History of The Russian Museum
The State Russian Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Russian fine art. It was opened on March 7 (19) 1898 by decree of Tsar Nicholas II and was country’s first ever state museum of Russian fine art, which was able to present the visitors the whole history of its development. From the very beginning the collection was housed in the Mikhailovsky Palace, which was built for the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich, son of Paul I.
The nucleus of the Museum collection consisted of oil painting, sculpture, graphic art, decorative and applied art. On the whole it was less than 1500 items mainly from the collections of the Hermitage, the Museum of the Academy of Arts and from the Royal Palaces. Some exhibits came from private collectors, for example the Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky collection was acquired from his heirs. The size of the Russian Museum collection almost doubled during the first decade of its existence. The Academy of Arts also transferred its collection of Christian Antiquities — five thousands items — including Novgorod icons, wooden sculpture and samples of the middle-century religious art. The Lobanov-Rostovsky collection donated to the Museum included 95 portraits of the Russian statesmen of the 18-19 centuries.
Another source of acquisitions was the collection from the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo (items from the Anichkov Palace entered the Museum much later).
Nikolai Likhachev donated his vast collection of Greek and Old-Russian icons.
A considerable part of fine artworks was presented to the Museum from the private collections. The October Revolution caused no damage to the Russian Museum collection. All the nationalized private collections and separate artworks were transferred to museums. During the first decade after the Revolution the Russian Museum collection grew several times compared to its original size. The ties of the Russian Museum with the Hermitage and the Tretyakov Gallery permitted mutually advantageous interchange of artistic treasures.
Nowadays the collection of the Russian Museum numbers some 400.000 works and covers the entire history of Russian fine art from the tenth century to the present day. It reflects virtually every form and genre of art in Russia, including a unique collection of Old Russian icons, works of painting, graphic art and sculpture, decorative and applied art, folk art and numismatics, as well as the world’s finest collection of Russian avant-garde.
Since 1976, the Russian Museum has been a National center coordinating the academic and methodological work of all the art museums of Russia. In 1992, the President of the Russian Federation signed a decree acknowledging the Museum as a special object of national cultural heritage.
Now the Museum is the owner of three more palaces in the center of St Petersburg, the Stroganov Palace, Marble Palace and St Michael’s Castle. Restoration work is currently going on in each of these palaces. Nevertheless, all of them already house expositions and exhibitions from the collection of the Russian Museum.
Palaces and Parks
The State Russian Museum is the first state museum of Russian Art in the country. It was founded by decree of Tsar Nicholas II in St Petersburg in 1895. The museum solemnly opened its doors to the public on 7/19 March 1898.
The Russian museum is a unique depository of art values, well-known restoration centre, authoritative academic and research institute, one of the biggest centres of cultural and educational work and academic and methodical centre of museums of art in the Russian Federation, curating work of 260 Russian museums of art.
The collection of the Russian Museum numbers 400000 exhibits and covers all historical periods and tendencies of development of Russian art, all its main forms and genres, styles and schools for the last 1000 years: from the 10th century to the 20th century.
The Mikhailovsky Palace, the main building of the Russian Museum, is situated on the Square of Arts in the centre of the city. Built to the design of the celebrated architect Carlo Rossi between 1819 and 1825, the palace is a masterpiece of Russian Neoclassical architecture. The Palace was named after Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich — the fourth son of the Emperor Paul I. In 1895 the building was acquired by the crown and granted to the Emperor Alexander III Russian Museum. In 1895-98 inner premises of the palace were rebuilt and adjusted for the museum. The project was made by the architect Vasily Svinin.
As the collection increased in 1914-19 the Exhibition Pavilion of the Academy of Art was built according to the project of Leonty Benois and S. O. Ovsyannikov. It was called the Benois Wing.
The Mikhailovsky Palace, the Benois Wing and the Rossi Wing contain the main museum exposition. There are works by the most prominent Russian artists — Andrei Rublev, Dionisius, Fedot Shubin, Dmitry Levitsky, Vladimir Borovikovsky, Karl Brullov, Fidelio Bruni, Orest Kiprensky, Alexander Ivanov, Ilya Repin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Shishkin, Valentin Serov, Mikhail Vrubel, Pavel Antokolsky, Boris Kustodiev, Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Pavel Filonov, Marc Chagall, Kuzma Petrov — Vodkin and many other artists.
