“The Tretyakov Gallery”
The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is a major world-famous collection of
Russian graphic arts. The quiet Lavrushinsky Pereulok, a by-street
across the Moscow River from the Kremlin, with the familiar building of
the Tretyakov Gallery behind a wrought-iron fence, is frequented by both
Muscovites and visitors to the capital. The Tretyakov Gallery firmly
imbeds itself in the Russian’s intellectual life from their very early
teens. Here, exposed to canvases by Russia’s foremost painters, people
first awakened to an appreciation of art, to its message and emotional
impact. The Tretyakov Gallery has become what can be described as a
“popular” museum, with long lines of people queuing to get in.russians
are ardent devotees of art, and Russian museums attract the world’s
largest crowds. The distinction of the Tretyakov Gallery is well known
outside the Russia – foreign visitors from many countries of the world
make it a point to include the Tretyakov Gallery into their Moscow
The basic part
The Tretyakov Gallery is in many ways a unique museum. Its paintings
reflect the varied life-styles and intellectual spectrum of the Russian
people throughout the many centuries of their history.
The Gallery was founded by Pavel Tretyakov (1839-1889), a Russian
merchant and industrialist. A patriot and patron of the arts, he
conceived of Russia’s first museum of national Russian art back in the
1850’s. Tretyakov wrote in 1860: “Being a man sincerely and faithfully
fond of the art of painting I have a lifelong wish to start a public and
easily accessible treasury of fine arts, one that will be useful to many
and enjoyable to all”. For more than thirty years Tretyakov persistently
worked to make his ambition come true. His earliest acquisition of
Russian paintings dates back to 1856, the year when the Gallery was
formally founded, and included two paintings – a small socio-moralistic
canvas in the style of P. Fedotov – Temptation by N. Shilder, and V.
Khudyakov’s romanticized battle-scene Clash with Finnish Contraband
Smugglers. Subsequently both paintings were recognized as the best
accomplishments by the two mid-19th-century painters, who are hardly
known today, but who in their own time, were the young collector’s peers
and contemporaries. In 1892, when Pavel Tretyakov formally donated his
collection to the city of Moscow, it included about two thousand
paintings by all the noteworthy Russian artists of the 19th century and
some of the 18th century. It was a genuine museum of national art, its
best specimens reflecting in faithful detail both its past and its
The Museum was laid out in a gallery specifically constructed for the
purpose – a U-like structure around the Tretyakov’s living quarters in
Lavrushinsky Pereulok. Since the early 1870’s the museum, even then
known as the Tretyakov Gallery, has been open to visitors, irrespective
of their origin or social standing. With every passing decade the
Gallery’s fame and popularity constantly grew. Until Tretyakov’s
decision in 1892 to donate his gallery to the city of Moscow was
enthusiastically welcomed by the Russian public. At the same time it was
universally recognized that the decision had not come as any big
surprise. Tretyakov, who remained a lifetime trustee of the Gallery,
indefatigably sought new additions.
The Gallery continued to grow under Tretyakov’s successors. Between 1892
and 1917, when the October Revolution took place, the Gallery almost
doubled its stock.
An important highlight in the pre-revolutionary history of the Gallery
was the addition of new halls and the partial remodeling of the old
ones. In 1902-04 the original halls built in Tretyakov’s time were
complemented by his rebuilt living quarters, while the entire set of
structures received a common facade in the Old Russian style which
exists even now and was designed by the artist Victor Vasnetsov, a great
friend and admirer of Tretyakov.
Following the October Revolution of 1917 the stock of the Gallery and
its formal status was changed. On June 3, 1918, Lenin signed a “Decree
of the Council of People’s Commissars to Nationalize the Tretyakov
Gallery” making its national rather than municipal property. Under
Lenin’s Decree the Gallery was to bear the name of Tretyakov, its
The Gallery rapidly began to build up its stock. It was replenished by
number of private collections and paintings from the deserted mansions
and country estates. As a result of the centralization and restructuring
of museum collections of the mid-20’s the Gallery came into the
possession of many important works of Russian art from the reorganized
small museums such as the Rumyantsev Museum, the Ostroukhov Museum of
Icons and Painting, and the Tsvetkov Gallery. For example, A. Ivanov’s
famous painting The Appearance of Christ to the People came from the
Rumyantsev Museum, a first rate collection of old Russian icons came
from the Ostroukhov Museum. A large collection of Russian drawings and
watercolours came from the Tsvetkov Gallery. At the same time the
Tretyakov Gallery parted with West-European painters’ works that had
come to the Gallery from the collections of Tretyakov and Morozov: these
paintings were made available to the specialized museums.
