk Province, while he was not entirely happy with its social incisiveness. At first, Tretyakov's acquisitions were all placed in his own home on Lavrushinsky Lane, in the quiet Zamoskvorechye district of Moscow. As the 1860s came to an end, however, there were already so many paintings, that it was impossible to hang them all in the rooms. In 1872 it was decided to construct a special gallery adjoining the house and in the spring of 1874 the paintings were moved into the new two-story building consisting of two large halls. Yet the rapidly growing collection soon demanded larger premises than provided by new construction.

By the late 1880s the museum already contained more than twenty rooms. With the creation of a Purpose built gallery, Tretyakov's collection acquired the status of a real museum, privately owned but public in character, a museum with no entry charge, open almost every day of the week for anyone who wanted to visit, regardless of birth or title. In 1892 Tretyakov presented his museum to the city of Moscow. The city duma, now the legal owner of the gallery, appointed Pavel Tretyakov as its curator for life.

After Tretyakov's death, the gallery's affairs were managed by a board selected by the duma. It included prominent Moscow artists and collectors Valentin Serov, Ilya Ostroukhov, Ivan Tsvetkov and Igor Grabar. For almost 15 years (from 1899 to early 1913) one invariable member of the board was Tretyakov's daughter Alexandra Pavlovna Botkina, who later wrote a valuable book of reminiscences about her father and the story of the gallery he created. In 1899-1900 Tretyakov's now vacant house in Lavrushinsky Lane, which adjoined the gallery, was converted to serve the needs of the museum. In 1901-02 the whole complex was united by a new facade, designed by the artist Viktor Vasnetsov. It turned the Tretyakov Gallery into a highly distinctive piece of architecture that still stands out among the sights of Moscow today. In the early twentieth century the Tretyakov Gallery became one of the largest museums not only in Russia, but in the whole of Europe. It was actively engaged in the acquisition of both modern and early Russian art.

A new period in the history of the Tretyakov Gallery began in the late 1910s and early 1920s. It was marked first and foremost by the rapid growth of the collection. The nationalization of private collections and the centralization of stocks from different museums meant that in the first decade after the revolution the number of exhibits in the gallery increased more than five times. It absorbed a number of minor Moscow museums: the Tsvetkov Gallery, the Ostroukhov Museum of Icons and Painting, part of the stocks of the Moscow Rumyantsev and Public Museums.

In the following half century the Tretyakov Gallery developed into not only an immense museum known around the world, but also a major centre of learning engaged in the preservation, restoration and study of its treasures, as well as increasing public awareness of them.

The Tretyakov Gallery can boast one of the richest specialized libraries in Russia, numbering over 200,000 volumes on art, a unique collection of photographs and slides on Russian art, and extensive state of the art restoration facilities.

In the 1980s, the Tretyakov Gallery embarked on a program of reconstruction and expansion. In 1985 the building of a new depository wing began that includes extensive storage premises for various forms of art and restoration workshops. It was followed in 1989 by the "Engineering Wing" that included exhibition rooms, lecture and conference halls, a children's studio, computer data and support services. The reconstruction of the main building, started in 1986, was completed in 1994. Through the restoration period a new conception of the gallery formed as a single museum existing on two main sites: Lavrushinsky Lane, where works from the earlier times to the pre-revolutionary years are displayed and stored, and the building on Krymsky Val, where the exhibition area is to be devoted to the art of the twentieth century. The process of restoring the gallery building on Lavrushinsky Lane also breathed new life into other architectural and historical monuments in the immediate vicinity, such as the sixteenth to nineteenth century Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi that has become the museum's church as well as a church museum, and the eighteen-and nineteen-century buildings on Lavrushinsky Lane that also house additional exhibitions.

