Throughout history, the Russia-United Kingdom relationship seems to be quite volatile. When there was a greater threat to world peace, they stood shoulder to shoulder, fighting off Napoleon or the German invasions, but there were also times when they were rivals (the Tournament of Shadows) or even at sword’s point (in case of the Crimean war in 1850s and the Cold War). Bearing in mind the casualties of the 20th century, no one would have suspected that the hostility would again be present in 21st century in Europe (the trigger was Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014). However, what history has also managed to repeatedly show us, is that art and literature unite us all, even Russia and United Kingdom. As a part of the cultural exchange project, outstanding portraits created by Russian artists – presenting Russia’s greatest men and women from its golden age of arts (1867-1914) – will be shown to Londoners in the exhibition called Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky.
In honor of the National Portrait Gallery in London and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow – both founded 160 years ago – each gallery will exhibit a collection of portraits of the most significant art geniuses of United Kingdom and Russia. The exhibition in London – Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky – will occur at the same time as the exhibition at the State Tretyakov Gallery – Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Cherished portraits of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rubinstein (along with 21 others), painted by the great Russian artists such as Ivan Kramskoi, Valentin Serov, Vasily Perov and Ilia Repin, will be an arm’s length away from the visitors of the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition will open with the portrait of a merchant named Pavel Tretyakov (painted by Ilia Repin itself), who commissioned or bought a great number of these artworks directly from the artists. In the meantime, citizens of Moscow will have the opportunity to enjoy the portraits of Newton, Dickens, Darwin, Elizabeth I, Wollstonecraft – and at the forefront of the exhibition – the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. Among others, the State Tretyakov Gallery guests will also see the portrait of the National Portrait Gallery founder, Thomas Carlyle.
Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky is bringing to life a period of rising artistic significance of Russia, all the way from the late 1860s until the First World War. This was a period of a brilliant acceleration of Realism (in 1870s and 1880s), which was sequentially gliding through Impressionism and its luminous tones, along with Symbolist expression in its portraits. The so-called Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky created monumental novels, compositions and portraits, which all became a part of the world’s cultural heritage.
Curator Dr Rosalind P. Blakesley, University of Cambridge, chose to present portraits showcasing the development in Russian literature, theatre and music and the influence of the wealthy patrons of this time period. The exhibition of the Russian artists’ portraits also has an objective of introducing the public to the cultural response to the unstable and threatening social and political chaos at the beginning of the 20th century.
As inevitable as reading the Russian classics of literature or listening to the Russian composers’ orchestrations, visiting the exhibition Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky is a sui generis experience for those who have never stepped behind the Iron Curtain. Citizens and visitors of London are offered an opportunity to get inspired by the immortal souls of the most eminent figures of Russia captured in the portraits of the Russian artists. This time-travel to the Imperial Russia will take place from March 17 until June 26, 2016, at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, London. A fully illustrated publication by Dr. Blakesley, including an essay by Tatiana Karpova, Deputy Director on Scientific Affairs at the State Tretyakov Gallery, will be a faithful companion to the exhibition.
All images courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery.
Featured images: Valentin Serov - Ivan Morozov, Tempera on cardboard, 1910; Valentin Serov - Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Oil on canvas, 1898; Valentin Serov - In the Summer, Oil on canvas, 1985; Left: Valentin Serov - Maria Ermolova, Oil on canvas, 1905/ Right: Ilia Repin - Vladimir Stasov at His Dacha in the Village of Starozhilovka near Pargolovo, Oil on canvas, 1889-90; Left: Ilia Repin - Sophie Menter, Oil on canvas, 1887/ Right: Ilia Repin - Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt, Oil on canvas, 1889; Left: Ilia Repin - Anton Rubinstein, Oil on canvas, 1881/ Right: Ivan Kramskoi - The Actor Aleksander Lensky in the role of Petruchio in Shakespeare's “The Taming of the Shrew”, Oil on canvas, 1883; Left: Nikolai Ge - Alexander Herzen, Oil on canvas, 1867/ Right: Ilia Repin - Aleksei Pisemsky, Oil on canvas, 1880; Left: Vasily Perov - Vladimir Dal, Oil on canvas, 1872/ Right: Nikolai Iaroshenko - Pelageia Strepetova, Oil on canvas, 1884; Left: Vasily Perov - Alexander Ostrovsky, Oil on canvas, 1871/ Right: Ilia Repin - Ivan Turgenev, Oil on canvas, 1874; Left: Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia - Nikolai Gumilev, Oil on canvas, 1909/ Right: Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia - Anna Akhmatova, Oil on canvas, 1914; Left: Mikhail Vrubel - Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel, Oil on canvas, 1898/ Right: Konstantin Korovin - Fedor Shaliapin, Oil on canvas, 1905; Ilia Repin - Pavel Tretyakov, Oil on canvas, 1901.
London, United Kingdom