The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is one of the largest museums in Russia with over 100 000 works of art – icons, paintings, graphics and sculpture – spanning the entire history of Russian art. Its collection of Russian realism from the second half of the 19th century is the best in the country. This spectacular museum is an essential destination for budding Russophiles and all visitors to Moscow.
For most Westerners, Russian art is something of a closed book up until the 20th century and the appearance of giants such as Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich. The Tretyakov gives you the chance to discover the rich tradition from which these great artists sprang onto the world stage. Often referred to as the Old Tretyakov to differentiate it from the annex next door, the gallery has 62 rooms and 100,000 works charting the development of Russian painting from the 10th to the end of the 19th Centruy.
Icons are an acquired taste – although the Tretyakov collection is impressive – and it’s hard to get excited over the derivative, Italian-influenced portraits and landscapes of the 18th Century, but the rejection of the Imperial Academy’s restrictive diktats and the attempt to create a national art for the people that gained momentum as the 19th century progressed produced some fascinating results. Fans of Russian literature can entertain themselves by seeing how the concerns and ideals of the great 19th century writers were reflected by the artists of the same period. It was founded in 1856. The world’s largest collection of Russian paintings, drawings and sculptures has grown from private collections of the brothers Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov. Currently, the gallery presents more than 180 000 exhibits.
Founders of the Tretyakov Gallery
The Tretyakov brothers belongs from an old but not very wealthy merchant family. Their father, Mikhail Zakharovich, gave them a good home education. Since their youth, they have taken up the family business, first trading, and then industrial. The brothers created the famous Great Kostroma Manufactory of linen products, they also were engaged in charity and social activities. Both brothers were collectors, but Sergei Mikhailovich was engaged in this as an amateur, but for Pavel Mikhailovich it became a matter of his life, in which he saw his mission.
The first paintings of Russian artists were acquired by Tretyakov in 1856 (this date is also considered the foundation year of the gallery). Since then, the collection has been constantly replenished. It was located in a family-owned house in Zamoskvorechye, in Lavrushinsky Lane. This building is the main building of the museum. It was constantly expanded and reconstructed for the needs of the exposition, and in the beginning of the 20th century it acquired a familiar look. Its facade was executed in Russian style according to the project of the artist Viktor Vasnetsov. In 1893 the gallery was officially opened to the public.
Pavel Tretyakov was a very modest man, who did not like the hype around his name. He wanted a quiet opening, and when the celebrations were organized, he went abroad. He renounced the nobility, which was granted him by the emperor, accepting only the title of honorary citizen of Moscow. Since then the gallery was enlarging several times by adding to it additional houses for storing the arts.
Collection of the Tretyakov Gallery
The most complete is the collection of art of the second half of the XIX-th century, it has not equal. Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov was, perhaps, the main buyer of the works of the Wanderers from the very first exhibition. The paintings of Perov, Kramskoy, Polenov, Ge, Savrasov, Kuindzhi, Vasiliev, Vasnetsov, Surikov, Repin, acquired by the very founder of the Tretyakov Gallery, are the pride of the museum. Here you can find the best examples of the golden age of Russian painting.
Fine art and artists who do not belong to the Wanderers. The works of Nesterov, Serov, Levitan, Malyavin, Korovin, as well as Alexander Benois, Vrubel, Somov, and Roerich took an honorable place in the exposition. After October 1917 the collection of the museum was replenished both at the expense of nationalized collections, and thanks to the works of contemporary artists. Their canvases give an idea of the development of Soviet art, its official trends and underground avant-garde.
The Tretyakov Gallery continues to replenish its funds. Since the beginning of the XXI century, there is a department of the newest trends, in which works of contemporary art are collected. In addition to painting, the gallery has a large collection of Russian graphics, sculptures, there is a valuable archive of manuscripts. A rich collection of ancient Russian art, icons – one of the best in the world. The beginning of it was laid still by Tretyakov. After his death, it was about 60 items, and at the moment there are about 4000 units.