Friday, October 16, 2009

The State Tretyakov Gallery

Yesterday Mr. Irish and I went to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. This is the "second" national art gallery of Russia, after the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

The Tretyakov was in a strangely-laid out building with two floors of artwork and sculptures showcasing Russian art history from the 18th Century onwards (with one exhibit, that we didn't have time to see, showcasing pre-Mongolian art). All the paintings were originals as were most of the frames.

Although I'm not too familiar with Russian artists, the layout of the gallery was well-planned. Walking from room to room I was able to trace the development and increasing sophistication of the artists. For instance, in the 18th Century only a few of the world's masters could properly paint facial features, which is why most portraits of European royalty and generals in this period look alike (round, pinkish faces and large oval eyes). This was also an imperial period in Europe and it was no different in Russia. Large portraits of the Czars were everywhere and Catherine the Great was obviously the favourite personage of Russian artists at this time, judging from the amount of portraits and sculptures dedicated to her.

It's not until the 19th Century that Russian art takes on a life of its own. The complication of the artists becomes apparent and still-life scenes and paintings of rural, pastoral Russia is all the rage. This is interesting because Russian artists started painting nature fifty years before European artists did, and the Russians were good at it!

There was one artist by the name of I. Kuindzhi who had a showcase room all to himself (he lived in the early to mid 1800s) and his use of light and shadows is amazing! I have never heard of this painter before but he's made the single best painting I have ever seen. It was a night scene of an almost neon-green moon over a river, and the way he played with the reflection of the moon was captivating. I want to find some reproductions of his works for my home.

We made it to the pre-revolutionary period of art which was very cubist and had a wannabe feel to it as the artists of this period attempted to mimic the masters in western Europe. Russian art, in my opinion, hit its zenith in the early 19th Century and I don't think anybody can match what Russian artists were doing. This was probably because more Russians were being allowed to travel abroad while the Czars', wanting to bring Russia up to European standards, were attracting artisans and engineers from other countries as well as becoming sponsors of the arts. A sort of art-liberalism was allowed to flourish in Russia in this period, and it really shows in the works.

We were tired and decided to save the next floor of galleries for another day, so we went to a coffee house, met up with Mr. Irish's friend Ms. Ireland, and then went home.

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