Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky at the National Portrait Gallery from 17th March to 26th June 2016

Exhibition Review – Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky at the National Portrait Gallery from 17th March to 26th June 2016

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One of the most important exhibition of Russian portraits ever to take place at a British museum opens at the National Portrait Gallery on 17th March 2016.

The exhibition entitled Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky is part of an unprecedented cultural exchange with Moscow. 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) will coincide 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).

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The portraits celebrate many of key figures of what is considered a golden age of the arts in Russia spanning 1867-1914. Many of the portraits that include Akhmatova, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev will be seen in Britain for the first time.

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

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The exhibition explores the period when Russian culture was looking to the future whilst examining its past, developments in the West especially in painting began to be introduced by wealthy Russian merchants like Ivan Morozov whose portrait by Serov shows him in front of Matisse’s Fruit and Bronze, a painting that Morozov had just bought to add to his world-class collection of modern French art. Pavel Tretyakov whose own portrait by Repin opens the exhibition was anxious to illustrate the golden age of Russian art and culture by providing portraits of some of its leading lights. The portrait of Dostoevsky was the only portrait of the writer painted from life. Tolstoy is shown in the study of his Moscow home at work and Mussorgsky was painted just a few days before his death.

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It is worth remembering that this development of Russia’s exceptional cultural life was undertaken against the backdrop of a nation trying to modernise but retain its distinctive Russian character. Many of the portraits in the exhibition show how many of the Russian elite were using art to show that the country was a cultural centre in the closing decades of Imperial rule. Ultimately this golden age was bought to an abrupt end by the Russian Revolution of 1917 which considered such art as elitist and bourgeois.

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This attractive and intriguing exhibition offers an opportunity to discover some of the greatest Russian artists of the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of the artists are still virtually unknown in the West but were responsible for illustrating this relatively short period that produced some of the greatest writers and composers in the world. The exhibition also explores the role of wealthy patrons such as Morozov and Tretyakov, who in buying and commissioning work were vital for the golden age to flourish.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky

17 March -26 June 2016, National Portrait Gallery, London

Tickets with donation: Full price £6 / Concessions £5

Tickets without donation Full price £5/ Concessions £4

If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the National Portrait Gallery website here

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