A Taste of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery

By Irene Dogmatic, December 14, 2015

Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery

Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery

Californian Artist, Irene Dogmatic is blown away by her first visit to the Tretyakov Gallery in the Russian capital. Here she takes us through her personal favourites.

Going to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is entering a world that most Americans and probably many other people around the world have never seen. The entire gallery houses nothing but the art of Russia.

I only scratched the surface of this amazing place, but even that was remarkable.

The Gallery was originally a collection of Russian art belonging to Pavel M. Tretyakov (1832-1898), a businessman in Moscow. He began collecting at the age of 22, and later in his life, after having accumulated a vast selection of Russian art, spanning 1000 years and featuring art all the way from Russian religious icons to modern art, he decided to quietly donate his collection to the city of Moscow.

Unfortunately for him, a big fuss was made over it, but the collection did become a famous National Gallery of Russian Art, which was what he had in mind.

After his death, a Russian-style folksy façade was placed on the museum. It was designed by Victor Basnetsov, and has become the emblem of the building.

The gallery became state-owned in 1918, which is when it was given its current name.

Officially I was on a guided tour, but I managed to sneak away from the tour guide and look at some paintings that were of interest to me as an artist.

The oil paintings that stayed with me the most included works by Vasily Vereshchagin, Karl Brulloff, Ivan Shishkin, and Mikhail Vrubel.

Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was in the military, but left Russia to live in Paris. When the Russo-Turkish war started, he returned home to fight. During the war his brother was killed and he was badly injured. After that he moved to Munich where he did a series of sensational anti-war paintings, of which “The Apotheosis of War” is one.

I also had the chance to see one which was set somewhere in the Near East, probably Egypt, and was called “The Triumphant.” That one pre-dated the war painting. Obviously his injuries seriously affected his thinking about war.

 "The Apotheosis of War" (1871) by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin, dedicated "to all conquerors, past, present and to come."

“The Apotheosis of War” (1871) by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin, dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come.”

I saw two paintings by Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910). One was called “Demon Prostrate” and the other was one of a series he did with lilac imagery. He is often mistakenly referred to as being part of the Art Nouveau movement or a Symbolist, but he never aligned himself with any one movement, drawing his ideas for art from his study of religious art in Italy and by developing a painting technique which he thought resembled layers of shaved stone. Both paintings are beautiful, colourful and quite disturbing. Vrubel had a breakdown after “Demon Downcast” and ended up in a mental hospital, possibly due to syphilis.

"Demon Prostrate" (1902) by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel.

“Demon Prostrate” (1902) by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel.

“By the Bogoroditsky Oak” was painted by Karl Bryulloff in 1835. He left Russia to live in Italy, where he became a painter of the Romantic Movement. I tried to find out more about this particular painting, but my searches drew a blank. The painting fascinated me because of the way he painted the tree branches in a circular fashion. I have never seen anyone do this before, and wish it were possible to know more about his motives for painting it that way.

"By the Bogoroditsky Oak" (1835) by Karl Pavlovich Bryullov

“By the Bogoroditsky Oak” (1835) by Karl Pavlovich Bryullov

The other painting I saw which must be mentioned is supposedly the second-most popular Russian painting, called “Morning in a Pine Forest” which features a family of bears in a forest. It was painted by Ivan Shishkin in 1889. Apparently he was aided by another artist, named Savitsky, who painted the actual bears, but Tretyakov erased Savitsky’s signature, feeling that the theme of the piece was totally Shishkin’s idea. (By the way, he most popular Russian painting apparently is Viktor Vasnetsov’s depiction of three ancient warriors on horseback, “Bogatyrs”).

I only became aware of the popularity of Shishkin’s painting when I came back to the Bay Area and visited a Deli and Russian store in Mt View California called The Samovar. I found a chocolate bar there that featured a copy of the painting, which made me realize that it must be very popular indeed to be used on a candy bar wrapper. Apparently it is referred to as the “Club-footed Bear” painting. (And the chocolate bar is called “Club-footed Bear” made by Krasny Oktybr!).

"Morning in a Pine Forest" (1889) by Ivan Shishkin.

“Morning in a Pine Forest” (1889) by Ivan Shishkin.

I thought the candy bar was quite tasty, and ate the whole thing. It is hard for me to imagine a popular American candy bar using a famous painting on its wrapper. Even Snickers bars are advertized artistically in Russia.

Hopefully other travellers will have more time than I did to explore the Tretyakov. The place is chock full of artistic goodies, and if you get so hungry looking at the art that you can’t stand it, you can always step outside and eat a piece of Russian chocolate with Morning in a Pine Forest on its wrapper.

Krasny Oktybr's chocolate bar featuring the "club-footed bears".

Krasny Oktybr’s chocolate bar featuring the “club-footed bears”.

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For more information about Irene Dogmatic see www.irenedogmatic.com

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