Petit Futé's opinion on RUSSIAN MUSEUM
All the art of Russia in a single museum: religious, imperial, classical, 20th century avant-garde, socialist realism..
The Russian Museum, the city's other major museum after the Hermitage, allows you to penetrate more intimately into the soul of Russia. It is at the heart of the Golden Triangle, in front of the Place des Arts, one of the favourite places of the Petersburgers and which sums up the city's ambition. All the art of Russia is now gathered in the magnificent building of the Mikhailovsky Palace. It was created by one of the emblematic architects of the capital of the North, the Italian Carlo Rossi, who designed the Palace of the General Staff on Dvortsovaya Square, the Alexandrinsky Theatre, the Senate and Holy Synod buildings on Senate Square. With its assertive classicism, it once served as the residence of the Tsar's brother. The museum's permanent collection includes no less than 6,000 icons from the Novgorod and Smolensk schools, as well as the famous icons of the master Rublev, which are displayed in the museum. Then political art with portraits of the greats of the empire, starting with the Tsars themselves and their advisers. Then there is art for art's sake, with the great works of the masters of Russian painting, such as Repin and his companions the Ambulants. And then, art after art, with the formidable freedom of the Russian Avant-Garde of the early 20th century, Malevich, Kandinsky, Vroubel, who created modern painting and to some extent the pictorial art used by political posters and then advertising. Finally, art without art, some have thus qualified socialist realism. More pleasant than the Hermitage because it receives fewer visitors. However, the Russian museum fears competition from its neighbour and some of the most famous works have thus gone to the Hermitage, such as Malevitch's Black Square.
In the 18th century, if art coming from the West found its temple in the Hermitage, the 19th century, of more national inspiration, made it urgent to create a museum dedicated to Russian art. The museum was designed to be an exhibition centre for Russian art, the local counterpart of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. But the princely residence, inhabited by Grand Duchess Helen until the death of her husband, would prove to be very cramped after the revolution, which launched more ambitious projects for the museum. Despite the addition of an annex building along the Griboedov Canal, the Russian Museum could only display a tiny part of the 400,000 pieces of art collected by the state, which had confiscated them from palaces, mansions and other monasteries. Nevertheless, a visit to the Russian Museum will provide a rich insight into Russian art from the medieval period to the present day.
The visit (and the numbering of the rooms) is organized in chronological order. It starts on the first floor, before going down to the ground floor, going upstairs, and then back down to the ground floor. The museum is divided into three areas: the Benois Wing, the Rossi Wing, and the Mikhailovsky Palace (each on the first floor and ground floor).The Benois Wing is
named after the famous family of 19th and 20th century artists and architects from St. Petersburg, descendants of the French confectioner Louis Benois, who fled the French Revolution and settled in St. Petersburg in 1794.
Rooms 1 to 4 display a very rich collection of icons (a true Russian tradition) from the 11th to the 17th century. It is very interesting to note the evolution in the use of colours, the proportions of the characters, the stagings... You will notice superb icons from the school of Novgorod (Miracle of Saint George, 15th century), Pskov, Vladimir and Moscow, several of which come from the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir and are attributed to the great master Andrei Rublev or to his disciples, Dionise and Simon Ushakov.
In rooms 5 to 23, Russian painting of the 18th and 19th centuries can be admired. The first rooms mainly display portraits. It is only from this period that Russian painting gradually emancipated itself from religious figuration. Under the impulse of Peter the Great, many Russian artists were trained or perfected abroad. Nikitin, a painter who was close to the imperial family (which was no easy task), was appreciated for his paintings. Room 11 is particularly worth seeing for its architecture, a superb original testimony to the neoclassical décor designed by the palace's architect, Carlo Rossi. The room contains objects produced by the imperial manufactures.
In Room 14, the dramatic intensity of the Last Day of Pompeii in Briullov (1834) (many people of the time considered this painting to be an allegory of the future destiny of St. Petersburg) and the shipwreck scenes of Aïvazovski (especially The Ninth Wave) will be highlighted. Can you identify the diversity of emotions depicted in Ivanov's The Appearance of Christ to the People in Room 15?
From Room 18, we return to the ground floor, with works by Fedotov, who reproduces with a sometimes squeaky humour scenes from everyday military, bourgeois and artisan life. Perov's critical realism, expressed in The Refectory of the Monastery, Room 23, is even more biting? and serious. Rooms 20 and 21 display various views of antiquity and historical events (Death of the Christians, Death of Nero), much appreciated by the notables of the time.
The next section is devoted to the group of Ambulants. In 1863, these young artists of the Academy refused to continue painting mythological and ancient subjects, and refused to follow the academic rules in force. They decided to found what was to become the society of the Ambulants, presenting their paintings at travelling exhibitions to avoid any risk of censorship. Their favourite subjects are popular daily life (and those who live it) and nature. Their project met with some success in the bourgeoisie of the time. Room 25 exhibits various paintings (portraits of artists, intellectuals, publishers...) by Ivan Kramskoi, one of the leaders of this movement. Twenty rooms of the museum (24 to 45, not forgetting 54) are dedicated to the works of the artists of this group. Chronologically, you will thus find works by Gué, Vasiliev, Savitsky (and his moving Departure for War, room 31), Miasoyedov and Repine (room 54, you can see La Séance du conseil d'Etat, a work that required a colossal amount of preparatory work).
It is then time to go back up to the first floor (in the Benois wing) to end the visit, which is oriented towards Russian art of the late 19th and 20th centuries. In room 66 you will get to know the strange symbolist world of Vrubel, one of the leading figures of the Abramtsevo group of artists, a group attached to myths and Russian folk art.
As for the famous avant-garde of the 1910-1920s, it was only in 1988 (Room 81) that it was extracted from the dusty cardboard boxes of the censorship: by then, Malevich and Kandinsky, among others, had ceased to be decadent painters, to figure in their own right alongside the works of Filonov. The last rooms of the museum are thus devoted to Russian Futurism and Suprematism (Malevich). You can also see in some of Tatlin's works (room 82) the premises of constructivism.
The last three rooms on floors 83 to 85 illustrate the evolution of part of the Avant-Garde movement (Deineka, Samokhvlalov), from the 1920s onwards, towards socialist realism, which Stalin imposed in 1932. Anxious to respond to its primary vocation, the Russian Museum has for several years lent its rooms to young painters from St Petersburg, who have made a name for themselves through the temporary exhibitions it hosts (ground floor of the Benois Wing, rooms 87 to 97).
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Opening time and information on RUSSIAN MUSEUM
Monday from 10 am to 8 pm, Thursday from 1 pm to 9 pm, Wednesday-Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Tuesday, 31/12 and 1/01. 500 RUB.
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