The Stroganov Palace, once home to one of Russia’s most famous families — the Stroganovs, is one of the best examples of Russian Baroque architecture. Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli is considered to be the true architect of the building constructed in 1753-56. Famous architects Andrei Voronikhin, Carlo Rossi, Pyotr Sadovnikov and Harold Bosse contributed to later redesigns and interior designs of the palace.
Nowadays the restoration of the Large (Ball) Room is completed. This is the only room in St Petersburg, where the decorative design of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli has been preserved. The ceiling of the Large (Ball) Room is decorated with a unique plafond entitled The Adventure of a Hero, painted by Giuseppe Valeriani. The plafond was not redesigned.
The works of decorative and applied art from the funds of the Russian Museum are exhibited in the restored rooms of the palace. The Private Porcelain Factories of Russia: The Gardner Factory exhibition was opened in May 2003.
The Marble Palace is an outstanding sample of early Neoclassicism in Russia. Built to the design of the architect Antonio Rinaldy between 1768 and 1785, the palace was commissioned by Catherine the Great. The architect first ever in Russia extensively used granite and various species of marble for decoration of facades and interiors of the palace. Thus later the palace got the name of the Marble Palace.
First the palace was built as a present for Count Grigory Orlov, the favorite of Catherine the Great. However, Grigory Orlov had died before the construction was completed. After his death the palace was a residence of the Grand Dukes. One of its latest owners was Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. The memorial museum of the recognized poet of the Silver Age Konstantin Romanov (K.R) is located on the ground floor of the palace in the former chambers of the Grand Duke and in the original interiors of that time.
In 2001 the Rzhevsky Brothers Collection permanent exhibition, a gift to the State Russian Museum, was opened in the Marble Palace. In 1994 the equestrian statue of Alexander III was placed in front of the palace. The sculpture of the statue was Pavel Trubetskoi.
In 1995 the Ludwig Museum in the Russian Museum permanent exhibition was opened in the Marble Palace. It was donated by famous German collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig and displays works by European, Russian and American artists. The Ludwig Museum in the Russian Museum is the only permanent exhibition of art of the late 20th century that allows us to trace the development of Russian art in the context of world art culture.
After restoration, the Foreign Artists in Russia permanent exhibition was opened in the halls of the Marble Palace. It shows works by German, Italian, French and other European artists and sculptors who influenced the development of Russian art of the 18th — first half of the 19th centuries.
St Michael’s Castle was designed by Vincenzo Brenna and Vasily Bazhenov (1797-1801) as a parade residence for the Emperor Paul I. The Emperor himself added to the project. It is named after St Michael the Archangel (patron saint of the House of Romanov). This is the only palace building in Russia in the style of romantic classicism.
After the assassination of the Emperor Paul I (on the night of the 11th/12th of March 1801) the castle became the property of the Ministry of the Imperial Court. In February 1823 St Michael’s Castle was presented to the Central College of Engineering and was renamed the Engineers Castle.
A time of vast upheavals came to St Michael’s Castle in the 1990s. In 1994, the building was officially awarded to the Russian Museum. A major reconstruction programme was announced, aimed at restoring the original decor and architecture.
Three of the facades and the adjoining gardens have now been fully restored. Part of the original Resurrection Canal has been recreated. The Chapel of St Michael the Archangel, the private apartments of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich and Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, the Main Staircase, the Antique Room, the Raphael Gallery, the Dining Room and the Empress Marie Fyodorovna Throne Room have all been restored to their former glory. They now host exhibitions of art from the collection of the Russian Museum — many of them repeating the dreams and ideas of the original owner of the palace, Tsar Paul.
In May 2003 new permanent expositions were opened in restored rooms of the castle — The History of the Castle and its Inhabitants, Antique Subjects in the Russian Art and the Renaissance in the Oeuvre of Russian Artists
The Summer Garden with its collection of sculpture and the Summer Palace, the first emperor summer residence, form a single museum complex. The Garden was Peter the Great´s favourite creation. It was started in 1704. The Garden has changed greatly through the ages. However, its original regular planning has been completely preserved till nowadays.