As a result between 1917 and the early 30’s the Tretyakov Gallery’s
collection grew 4 to 5 times. 50 years later, by the late 1970’s it had
tripled and amounted to 60 thousand exhibits. Now the collection
reflects the history of ethnic Russian art in all its forms – painting,
sculpture and drawing. This work is about the paintings section of the
collection, which traditionally remains the most comprehensive and
Let’s start with a few samples of what can truly be regarded as a unique
collection of 11th-17th century Russian painting. At present the
collection includes over 4 thousand exhibits. It is the largest and best
collection of Old Russian painting of all the museum collections. Some
of the most illustrious masterpieces include the legendary Our Lady of
Vladimir, brought to Russia from Byzantium early in the 12th century by
Kiev princes. There is also the Old Testament Trinity by Andrei Rublev,
an icon painting genius of the 15th century, and many other famous
monuments of Old Russia, which embodied in peculiar medieval form the
notions about the world, nature, good and evil, national heroism, human
wisdom and motherly love.
The collection of Old Russian painting was started by Pavel Tretyakov
himself, who owned sixty two icons of the 15th-17th centuries.
A no less significant portion of the Gallery’s collection is represented
by a repository of paintings of the late 18th and early 19th century,
during which period Russia’s secular art emerged and blossomed. The
portraits of this period are well represented by the famous portraits –
Nikitin, Antropov, Rokotov, Levitsky, Borovikovsky, Kiprensky, Tropinin,
and Briullov. Brought to us across the years, are the living faces of
people of that time, with their life-styles, moral values, ideals and
hopes. At that period the portrait had become one of the leading forms
in Russian art – a feature which was in full agreement with the
humanitarian principles of Russian painters, whose always reflected
their choice of man as the focus of their prime interest.
The Gallery also possesses an equally comprehensive collection of
Russians landscapes of that period, more particularly paintings by
landscape masters like Semyon Shchedrin, Matveyev, Alekseyev, Silvestr
Shchedrin, and Lebedev. Being both Classicist and Romanticist, they were
always guided by the typically Russian poetic lyricism in their
interpretations of landscape imagery, where they painted the natural
beauty of their native land – exemplified by Alekseyev’s town scenes, or
beautiful Italian landscapes – a requirement of the time – by Silvestr
The Gallery also has a collection of 18th and early 19th-century history
painting executed in the classical tradition, the leading artistic trend
of the time. The works of Anton Losenko, the representative of the 18th
century classical tradition, which revolved around historical themes,
exalt love for one’s motherland, heroism and self-sacrifice in the name
The Tretyakov Gallery brilliantly exhibits the creations of Alexander
Ivanov. A few early canvases, a large number of sketches, and the
pinnacle of the painter’s creativity – the enormous painting The
Appearance of Christ to the People – make up the backbone of the
artist’s Gallery collection, which embraces all facets, all hues of the
creative heritage of the great master, who was able to enrich Russian
painting with his incisive mentality and his noble creative spirit.
Another supreme painter of early 19th-century Russia, Karl Briullov, is
represented in the Tretyakov Gallery by a large number of superlative
portraits. They include Self-portrait, portraits of Strugovshchikov, and
The Amazon, paintings that can unquestionably be considered as genuine
masterpieces of the world’s art of portrait painting.
The Tretyakov Gallery has a fairly comprehensive and admirably executed
collection of the democratic trend in Russian painting of the early 19th
century represented predominantly by Vasily Tropinin, Alexei Venetsianov
and Pavel Fedotov. Tropinin may have been one of the first Russian
painters to depict the people of the so-called ‘third estate’ – peasants
and artisans, invariably infusing their images with human dignity and
beauty. Venetsianov’s paintings are tremendously attractive in their
quiet poeticism. He was the first Russian artist who lovingly and
competently portrayed the charm of Russian nature and the inherent
beauty of the Russian peasant woman. Fedotov showing the life of
merchants, government officials, impoverished gentry and the military
uses his art to purify public morality and eliminate social injustice.
The creative works by Venetsianov and Fedotov marked a decisive turn in
Russian painting towards contemporary realism.
