Tretyakov Gallery

A little over a hundred years ago - on 31 August (Old Style) 1892, to be precise - the noted Moscow collector, merchant and industrialist Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov (1832-1898) approached the Moscow municipal duma (council) with the proposal for the city to accept his picture gallery as a gift. This already celebrated collection comprised 1,287 paintings, 518 drawings and nine sculptures by Russian eighteenth and nineteenth century artists, as well as 75 paintings, eight drawings and five statuettes by European artists that had belonged to Tretyakov's brother Sergei Mikhailovich, a former mayor of Moscow and another noted art collector. The duma accepted Tretyakov's priceless gift with gratitude. Thus history of the State Tretyakov Gallery as a public museum began, and no other institution of the kind enjoys such general recognition and affection among the Russian public.

The establishment date of the Tretyakov Gallery is generally considered to be the year 1856. It was then that the young Pavel Tretyakov acquired his first paintings by contemporary Russian artists and set himself the goal of forming a collection that could in the future develop into a museum of national art. No such museum existed in Russia at that time.

The overwhelming majority of paintings by Russian artists were dispersed among numerous private collections; a few - the most famous and officially acceptable found their way into the Imperial Hermitage and the museum of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Among the private Moscow and st. Petersburg collections in the 1840s and 1850s there were some that could make a museum of national art (those of Pavel Svinyin and Fiodor Pryanishnikov among others) but failed to realize that potential. They proved short-lived and were broken up on the death, or more often the bankruptcy, of their owners. Tretyakov alone succeeded in turning a private collection into a true museum of significance for the whole nation, public in spirit and historical in character. This astonishing achievement was to a large degree rendered possible by distinctive traits in Tretyakov's character, his pragmatic efficiency, his personal integrity, in conjunction with the unprecedented rise in national self awareness that occurred in Russian public life in the years around 1860. By the early 1860s Tretyakov's collection comprised several dozen paintings, not only by contemporaries, but also by artists of the previous decades. The collector's attention was particularly directed towards the nascent realist tendency. "I do not need rich nature, nor splendid composition or striking lighting, no wonders of any kind, he wrote in the late 1850s. "Give me a dirty puddle, if you like, but let there be truth in it, poetry, and poetry can be in anything: that is the artist's business". This understanding of aesthetics naturally brought Tretyakov in the late 1860s into close contact with the large group of realist artists who a little later would form the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, the largest association of its kind in the whole history of pre-revolutionary Russian art. From the first exhibition in 1871, Tretyakov became the main purchaser of paintings by the Itinerants, doing both the individual artists and the whole of Russian art an inestimable service. Subsequently Ilya Repin, one of the leading figures in the Itinerant movement, would remark: "Tretyakov ... alone carried on his shoulders the issue of the existence of a whole Russian school of painting". The support was mutual, however. Appreciating Tretyakov's noble intentions the artists quite often gave him preferential treatment, not selling their paintings until the great collector had seen them and expressed his opinion. The range of Tretyakov's collecting activities, and the scope of his interest, was truly astonishing. Each year at exhibitions and directly from studios, he bought several dozen works, on occasion as many as a hundred, at extremely large expenses, regardless of all his respect for money, if his adopted cause demanded it. Tretyakov bought, despite the disdain of the critics and the disapproval of the censors, notable instances being Perov's Easter Procession in the Countryside and Repin's Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan. He was purchasing, even if certain aspects of the painting clashed with his own views but were in harmony with the spirit of the times, as was the case with Repin's Religious Procession in Kursk Province, while he was not entirely happy with its social incisiveness. At first, Tretyakov's acquisitions were all placed in his own home on Lavrushinsky Lane, in the quiet Zamoskvorechye district of Moscow. As the 1860s came to an end, however, there were already so many paintings, that it was impossible to hang them all in the rooms. In 1872 it was decided to construct a special gallery adjoining the house and in the spring of 1874 the paintings were moved into the new two-story building consisting of two large halls. Yet the rapidly growing collection soon demanded larger premises than provided by new construction.