The Russian Museum today is a unique depository of artistic treasures, a leading restoration center, an authoritative institute of academic research, a major educational center and the nucleus of a network of national museums of art.
The Russian Museum collection contains circa 400.000 exhibits. The main complex of museum buildings – the Mikhailovsky Palace and Benois Wing – houses the permanent exhibition of the Russian Museum, tracing the entire history of Russian art from the tenth to the twentieth centuries. The museum collection embraces all forms, genres, schools and movements of art.
The Russian Museum holds many exhibitions both in Russia and abroad. The Museum holds more than 50 temporary exhibitions and organizes more than 10 in other cities and abroad annually. Catalogues, albums and booklets made by museum researchers accompany many exhibitions.
Over the past twenty years, the museum complex has grown to include the Stroganov Palace, St Michael’s (Engineers) Castle and the Marble Palace. The complex also includes the Mikhailovsky Gardens, Engineering Gardens, Summer Garden (including the Summer Palace) and the House of Peter the Great.
The State Russian museum in St. Petersburg is a treasure-house of world importance, where all the wealth and variety of Russian figurative art is superbly represented. However, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that visiting public associate this Museum first and foremost with its famous picture gallery. Indeed, it was the picture gallery that formed the core of the Museum during the period of its foundation in 1895-97 and over the next decade or so. Later on the Museum amassed various collections of sculpture, graphics, and objects of decorative and applied art which were just as important, but for all their richness it is still the picture gallery that enjoys the greatest popularity.
The new collection thus amassed in the Russian Museum toward the close of the nineteenth century ranked with such treasure-houses of Russian painting as the Tretyakov Gallery and the Rumiantsev Museum in Moscow, and Academy of Art in St. Petersburg. Each of these older collections had its own distinctive feature, reflecting the aesthetic principles which had underlain the selection of new entries. Similar factors determined the Russian Museum’s activities in the first ten years after its inception. The Museum was run under the supervision of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Art and remained totally dependent on the Ministry of the Imperial Court. The Grand Duke Georgi Mikhailovich was designated as the “most august director” of the Museum, while Albert Benois, professor of the Academy of Arts, and Pavel Briullov, academician, were made curators of the collections (in 1901 Benois was replaced by the genre painter K. Lemokh). The Russian Museum collection almost doubled in size during the first ten years of its existence.
In 1909 K. Lemokh retired and the art historian and painter P. Neradovsky was appointed curator of the Department of Painting. For the first time since its foundation the Museum’s activities were put on a scientific basis, be it selection, preservation or restoration of art treasures. The growing collection made it more and more urgent to review the exhibiting principles. An overall rearrangement of the Museum exhibits was undertaken in 1909-10, and the new system based on artistic and historical principles offered, despite some lapses, a much major faithful and consistent picture of the development of Russian painting.
During the War of 1914-18 the collection was partially evacuated to Moscow and from February 1917 the Museum was closed to visitors. As early as November 7, 1918, on the First Anniversary of the October Revolution some exhibition rooms were re-opened to the public. But the inauguration of the entire new exhibition had to be postponed until 1922 in view of the capital repairs of the buildings, its heating and ventilation systems.
Having amassed so many brilliant collections, the Russian Museum became one of the reaches picture galleries in the world and acquired the significance of a national gallery in which the many-sided phenomena of Russian art spanning the period from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries are fully represented. Subsequent additions to the Museum did not alter the standing of the so-called historical part of the exhibition, but contemporary art was not given first priority in the collecting, which was quite natural for Soviet museums with its far-reaching scientific, ideological, artistic and educational tasks.
During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 the most valuable paintings were removed to the hinterland of the Soviet Union survived. After the war, work was began to restore the Museum whose main building suffered severe damage from artillery fire and air raids. The first exhibition rooms were opened on May 9, 1946on the first anniversary of victory. Half a year later the entire exhibition was installed in all the rooms of the Museums main building.
Today the unique and comprehensive collection of the Russian Museum affords an exceptional opportunity for an all-round, detailed study of the development of artistic ideas and culture in Russia over a period a period of nearly two and a half centuries.