Blog

New talk in progress

Faberge Egg (1913) commemorating 300 years
of Romanov rule 

I am developing a more general talk on Russia for groups who want to enjoy an introduction to the country through its history.

I shall look at six images of Russia, either objects or places, which will act as a ‘hook’ through which I shall discuss key moments in Russian history and well known personalities in Russian Life.

Once the talk is completed I shall post more details about it on the talks label above.

I have already decided on three of the images, one of which you can see here.

Researching the history of the Pushkin Museum

The Pushkin Museum

I have been busy this week researching the history of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury will close at the end of October to embark on its £8 million capital  project.

While it is closed some of its artworks will be travelling to Moscow to feature in an exhibition at the Pushkin Museum.

 I am giving a talk at Gainsborough’s House next week, and thought it would be a good idea to give the audience some information about where the pictures are headed.

The Pushkin Museum is the largest showcase for  Western art in the Russian Capital. Its name is misleading since the museum has little to do with the great early 19th Century Russian poet.  It was renamed in 1937 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Pushkin’s death.

The museum, which was built between 1898 and 1912 was originally conceived as a part of Moscow University.  It was the creation of the father of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, Ivan Tsvetaev who was a Professor at the University and an expert in ancient classical art.

The museum holds over 700,000 separate articles and has extensive collections of paintings, sculptures and other artifacts dating from centuries BCE to the present day.

Nick and I, along with some other intrepid travelers, will be visiting the museum in December to see the Gainsborough’s House pictures in a totally new context!

I hope to post more about the experience on this site in due course.

The imperial family at the opening of the Pushkin Museum in 1912

Repin Retrospective

This year is the 175th anniversary of the birth of the wonderful Russian artist Ilya Repin (1844 to 1930).  To celebrate this the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is staging a retrospective exhibition but sadly it will be over before I plan to be in Moscow later this year.

Repin’s paintings are amazingly varied.  He produced wonderfully evocative portraits, paintings of historical scenes and also images of Russia as it appeared during his lifetime.  He was one of the ‘Peredvizhniki’ (or ‘Itinerants’ or ‘Wanderers’), a group of artists who broke away from the constraints imposed by the Russian Academy of Arts in order to produce work that was more relevant and accessible to the people.

The picture above is called ‘Procession of the Cross, Kursk’ and it was painted in 1881/2.  In addition to being a critical commentary on society at the time, it is also thought to be an environmental protest.  The countryside through which the procession is wending its way is bare and arid, and it is thought that this is Repin’s protest against the environmental damage caused in the region by excessive cutting down of trees.   The inhospitable landscape also perhaps says something about the spiritual state of many of the participants in the procession.

In my talk about Russian Roads I look at this picture in some detail, and also discuss the Peredvizhniki.

The Black Square

In my talk about the Art of Resistance (see talks tab above)  I devote some time to Malevich’s famous image from the beginning of the 20th Century, The Black Square.

There is now an excellent Heni Talk about this picture available on-line given by the Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Iwona Blazwick. 

She reflects the belief of  Constructivist artists like Malevich  that their work represented a real democritisation of art. It was a creative effort that was accessible by all people, everywhere. Unlike representational art it was not the property of ‘an elite’.  As such it could be seen as truly revolutionary and in tune with the mood of the time.

As I explain in my talk this view was not ultimately shared by contemporary political and cultural leaders, and pictures such as the Black Square were, within a few years, no longer deemed acceptable in the Soviet Union.

To access the on line talk, which is only around 15 minutes long, follow this link.

Russian Roads

V.G. Perov. The Last Inn (1868) Oil on Canvas 

One of my talks is on the subject of Russian roads.  Russia is a big place and even today many roads are not particularly easy to navigate outside the main cities.

In the talk I look at many aspects of the idea of rhe road.  I consider how roads manifest themselves in the Russian consiousness in a metaphorical way, and also look at how roads have been depicted in Russian art. 

The pictures include the wonderful image above by Vassily Perov (1834 – 1882) who was one of the founder members of the ‘Peredvishniki’ or ‘Wanderers’ , a group of artists who sought to escape the suffocating atmosphere of the Imperial Academy by literally taking to the road to ensure that their art was seen in provincial centres.

In Perov’s painting we see the route out of a provincial town.  It goes past the ‘last inn’ just inside the town gates.  The sunlight in the distance is misleading since a glance at the chimney of the inn shows that a bitter wind is blowing, and in the sledge in front of the inn some unfortunate person is waiting in the cold, presumably while the master of the house is having a drink inside!

I was reminded of the topic of Russian Roads  today because I have been alerted (via Twitter) to a fine collection of photographs of Russian Roads through the ages, one of which is shown below. More can be seen on  the website English Russia  available here.

A road in the depths of Russia.  The sign reads ‘Paradise’ in one direction and ‘Jerusalem’ in the other.

Peter the Great at the Queen’s Gallery

Portrait of Peter the Great of Russia by Sir Godfrey Kneller. 1698.

This picture of Peter the Great is one of many interesting works that can be seen at the exhibition  Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs,  currently running at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The picture features in my talk ‘The Bronze Horseman‘ which tells the story of the founding of St Petersburg, and also appears in ‘Russian Travellers in Europe in the late 18th Century.’

The portrait was painted by Kneller as a gift to the King of England.  Peter visited England and the Low Countries with a large group of followers during what is known as his Grand Embassy. Unlike later Russian travellers, who undertook ‘Grand Tours’ later in the century,  Peter’s expedition was of a largely utilitarian nature, although he did find time to indulge in entertainment.

The young Tsar had just achieved full control of Russia.  He was aiming to modernise his country, and his trip was focussed on learning more about the West and developing new skills. He also hoped to encourage closer diplomatic ties with Western powers.

In the picture Peter presents himself as a typical Western monarch.  The painting is not unlike that of James ll painted by Kneller in 1683 in a very similar pose

Portrait of James ll and Vl in armour, Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1683.

A Grand Tour

Only a couple of weeks to go now before I go on my ‘Grand Tour’ around Suffolk and North Essex making my small contribution to Hugh Belsey’s lecture series on the 18th Century Grand Tour.

I will be speaking about some of the Russians who travelled to Italy and beyond after 1762, when the gentry were free to travel abroad following their release from obligatory service to the state.

Despite the depradations of the Revolution and the Second World War, there are still reminders of these travels in Russia today, including some of the contents of Pavlosk Palace, pictured above.

A detail from a picture brought back by one traveller can be seen below.  Hot work for a hound!

The Eruption of Vesuvius 1771 (detail) Pierre-Jaques Volaire.

Starting again

This new site is dedicated to my ‘Russian’ actitivies

I will be posting information about my talks, translation and research services, together with other news and comment.

Please bear with me while I work out how to make the site work.  For someone as technically challenged as me this could take some time!