Chekhov, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy come to UK 

Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz, 1898;

160th Anniversary of National Portrait Gallery and State Tretyakov Gallery London supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation brings the legends to UK

An exhibition of Russian portraits opens at the National Portrait Gallery, London, on March 17 2016, as part of an unprecedented cultural exchange with Moscow. 26 portraits of key figures from a golden age of the arts in Russia, 1867-1914, can be seen together in Britain for the first time.

They come from Moscow’s prestigious State Tretyakov Gallery which will simultaneously display a selection of portraits of famous Britons from the National Portrait Gallery. The cultural exchange is to mark the 160th Anniversary year of the foundation of both galleries, Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (17 March–26 June 2016) coincides with the exhibition Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery at the State Tretyakov Gallery (21 April-24 July 2016).

Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz, 1898;
Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz, 1898;

Celebrating the remits of both galleries to put together a collection of portraits of each country’s most eminent and influential figures, the State Tretyakov Gallery has loaned to London some of Russia’s most highly treasured portraits including those of Akhmatova, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev.

The paintings are by some of the greatest Russian artists of the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Nikolai Ge, VasilyPerov, Ilia Repin, Valentin Serov, Ivan Kramskoy and Mikhail Vrubel.  The majority of the portraits were bought or commissioned directly from the artists by Pavel Tretyakov, a merchant, philanthropist and the founder of the State Tretyakov Gallery, whose own portrait by Repin opens the exhibition.

Among the loans from the National Portrait Gallery to the State Tretyakov Gallery are portraits of Dickens, Newton, Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth I, Cromwell, Darwin and one of its founders, Thomas Carlyle, together with the first picture to enter its collection, the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare.

Most prominent among the displays in the exhibition is Perov’s portrait of Dostoevsky, a work of exceptional historic and artistic value and the only portrait of the writer painted from life. Tolstoy is shown in the study of his Moscow home at work on the manuscript of his philosophical treatise What I Believe while Mussorgsky was painted just a few days before his death in a St Petersburg hospital at the age of forty-two.

Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia, 1914
Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia, 1914

Other highlights include Serov’s monumental portrait of the dramatic actress Maria Ermolova, painted over the course of 32 sittings, and Repin’s painting of the brilliant and independent literary salon host, Baroness Ikskul von Hildenbrandt. Serov’s portrait of Ivan Morozov depicts the Russian merchant and patron against the backdrop of Matisse’s Fruit and Bronze, a painting that Morozov had just acquired and became a centrepiece of his world-class collection of modern French art.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says, “These two exhibitions in London and Moscow form an important act of cultural exchange for both institutions. Russia and the Arts at the National Portrait Gallery surveys an extraordinary period of vibrancy in Russia’s cultural life during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Painted by outstanding artists of the period, these commissions constitute Russia’s first and most significant national portrait collection. The generous support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation has helped to make this exhibition possible.’

Zelfira Tregulova, General Director of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, says: ‘Russia and the Arts in London and From Elizabeth to Victoria in Moscow are two parts of a joint Russian-British project that signal the start of a bright new chapter in the history of cultural cooperation between our two countries. There is strong evidence to suggest that when he conceived his collection of portraits Tretyakov, who often visited London on business matters, drew on his experience of the National Portrait Gallery.”