The staff of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery is packing up some of Russia’s finest paintings to send to London for a landmark exhibition, proving, the gallery’s director says, that cultural exchange between the Russia and the West is alive and well.
The 26 portraits being sent to the National Portrait Gallery for an exhibition March 17 to June 26 are part of an exchange that also includes major British works loaned to Russia. Despite chilly relations between Moscow and the West and an economic crisis in Russia, the shows will go ahead because the two museums are determined to cooperate, Tretyakov director Zelfira Tregulova said.
The Tretyakov portraits going to London show elite artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tregulova singles out two — portraits of writer Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov and of composer Modest Mussorgsky by Ilya Repin — for their powerful depiction and “profound analysis.”
The portraits from the Tretyakov are rarely loaned for foreign exhibition. The iconic portrait of Dostoevsky was last seen in Britain in 1959. The 1881 Mussorgsky portrait was completed just before the composer died of alcoholism at the age of 42. The work shows the harsh reality of his condition, but at the same time conveys his energy and spirit.
Tregulova says the show presents a unique insight into a golden age of Russian culture leading up to the 1917 revolution, showing “Russian creativity and the originality of those people with its pluses and minuses.”
Tregulova took charge at the country’s premier collection of Russian art a year ago. She had been assistant director of the Kremlin Museums and has curated major exhibitions of Russian art abroad, including the 2005 Guggenheim museum show that was the largest ever of Russian art in the United States.
At the Tretyakov, she has used television and social media to create such buzz for a recently ended show of Valentin Serov’s works that viewers stood in line for hours in frigid temperatures to get in, at one point even breaking down the door. Nearly a half-million people visited what was reportedly Russia’s most popular show in 50 years.
The traffic isn’t all one way, and the National Portrait Gallery is lending works of equal stature, including the so-called “Chandos portrait” portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare, and the “Ditchley portrait,” a depiction of Queen Elizabeth I standing on the globe. These, as well as portraits of Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, will go on show at the Tretyakov in June, playing to a strong and enduring love of British culture among Russians.