Today the Tretyakov Gallery is home to over 100,000 works of art divided up on a historical basis into a number of sections: early Russian art from the tenth to seventeenth centuries icons, sculpture, small-scale plastic art, applied art; painting of the eighteenth century and the first half of the gallery's collection of early Russian art is among the most outstanding in the world for both the quantity and quality of the works it contains. The most valuable part of the Tretyakov Gallery's early Russian stocks are the icons of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries - the oldest, pre-Mongol period in the history of Russian culture. These include Our Lady of Vladimir, the Ustiug Annunciation, Our Lady of Tolg, and St. Demetrius of Salonica. Some, notably, Our Lady of Vladimir, were brought to Kievan Rus from Byzantium, while researchers associate others with the emergence of native Russian artistic schools. It must be reckoned a miracle that through all the tragic twists and turns of history these divinely inspired, but exceptionally vulnerable creations of human genius have come down to us today.

Tretyakov Galllery XV –XV century collection

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Principality of Moscow became the greatest centre of early Russian art. It flourished thanks to the contribution of such outstanding artists as Theophanes the Greek (a native of Byzantium), Andrei Rublev and Dionysius. Their names became legendary and have thus survived. Andrei Rublev was without exaggeration the most celebrated painter in Old Russia. His name was recorded several times in the chronicles. His manner of painting was particularly admired and reckoned the best as far back as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Like any great artist, in his work Rublev managed not only to attain a high degree of perfection and spirituality, but also to express the greatest ideals of contemporary society. His famous Trinity, dedicated to the memory of the great proponent of the union of the Russian lands St. Sergius of Radonezh, became a visible symbol of the ideals of spiritual unity, all embracing love and preparedness for self-sacrifice. After the turn of the eighteenth century, with the reign of Peter the Great, Russian art shifted away from its hitherto almost exclusively religious nature and became quite clearly secular in character.

Tretyakov Gallery – 18-19th century collection

The greatest achievements in eighteenth century Russian painting came in portraiture. The reasons lay not only in the general tendencies in European painting at that time, shaped by the flourishing portraiture of France and England, but also in the special attraction this sphere of art held for Russian painters who were always keenly interested in the character and personalities of their contemporaries. The portraitists Fyodor Rokotov, Dmitry Levitsky and Vladimir Borovikovsky represent the glory of Russian eighteenth-century art.

The first works by Russian eighteenth century portrait painters already appeared in the gallery in the time of Tretyakov and his successors, but the collection as we find it today was mainly the product of the post-revolution years, when noble estates were broken up and artistic heirlooms were appearing on the market in great numbers.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Russian artistic school had acquired a considerable degree of strength and maturity. It already had its own traditions and its finest representatives directed their efforts towards reinforcing and developing them. As before, much attention was devoted to portraiture. The first half of the nineteenth century produced a number of outstanding portraitists. In the works of Orest Kiprensky, Karl Bryullov and Vasily Tropinin established realistic approach is coupled with and spiritually enriched by Romantic strivings. At the same time a national school of landscape painting emerged and rapidly developed.

Two figures of fundamental greatness stand out from the background of Russian art in the first half of the nineteenth century - Karl Bryullov and Alexander Ivanov. Both were pupils of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, perhaps its finest graduates, yet both have gone down in the history of art as reformers of the academic system that produced them. Their best known works are compositions on an enormous scale. The Last Day of Pompeii (1833, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg) for Bryullov, The Appearance of Christ to the People (1837-57, Tretyakov Gallery) for Ivanov. The starting point for each of the artists was the attempt to depict some historical event in such a way as to pose and resolve a number of important issues in human existence. Ivanov's Appearance of Christ to the People is a depiction not so much of the miracle of God appearing to Man, as the miracle of the moral transformation of people over the widest range of social standing and spiritual development - from the slave with a rope around his neck who is barely aware of his human potential, to John the Baptist, a prophet elevated to the heights of spirituality. This painting, on which Ivanov worked for more than twenty years, was a true feat by a great artist, giving meaning and justification of his difficult life as a whole. The canvas came into the Tretyakov Gallery in 1925, following the reorganization of the Moscow Rumyantsev Museum and the Public Museum in Moscow. In the first thirty years of the nineteenth century, a new tendency formed in Russian painting, expressing itself in the artists' continually growing interest in depicting events in contemporary national life and producing images of representatives of "the lower orders" - artisans and peasants. The founders of this tendency were Alexei Venetsianov, who was the first in Russian art to sing the praises of peasant life and labor, and Vasily Tropinin, who created a number of poetic images, which are not, however, without a grain of sentimentality.

