Arts

The most important exhibition of Russian portraits ever to take place at the National Portrait Gallery in London

The most important exhibition of Russian portraits ever to take place at the National Portrait Gallery in London
Yareah Magazine

The most important exhibition of Russian portraits ever to take place at a British museum, opens at the National Portrait Gallery, London, on March 17 2016, as part of an unprecedented cultural exchange with Moscow.

Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia, 1914 © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia, 1914 © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

26 celebrated portraits of key figures from a golden age of the arts in Russia, 1867-1914, can be seen together in Britain for the first time – 22 of them have never previously been seen in the United Kingdom.

They come from Moscow’s prestigious State Tretyakov Gallery which will simultaneously display a selection of portraits of famous Britons from the National Portrait Gallery.

To mark the 160th Anniversary year of the foundation of both galleries, Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (17 March–26 June 2016) coincides with the exhibition Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery at the State Tretyakov Gallery (21 April-24 July 2016).

Celebrating the remits of both galleries to put together a collection of portraits of each country’s most eminent and influential figures, the State Tretyakov Gallery has loaned to London some of Russia’s most highly treasured portraits including those ofAkhmatova, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev.

The paintings are by some of the greatest Russian artists of the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Nikolai Ge, Ivan Kramskoy, Vasily Perov, Ilia Repin, Valentin Serov and Mikhail Vrubel. The majority of the portraits were bought or commissioned directly from the artists by Pavel Tretyakov, a merchant, philanthropist and the founder of the StateTretyakov Gallery, whose own portrait by Repin opens the exhibition.

Among the loans from the National Portrait Gallery to the State Tretyakov Gallery are portraits of Dickens, Newton, Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth I, Cromwell, Darwin and one of its founders, Thomas Carlyle, together with the first picture to enter its collection, theChandos portrait of Shakespeare.

Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky features works that are the pride of the Tretyakov Gallery and an integral part of its permanent display, rarely if ever leaving the gallery’s walls. These icons of Russian culture include Perov’sportrait of Dostoevsky, a work of exceptional historic and artistic value and the only portrait of the writer painted from life. Tolstoy is shown in the study of his Moscow home at work on the manuscript of his philosophical treatise What I Believe while Mussorgsky was painted just a few days before his death in a St Petersburg hospital at the age of forty-two.

Other highlights include Serov’s monumental portrait of the dramatic actress Maria Ermolova, painted over the course of 32 sittings, and Repin’s painting of the brilliant and independent literary salon host, Baroness Ikskul von Hildenbrandt. Serov’s portrait of Ivan Morozov depicts the Russian merchant and patron against the backdrop of Matisse’s Fruit and Bronze, a painting thatMorozov had just acquired and became a centrepiece of his world-class collection of modern French art.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘These two exhibitions in London and Moscow form an important act of cultural exchange for both institutions. Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky at the National Portrait Gallery surveys an extraordinary period of vibrancy in Russia’s cultural life during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These portraits of writers, composers, musicians and actors, together with their more flamboyant patrons, come together for the most ambitious exhibition of Russian portraiture ever to take place in a British museum. Painted by outstanding artists of the period, these commissions constitute Russia’s first and most significant national portrait collection. The generous support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation has helped to make this exhibition possible.’

Zelfira Tregulova, General Director of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, says: ‘Russia and the Arts in London and From Elizabeth to Victoria in Moscow are two parts of a joint Russian-British project that signal the start of a bright new chapter in the history of cultural cooperation between our two countries. There is strong evidence to suggest that when he conceived his collection of portraits Tretyakov, who often visited London on business matters, drew on his experience of the National Portrait Gallery. We are certain that our projects with the Gallery today will form the basis of a long-standing relationship, and that we will have the opportunity to broaden the perceptions of both British and Russian audiences about the character of cherished figures in each country.’

Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky explores how Russian portraiture enjoyed a golden age between the late 1860s and the First World War. While Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were publishing novels such as Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov and Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov were taking Russian music to new heights, Russian art of the period was developing a new self-confidence. Visitors will be able to see how the penetrating Realism of the 1870s and 1880s was later complemented by the brighter hues of Russian Impressionism and the bold, faceted forms of Symbolist painting.

Taking the 1860s as a starting point, when a distinct Russian school of painting was widely recognised for the first time, curator Dr Rosalind P. Blakesley, Reader in Russian and European Art, University of Cambridge, has selected portraits which show developments in theatre and music, the inventiveness of Russian literature, and the powerful voices of wealthy patrons.

Staged in the lead up to the centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the exhibition also includes a major group of portraits which explore the advent of Russian impressionism and Symbolism, creative responses to political turmoil and social unrest in the early twentieth century, and the increasing stylisation of figurative painting in the twilight of imperial rule.

Dr Rosalind P. Blakesley, Curator of Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, says: ‘Compared to the work of the Russian avant-garde, Russia’s extraordinary artistic traditions of earlier periods remain relatively unknown abroad. This exhibition provides an unprecedented opportunity to appreciate the excitements of Russian Realism, Impressionism, and Symbolism through the portraits of some of Russia’s most creative figures. These include cherished national treasures, from Repin’sportrait of Mussorgsky on his deathbed to the only portrait of Dostoevsky painted from life, and illuminate Russia’s exceptional cultural life in the closing decades of Imperial rule.’

Tatiana Karpova, Deputy Director on Scientific Affairs at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, says: ‘To show in the National Portrait Gallery, London, the highest achievements of Russian portraiture of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century was my long-time dream. The portrait was always one of the strongest points of the Russian painting school and those presented at the exhibition are a concentrated expression of the ideal Russian identity of the time’.

Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky at the National Portrait Gallery is curated by Dr Rosalind P. Blakesley, Reader in Russian and European Art, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. She has written widely on Russian art and on the Arts and Crafts Movement and is a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery at the State Tretyakov Galleryis curated by Tatiana Karpova who is an expert in Russian fine arts from the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. She is the author of more than eighty publications, including the monographs Sense of the Person: The Russian portrait of the second half of nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century, Ivan Kramskoy, Nikolay Ge, Heinrich Siemiradzki; and curator of many exhibition projects in Russia and Europe.

RUSSIA AND THE ARTS: THE AGE OF TOLSTOY AND TCHAIKOVSKY.

17 March -26 June 2016, National Portrait Gallery, London www.npg.org.uk.

With the generous support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

With support from the Russia & the Arts Exhibition Supporters Group including Sophia Contemporary Gallery, Tsukanov Family Foundation and AVC Charity Foundation.

Spring Season Sponsor Herbert Smith Freehills.

Tickets with donation: Full price £6 / Concessions £5.

Tickets without donation Full price £5/ Concessions £4 (Free for Members and Patrons.)

www.npg.org.uk/russia

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