The Tretyakov Gallery’s collection of works from the second half of the
19th century is put mainly by Tretyakov himself. This collection
includes all the fairly important masters of Russian art. However,
Tretyakov himself emphasized in his appreciation of art the newly
emerging realistic trend. It was on this trend that he counted for a
hopeful future for the Russian painting school. The Gallery features a
diverse collection of paintings by one of the founding fathers of
Russian critical realism, Vasily Perov. An outstanding character painter
and portraitist, he very faithfully depicted the humiliation of the
Russian peasantry in the period following the reform of 1861, when the
peasant was no longer formally a serf, but in fact did not have any land
or means to buy it. The painter portrayed the horrifying poverty and
oppression of the citizenry at the bottom of the social ladder. This
trend was exemplified by such paintings as Lying in State, and The Last
Inn at the City’s Edge. The Gallery features a well compiled collection
of paintings by what were known as “peredvizhniki”, a group of painters
who arranged traveling exhibitions of their own and other’s works.
An association for mobile art exhibitions emerged in 1870 and for more
than two and a half decades shaped the conceptuality of the entire
Russian art. In the 1870’s and early 1880’s the traveling painters
received ideological guidance from Ivan Kramskoy, a renowned portrait
painter, who was Tretyakov’s adviser and one of the topmost authorities
on selecting and buying paintings for the Gallery. Kramskoy’s best
portraits, those of Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Nekrasov, Mikhail
Saltykov-Schedrin and others were commissioned by Tretyakov.
The painting by Nikolai Gay – Peter the Great Interrogating Prince
Alexei Petrovich in Peterhof – became an important landmark in the
process of mastering the principles of realism and historical
authenticity in Russian history-oriented painting.
The outstanding battle artist Vasily Vereshchagin depicted war as the
“worst kind of atrocity”, a source of barbarism, death and destruction
(Apotheosis of War).
In the work of the traveling painters, portrait painting progressed
toward a more decisive analysis of the model’s psychology, toward
describing the many facets of his often controversial personality.
The second half of the 19th century was marked by considerable successes
in landscape painting. The national motif became a dominant feature in
the creativity of all landscape painters of the time, of whom the most
outstanding were Savrasov, Vasilyev, Shishkin, Kuinji, Polenov, and
Levitan, who not only committed themselves to depicting natural beauty,
but also to showing nature as being an integral part of the life of the
The most outstanding painters in late 19th-century Russia were Repin,
Surikov, and Vasnetsov. Ilya Repin is considered a sage of the large
“congregation” picture describing everyday life (They Did Not Expect
Him) as well as an outstanding master of the psychological portrait.
Vasily Surikov was a prominent painter of historic pictures – he
interpreted Russian history as a sequence of events in which the Russian
people played an important role. Victor Vasnetsov selected motifs from
the treasure trove of national folklore – the characters from Russian
folk tales, myths and legends (Russian Legendary Heroes, Alyonushka).
The next stage in the history of Russian art is the period of the late
19th and early 20th century (up to the year 1917) marked by the work of
outstanding masters such as Serov, Vrubel, Korovin, Borisov-Musatov and
many others, who, in their own specific way took over and developed the
realistic tradition of Russian culture.
The Gallery has a rich collection of works by the “World of Art” artists
– a large group formed in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s around the
journal “World of Art” – Benois, Somov, Bakst, Grabar, Kustodiev,
Malyavin. Exquisite canvases in the Gallery represent the work of young
“new wave” painters of the late 1900’s – 1910’s: Kuznetsov,
Konchalovsky, Mashkov, and Kuprin.
The most recent and largest section of the Tretyakov Gallery’s
collection of paintings is Soviet artists: Petrov-Vodkin, Grekov,
Nesterov, Gerasimov, Deineka, Pimenov. The Gallery has an excellent
collection of the best paintings devoted to the heroic struggle of the
Soviet people on the front lines and in the rear during the Great
Patriotic War of 1941-45. These include The Outskirts of Moscow.
November, 1941 by Deineka, A Letter from the Front by Laktionov, and The
End by Kukryniksy.
The time runs with a huge velocity. One hundred and fifty years passed
over for the Tretyakov Gallery. It has absorbed the calm of 18th, the
refinement of 19th, and the unrest of 20th century after this time.
Nowadays the spirit of all these events gives us the Gallery. We are
grown up and educated on this; it is our property and pride.
1. Буганов В.И. История России: Учеб. Для 10 кл / Часть 1. – М.:
2. Буганов В.И. История России: Учеб. Для 10 кл / Часть 2. – М.:
3. Шканов Л.В. Государственная Третьяковская галерея. – М.:
Изобразительное искусство, 1987. – 216 с.
4. Beth Ivory. The Russian museums. Painting. Aurora Art Publishers.
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