Their younger contemporary Pavel Fedotov introduced a critical note into Russian Realist painting. Fedotov was a born genre painter with a superb grasp of the specific nature of that field of artistic endeavor.

Tretyakov Gallery – Second half of the 19th century art collection

The second half of the nineteenth century is represented particularly comprehensively in the Tretyakov Gallery with the finest creations of the period forming the core of the whole collection. This section, created in Tretyakov's lifetime, bears the traces of the truly phenomenal scope of his collecting activities. Here we can find almost all of the in any way-notable artists of the day, almost invariably represented by their most interesting and significant works. The expansion of this section after Tretyakov's death was through the acquisition of paintings that the founder could not purchase due to mere chance or force of circumstances, or else of sketches and studies that lay outside his sphere of interest.

This era in Russian art was distinguished by a realism that devoted particular attention to the depiction of the nation's social existence. The greatest exponent of Russian critical realism in its initial stage, the 1860s, was Vasily Perov. In his paintings the realities of Russian life were presented with such genuine sympathy for the ordinary individual that the artist can stand comparison with his greatest literary contemporaries - the poet Nikolai Nekrasov, the dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky and the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In the words of fellow-artist Ivan Kramskoy, "indignation at evil" was the chief element of Perov's emotional attitude.

The greatest achievements of Russian painting in the 1870s are associated with the work of the artists belonging to the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions. The formation of this society was an event of major historical importance in Russian culture, marking the beginning of a new era in the nation's artistic evolution. As we read in its constitution, the Society saw its main goal as being "the development of a love of art in society". The Itinerants enormously enlarged the audience for Russian art by bringing in much of the provincial population, and so earned general recognition and ardent public support for its activities.

One of the founders of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, its inspirer and ideological leader, was the outstanding portraitist Ivan Kramskoy. Questions of a lofty ethical nature, thoughts on the interaction of the personal and the public in a person's life became the chief object of this artist's attention and his Christ in the Wilderness is not so much a historical or religious work as an "essay" in moral philosophy.

Landscape painting developed in an interesting way in the second half of the nineteenth century. It can be said to have held a true fascination for the at evil" was the chief element of Perov's emotional attitude.

The greatest achievements of Russian painting in the 1870s are associated with the work of the artists belonging to the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions. The formation of this society was an event of major historical importance in Russian culture, marking the beginning of a new era in the nation's artistic evolution. As we read in its constitution, the Society saw its main goal as being "the development of a love of art in society". The Itinerants enormously enlarged the audience for Russian art by bringing in much of the provincial population, and so earned general recognition and ardent public support for its activities.

One of the founders of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, its inspirer and ideological leader, was the outstanding portraitist Ivan Kramskoy. Questions of a lofty ethical nature, thoughts on the interaction of the personal and the public in a person's life became the chief object of this artist's attention and his Christ in the Wilderness is not so much a historical or religious work as an "essay" in moral philosophy.

Landscape painting developed in an interesting way in the second half of the nineteenth century. It can be said to have held a true fascination for the artists of the period, including such well known names as Alexei Savrasov, Fyodor Vasiliev, Ivan Shishkin, Vasily Polenov, Arkhip Kuinji and Isaak Levitan. They were engaged in "getting to know" their native countryside, a process closely bound up with the discovery of the life of the common people that characterized Russian culture across the board in that period.

Ilya Repin, an artist with an exceptional gift for painting, was, arguably, the most talented of the Itinerants. Keenly aware of the impulses of life around him, he created the best works on the theme of contemporary Russian reality, including such true social epics as Barge Haulers on the Volga and A Religious Procession in Kursk Province. A number of Repin's genre paintings (They Didn't Expect Him) are devoted to the life of the populist intelligentsia, for whose revolutionary struggle the artist had a genuine sympathy. Repin also produced several large historical compositions in some of which he strove to bring out dramatic aspects of the past (Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan), in others to show the Russian rebellious spirit, free outlaws as the brightest elements in the national character (The Zaporozhue Cossacks). Repin's favorite genre was, however, probably the portrait.