By the late 1880s the museum already contained more than twenty rooms. With the creation of a Purpose built gallery, Tretyakov's collection acquired the status of a real museum, privately owned but public in character, a museum with no entry charge, open almost every day of the week for anyone who wanted to visit, regardless of birth or title. In 1892 Tretyakov presented his museum to the city of Moscow. The city duma, now the legal owner of the gallery, appointed Pavel Tretyakov as its curator for life.

After Tretyakov's death, the gallery's affairs were managed by a board selected by the duma. It included prominent Moscow artists and collectors Valentin Serov, Ilya Ostroukhov, Ivan Tsvetkov and Igor Grabar. For almost 15 years (from 1899 to early 1913) one invariable member of the board was Tretyakov's daughter Alexandra Pavlovna Botkina, who later wrote a valuable book of reminiscences about her father and the story of the gallery he created. In 1899-1900 Tretyakov's now vacant house in Lavrushinsky Lane, which adjoined the gallery, was converted to serve the needs of the museum. In 1901-02 the whole complex was united by a new facade, designed by the artist Viktor Vasnetsov. It turned the Tretyakov Gallery into a highly distinctive piece of architecture that still stands out among the sights of Moscow today. In the early twentieth century the Tretyakov Gallery became one of the largest museums not only in Russia, but in the whole of Europe. It was actively engaged in the acquisition of both modern and early Russian art.

A new period in the history of the Tretyakov Gallery began in the late 1910s and early 1920s. It was marked first and foremost by the rapid growth of the collection. The nationalization of private collections and the centralization of stocks from different museums meant that in the first decade after the revolution the number of exhibits in the gallery increased more than five times. It absorbed a number of minor Moscow museums: the Tsvetkov Gallery, the Ostroukhov Museum of Icons and Painting, part of the stocks of the Moscow Rumyantsev and Public Museums.

In the following half century the Tretyakov Gallery developed into not only an immense museum known around the world, but also a major centre of learning engaged in the preservation, restoration and study of its treasures, as well as increasing public awareness of them.

The Tretyakov Gallery can boast one of the richest specialized libraries in Russia, numbering over 200,000 volumes on art, a unique collection of photographs and slides on Russian art, and extensive state of the art restoration facilities.

In the 1980s, the Tretyakov Gallery embarked on a program of reconstruction and expansion. In 1985 the building of a new depository wing began that includes extensive storage premises for various forms of art and restoration workshops. It was followed in 1989 by the "Engineering Wing" that included exhibition rooms, lecture and conference halls, a children's studio, computer data and support services. The reconstruction of the main building, started in 1986, was completed in 1994. Through the restoration period a new conception of the gallery formed as a single museum existing on two main sites: Lavrushinsky Lane, where works from the earlier times to the pre-revolutionary years are displayed and stored, and the building on Krymsky Val, where the exhibition area is to be devoted to the art of the twentieth century. The process of restoring the gallery building on Lavrushinsky Lane also breathed new life into other architectural and historical monuments in the immediate vicinity, such as the sixteenth to nineteenth century Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi that has become the museum's church as well as a church museum, and the eighteen-and nineteen-century buildings on Lavrushinsky Lane that also house additional exhibitions.

Today the Tretyakov Gallery is home to over 100,000 works of art divided up on a historical basis into a number of sections: early Russian art from the tenth to seventeenth centuries icons, sculpture, small-scale plastic art, applied art; painting of the eighteenth century and the first half of the gallery's collection of early Russian art is among the most outstanding in the world for both the quantity and quality of the works it contains. The most valuable part of the Tretyakov Gallery's early Russian stocks are the icons of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries - the oldest, pre-Mongol period in the history of Russian culture. These include Our Lady of Vladimir, the Ustiug Annunciation, Our Lady of Tolg, and St. Demetrius of Salonica. Some, notably, Our Lady of Vladimir, were brought to Kievan Rus from Byzantium, while researchers associate others with the emergence of native Russian artistic schools. It must be reckoned a miracle that through all the tragic twists and turns of history these divinely inspired, but exceptionally vulnerable creations of human genius have come down to us today.