The two greatest art galleries in Russia


Moscow: Sunday 19 May

Robert and I visited the Tretyakov Gallery, together with my friend Larissa, whom I had met two years ago when she helped me with some research in Moscow and Noginsk.

I always feel rather frustrated when the Hermitage is held up as the greatest and most famous art gallery in Russia. Of course it is a spectacular collection in a spectacular building – the Winter Palace in St Petersburg – and visitors to that city should certainly go there, if they can bear the crowds, if only to see the extraordinarily opulent interiors. In room after room are paintings and decorative art objects from Western Europe and Asia, but there is very little art of Russian origin on display, apart from military and royal portraits, and archaeological finds.

Perhaps I have become complacent about seeing masterpieces of Western European art, in particular, because we have such rich collections here in London. We are exceptionally lucky to have so many opportunities to look at art. The National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Courtauld Gallery, the Wallace Collection, and many other smaller galleries have permanent collections on show and special exhibitions all year round – so the chance to peer over the shoulders of hordes of tourists at the Hermitage in order to catch a glimpse of a Titian, a Rembrandt or a Monet is not so very enticing to me.

But even in London we rarely have the opportunity to see Russian art – apart from at a few memorable exhibitions in recent years, such as ‘Russian Landscape‘ at the National Gallery in 2004, and ‘From Russia‘ at the Royal Academy in 2008.

So I recommend visitors to Russia to explore the two great collections of Russian art – the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow or the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. Both include works dating from the 12th century to the present day, including icons, genre paintings of the early 19th-century, the works of the Peredvizhniki (‘The Wanderers’), Mir Iskusstva (the ‘World of Art’ group), 20th-century avant-garde artists, such as the Constructivists, and Stalin-era  Socialist Realism. In Moscow the Tretyakov has two principal sites – the main collection being at Lavrushinsky Pereulok (Metro Tretyakovskaya), and 20th-century works at Krymsky Val (opposite the entrance to Gorky Park, Metro Oktyabrskaya or Park Kultury).

I am so grateful to my Finnish friend Hilkka for introducing me to Russian art when we travelled together in 1973 to Leningrad (as St Petersburg was called then) and visited the Russian Museum. I remember she loved the seascapes of Aivasovsky, and I was drawn to the representations of the Russian landscape by Shishkin and Levitan. Here are a few favourite works from the Tretyakov:

and from the Russian Museum:

Via the website you can take a virtual tour of the Tretyakov Gallery, as well as of many other museums and heritage sites in Russia.

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