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Extraordinary Art Collections of Pushkin and Hermitage Now in Two Blockbuster Shows

  • Paul Gauguin - Collecting fruits
  • Pierre Bonnard - Triptych
  • Vincent Van Gogh - Huts
July 13, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Tsarist Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century was a deeply authoritarian society framed by the Orthodox mysticism and strict military hierarchy. However, there was a coherent Inteligencia consisting of prolific writers and artists, able to establish a rich cultural life accessible to the citizens, mostly the bourgeoisie. Among them were the ones who started nurturing their taste in art, specifically the contemporary painting and decided to become influential patrons.

The Morozov and Shchukin families became the leading art collectors who proposed the concept of patronage in the Russian cultural space. They were interested in the local, but even more in the international production with a special focus on the French artists. It can be said that the Morozov brothers and Sergei Shchukin championed the works of the Impressionists and, looking from a contemporary perspective, their collections of modern art are among the finest of the period in global terms.

Both collections were confiscated by the state after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and were divided between the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. In order to retell the fascinating stories of their collecting activity, these institutions decided to present the collections by lending its holdings to each other for the purposes of two coinciding exhibitions titled The Morozov Brothers. Great Russian Collectors and Shchukin. Biography of a Collection.

Henri Rousseau - Jaguar attack on a horse
Henri Rousseau – Jaguar attack on a horse, 1910. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. A.S. Pushkin

The Activity of The Shchukins and The Morozovs

One of these exhibitions traces the history of Sergei Shchukin’s collection through the prism of his personality and his family background, as well as the wider cultural and historical context. The collections of Sergei Shchukin’s brothers Pyotr, Dmitry, and Ivan are displayed alongside each other.

Namely, Sergei Shchukin (1854–1936) was raised in a family of Moscow merchants. Although his brothers collected artworks from their youth, Sergei started forming his own collection at the age of 40, and surely the brothers influenced Sergei’s collecting approach. Sergei Shchukin’s collection reflects the wide range of interests which is typical for Moscow patrons of that time. Some of the first artworks by the Impressionists were acquired by the collector in 1898 and shortly he became saluted as a collector of radical painting. Throughout the twenty-year period, Sergei managed to form one of world’s best collections of the new French paintings.

On the other hand, there was The Morozov family, which had a leading role in the cultural life of Moscow, and among the first ones to introduce people to the latest tendencies in Western art. In the early 19th century, Savva Morozov managed to set up his own workshop and earn enough money to buy freedom for himself and his family, so already by the end of the 19th century, his grandson, also named Savva, became the patron of the Moscow Art Theatre, while his great-grandchildren, Mikhail and Ivan, became notable collectors of new Western painting.

1913 Matisse Hall in the S.I. Shchukin
1913 Matisse Hall in the S.I. Shchukin

The Masterpieces Entwined

The Shchukin exhibition features the works from the collections of the other Shchukin brothers (Pyotr Shchukin collected jewelry, historic relics, applied art, and household items, while Dmitry Shchukin collected works of the old masters, especially the 17th century Dutch paintings and was a great art history expert and a piece of collection of tragically deceased Ivan who was a connoisseur of Paris and Parisian life). The central part will be the reconstruction of the collection of Sergei Shchukin, while a separate hall is dedicated to the collector specific passions.

To be more precise, a number of one hundred and fifty paintings and sculptures from Sergei Shchukin’s collection are on display, including pieces by Henri Matisse (24 artworks), Pablo Picasso (24 artworks), Claude Monet (13 artworks), Paul Gauguin (13 artworks), André Derain (13 artworks),Paul Cézanne (7 artworks), and Henri Rousseau (5 artworks). Among the highlights of the exhibition are Matisse’s iconic painting, Dance, which was originally painted for Shchukin’s mansion in Moscow, and Picasso’s Three Women and Boy with a Dog.

The exhibition focused on the Morozov collection encompasses one hundred and nine artworks from the Hermitage and thirty-one painting from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts that were gathered by Ivan and Mikhail Morozov. Mikhail Morozov was the one who discovered Gauguin and Bonnard and brought the first van Gogh painting to Russia, while his brother Ivan formed a unique ensemble of Gauguin’s canvases and commissioned Maurice Denis to produce an unprecedented decoration for his Music Salon.

On display are celebrated masterpieces by Cézanne, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso. The installment also includes decorative ensembles by Post-Impressionist artists and the founders of the “Nabis” group such as Maurice Denis’s Story of Psyche cycle and Pierre Bonnard’s Mediterranean triptych and. Ivan Morozov’s White Hall, a room for which the Psyche cycle was commissioned in 1907, is reconstructed specially for the exhibition.

Henri Matisse - Fruits
Henri Matisse – Fruits, flowers and panels “Dance”, France, 1909. Oil on canvas, 89,5 x 117,5 cm. Copyrights: © Succession H. Matisse

The Shchukin And The Morozov Collection On View

These two exceptional exhibitions of important Russian collectors are suggesting that Sergei Shchukin and the Morozov brothers alike collected Western paintings with an agenda to educate and broaden horizons concerning art.

Both shows are accompanied by scholarly illustrated catalogs The Morozov Brothers. Great Russian Collectors published by the State Hermitage Publishing House, and an album with a catalog, along with the biography The Shchukin Saga. Collectors of Masterpieces (prepared by the exhibition curator Natalia Semyonova).

Shchukin. Biography of a Collection will be on display at the take place at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow until 15 September 2019, while The Morozov Brothers. Great Russian Collectors will be on display at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg until 6 October 2019.

Featured images: Paul Gauguin – Collecting fruits, 1899. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. A.S. Pushkin; Pierre Bonnard – Triptych At the Mediterranean. France, 1911. Oil on canvas, 407 x 152 cm; Vincent Van Gogh – Huts, France, 1890. Oil on canvas, 59 x 72 cm. All images are courtesy of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the State Hermitage Museum.