The majority of paintings that formed the basis of the Russian Museum collection during its establishment are from the period of the eighteenth to the first half of the nineteenth century.
For example, among the eighty canvases from the Russian section of the Hermitage which were fully transferred to the new museum were works by K.P. Brullov («The Last Day of Pompeii») and F.A. Bruni («The Brazen Serpent»); I.K. Aivazovsky («The Ninth Wave») and G.I. Semiradsky («Phryne at the Poseidonia in Eleusis»); V.L. Borovikovsky («Portrait of Murtaza Kuli») and A.A. Ivanov («The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene»).
Works which are key in terms of the characteristics of the Russian school of painting of that period arrived at the museum when 122 canvases were donated by the Imperial Academy of Arts. Among them were such outstanding works as «Portrait of Evgraf Davydov» by O.A. Kiprensky, views of Bakhchisarai and Nikolayev by F.Y. Alekseyev, «Susanna and the Elders» by P.V. Basin, «The Threshing Floor» by A.G. Venetsianov and «Fortune and the Beggar» by A.T. Markov. A significant contribution to the forming of the collection of the Russian Museum was made by works from the Winter Palace, Alexander Palace (in Tsarskoye Selo) and Gatchina Palace – for example, works by K.P. Briullov («Portrait of Countess Yulia Samoilova with her foster daughter Amazilia Pacini»), «Cherkes» and «Bashkir» by A.O. Orlovsky, «Girl in a Hayloft» by A.G. Venetsianov, «Guitarist» and «Girl with a Doll» by V.A. Tropinin and «The Major’s» marriage proposal” by P.A. Fedotov.
The portrait painting section of the eighteenth century was significantly expanded in 1897 by the acquisition of the collection from the heirs of A.B. Lobanov-Rostovsky. Among the few dozen canvases it is important to note the portraits of I.I. and E.A. Lobanov- Rostovsky, the work of I.P. Argunov, «Portrait of A.D. Lanskoy» by D.G. Levitsky, the works of many foreign masters that worked in Russia in the eighteenth century – J.G. Tannauer, G.Ch. Grooth, P. Rotari, J.L. Voille and others.
By the moment of its opening the Russian Museum had already had a representative collection of the paintings by the artists of the national school, although it had some considerable gaps which were noted with regret by the contemporaries. It was caused by the fact that many paintings of the eighteenth century which were the pride of the national school remained in the imperial palaces and on the other hand almost no works of contemporary non-academic artists were acquired to the museum collection.
The vigorous activity of the major representatives of Russian culture that formed the Council of the Art Department of the museum, such as Albert N. Benois, P.A. Brullov, K.V. Lemoch and especially P.I. Neradovsky, curator of the Art Department from 1909 and the support of art collectors and connoisseurs M.P. Botkin, Alexander N. Benois and I. E. Grabar, helped to receive prominent works of masters of the eighteenth century. - A.P.Antropov («Portrait of M.A. Rumyantseva»), I.Y.Vishnyakov (portraits of Sarah and Wilhelm Fairmore), D.G. Levitsky («Portrait of A.S.Protasova») F.S.Rokotov («Portrait of E.V. Santi» and «Portrait of L.F.Santi») V.L. Borovikovsky («Portrait of E.N.Arsenieva»), as well as important paintings by artists of the first half of the nineteenth century («Portrait of A.F. Furman», «Portrait of O.A. Ryumina», «Portrait of K.I. Albrecht» by O. A. Kiprensky and a series of sketches by A.A. Ivanov).
In the pre-revolutionary years the museum collection of paintings has almost tripled and even more active replenishment of the collection occurred in the late 1910s - early 1920s. At this time, many private collections became part of the national treasury. In 1917 the museum received the rich collection of M.P. Botkin, including over eighty sketches to the «Christ’s appearance to the people» by Alexander Ivanov. Paintings belonging to the famous art collector V.N.Argutinsky-Dolgorukov, given to the museum in 1918 were also a significant contribution. In the first decades after the Revolution the Russian Museum received hundreds of superb works from established then and subsequently dissolved palace museums and permanent exhibitions. As a rule, these collections were transferred to the State Museum Fund and then distributed to museums. At the end of 1922 it was decided to transfer to the Russian Museum the collections of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, including the portrait gallery of the Council Chamber.
As a result of intense acquisition in the first ten years after the Revolution of 1917, the major gaps in the museum collection were filled. In its breadth the collection of the Russian Museum has become the world’s largest collection of the Russian art. Large-scale activity on widening of the collection in the 1930s developed also through the exchange of works between the Russian Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery and the Hermitage.
In the collecting activity of the last decades historical and artistic criteria has become core: in addition to the collection of masterpieces of Russian art of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century works of the so-called «second layer» have been acquired – such as sketches, studies and paintings of little-known artists. This has enabled a deeper, broader and more detailed analysis of the history of national art.
The collection of paintings is constantly being updated today.
Кarl Brullov. An Italian Midday.
1827. Oil on canvas.
Аlexei Venetsianov. Fortune telling with Cards.
1842. Oil on canvas.
Virtual tour of the museum complex. 2009 (Rus., Eng., Ger., Fin.)
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