In contrast to Repin, an artist inextricably linked to the present day, Vasily Surikov was above all a "historian", the greatest Russian historical painter. He was especially drawn to times of violent, abrupt change in the nation's past. The finest of Surikov's works are devoted to the events of the eighteenth century, a time of "many mutinies" and mass popular movements. Among the leading figures of Russian painting in the last third of the nineteenth century mention should be made, alongside Repin and Surikov, of Viktor Vasnetsov and Nikolai Ghe. Vasnetsov emerged in the late 1870s and early 1880s as the “arouser of interest" in Russian folklore. In his paintings he recreated the images of fairy tales and heroic legends (Alyonushka, The Bogatyrs). Past events and historical figures are presented in Vasnetsov's works in the way they survived in popular memory.

A special place in the history of Russian art in the second half of the nineteenth century is occupied by the work of the battle-painter Vasily Vereshchagin. He was probably the only major artist not to join the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, but like the Itinerants, he was driven by a shared interest in the life of the masses. He saw his task as being to reveal the truth of war to people "through the medium of paints", exposing it as "a disgusting, baleful, colossal evil", an expression of barbarism and a threat to civilization (The Apotheosis of War).

In the late 1880s and early 1890s a large group of young, talented artists appeared on the scene - Abram Arkhipov, Mikhail Vrubel, Konstantm and Sergei Korovin, Mikhail Nesterov, Valentin Serov and others. All, or almost all, were pupils of the older Itinerant artists and, as it were, direct continuers of their realistic traditions. At the same time, however, tasks of an aesthetic nature tended increasingly to supplant the social aims that had so much concerned Russian artists of preceding generations. The greatest of these new artists were Konstantin Korovin, Serov and Vrubel. They are noted as inexhaustible seekers after new "untravelled" paths in art.

Probably the most original figure in Russian art at the turn of the century was Mikhail Vrubel. He was a symbolist artist and, like the majority of his fellows in European painting at that time, he expressed symbolic ideas in the stylistic forms that in Russia became known as Modern, a variation on the European Art Nouveau or Sezession. Vrubel often tackled fantastic subjects in his art: he was moved by the images of the Demon, the proud spirit of evil, or Pan, the mysterious spirit of the woods, or the fabulous Swan-Princess.

Tretyakov Gallery -XX century collection

In the early 1900s radical changes took place in Russian art. The Itinerant movement reached a crisis, and with it the classical Russian realism. The whole mode of Russian public life changed substantially. The former social ideals that nourished art had exhausted themselves. A revelatory, analytical approach to reality no longer accorded with the new requirements. With life developing at a rapid and threatening pace, art was called upon not only to analyze, but also to foresee and anticipate the future. The structure of Russian artistic life grew more complex and it lost its previous integrity.

The art of this period is represented in the Tretyakov Gallery to a fairly full and varied extent. Here we can find very characteristic paintings and graphic works by the group, highly influential at the beginning of the twentieth century that formed around the periodical called World of Art (Mir Iskusstva): Alexander Benois, Konstantin Somov, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Yevgeny Lancere, Zinaida Serebryakova, Igor Grabar, Nikolai Roerich and Nikolai Sapunov. Still Life: Vases, Flowers and Fruit. 1907 others who displayed a refined conception of style and a retrospective interest in European and Russian culture; the Blue Rose association and the closely related Golden Fleece - Pavel Kuznetsov, Martiros Saryan, Nikolai Krymov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and others who advocated, at least in their early work, the principles of poetic symbolism introduced into Russian painting by Viktor Borisov-Musatov. An acquaintance with the Tretyakov Gallery will remain incomplete without the awareness that, besides the great buildings on Lavrushinsky Lane and Krymsky Val, it also includes small museums devoted to the artists Apollinary and Viktor Vasnetsov, Anna Golubkina, Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov.

The Tretyakov Gallery is a whole world of beauty to which people come not only to learn more about art, but also to escape from their everyday worries.

THE STATE TRETYAKOV GALLERY
Editor-in-chief: L.I. Iovleva

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