La Russie romantique. Chefs-d’œuvre de la galerie nationale Tretiakov Moscou

Romanticism in Russia. Masterpieces from the Tretiakov National Gallery in Moscow
Paris, Musée de la Vie Romantique, from 28 September 2010 to 16 January 2011

1. Aleksander Orlowski (1777-1832)
Cossacks from the Don River, c. 1810
Oil on pnale - 69.3 x 58 cm
Moscow, Galerie Tretiakov
Photo : Galerie Tretiakov/A. Charooukhov

The Musée de la Vie Romantique does not always stay on the beaten path. This time, it is offering a very instructive exhibition on Russian Romantic artists, a subject which is still relatively unknown in France. All of the works come from the Tretiakov Gallery, the Moscow museum devoted to the national school.

We do regret in a way that historical painting is not better represented here, except for a study by Karl Brioullov for The Last Day of Pompei, a large and ambitious canvas which was exhibited in Paris in 1834 (visitors to Maestà di Roma in 2003 in Rome saw it exceptionally at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna).
Only two washes by the same painter, representing Turkish figures and produced during his trip to Asia Minor, as well as a painting by Aleksander Orlowski, Cossacks from the Don River (ill. 1) might be included in this genre. They are especially close to the scenes painted by Horace Vernet.
Often trained in France or else by French artists, having traveled extensively, notably to Germany, these Russian painters reflect their due to the art of both these countries while still revealing their own originality. We can thus point out examples of Germanic landscapists, particularly Friedrich, in works such as Nikolai Gogol Crossing the Dniepr (ill. 2) by Anton Ivanovitch Ivanov or The Tempest (ill. 3) by Maxime Nikiforovitch Vorobiev but that might be a bit too simplistic as these canvases evoke yet a different and undefinable atmosphere.

2. Anton Ivanovitch Ivanov (1818-1863)
Nikolai Gogol Crossing the Dniepr , 1845
Oil on canvas - 61 x 91.3 cm
Moscow, Galerie Tretiakov
Photo : Galerie Tretiakov/A. Charooukhov

3. Maxime Nikiforovitch Vorobiev (1787-1855)
The Tempest, 1845
Oil on canvas - 100.5 x 131 cm
Moscow, Galerie Tretiakov
Photo : Galerie Tretiakov/A. Charooukhov

The French influence can also be felt in the portraits, either in allusion to Delacroix or Géricault (Karl Brioullov, Nestor Vassilievitch Koukolnik, Writer or Oreste Kiprenski, Vassili Andreiëvitch Joukovski, Poet) or in resemblance to Gros, Gérard or even Ingres (Oreste Kiprenski, Princess Sofia Stepanovna Chtcherbatov) but in saying this we run the risk of eclipsing their true originality, one feature of it being the technique of the watercolour portrait, which seems to be a specialty of these painters. Another remarkable work by Karl Brioullov is the very beautiful Horsemen (ill. 4).
The exhibition is rounded out by a few sculptures, notably the very fine Angel Kneeling before a Funerary Urn by Ivan Petrovitch Martos, a reduced replica of a Moscow tomb (ill. 5). One of the most important “Russian” sculptors of the 19th century, coninuing the tradition first initiated by Falconet in the 18th, is in fact French, Louis-Marie Guichard, who produced a bust of Emperor Alexander I.

4. Karl Pavlovitch Brioullov (1799-1852)
Horsemen, 1849
Watercolor - 69.1 x 51.2 cm
Moscow, Galerie Tretiakov
Photo : Galerie Tretiakov/A. Charooukhov

5. Ivan Petrovitch Martos (1754-1835)
Angel Kneeling before a Funerary Urn
Bronze - 36 x 34.4 x 24 cm
Moscow, Galerie Tretiakov
Photo : Galerie Tretiakov/A. Charooukhov

Although very well edited, as is regularly the case for Paris-Musées, the catalogue is nevertheless rather poor. This may of course be explained by budget questions but the lack of photographs in the essays on Russian Romantic art, makes it difficult for readers to understand the text as these works are not generally known to the public. Also, the entries are not all as thorough as they should be, at times purely descriptive, at others downright lame [1]. This is indeed unfortunate and reflects badly on an otherwise successful exhibition which should still be a must for museum goers.

Collective work, La Russie romantique. Chefs-d’œuvre de la galerie nationale Tretiakov Moscou, 2010, Paris-Musées, 208 p., 30€. ISBN : 9782759601455

Visitor information : Paris, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Hôtel Renan-Scheffer, 16 rue Chaptal, 75006 Paris. Phone : 01 55 31 95 67. Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm, except Mondays and holidays. Permanent collections : free admission. Exhibition : 7€ (reduced rate : 5€).

Didier Rykner, dimanche 17 octobre 2010


[1] Here are a few examples : entry 2 reads “The portrait illustrates the Romantic treatment of the subject. The majestic folds of the drapery underscore the conventional aspect of painters during the Romantic period.” ; entry 6 : “The study The Last Day of Pompei takes its subject from Roman Antiquity […] This study is a preparatory work for a large composition […] Its effort to present unexpected viewpoints, the work on the variations of different gestures links Brioullov to the Romantic movement.” ; entry 55 : “[This work] can be called classic due to its form and the variety of selected objects.”

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