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Moscow during the Reigns of Catherine II and Paul I in the Paintings of Gérard de la Barthe

Gérard de la Barthe. View from the balcony of the Ostankino Palace. 1798. Oil,canvas. The State Russian Museum
23 november 2017—20 march 2018

Gérard de la Barthe, French painter and watercolorist, worked in Russia between 1787 and 1810. In the late 1780s, de la Barthe painted views of Tsarskoye Selo, and in the second half of the 1790s, he created a series of watercolors and paintings depicting views of Moscow and its suburbs that became widely popular due to etched reproductions of them. De la Barthe earned his reputation as a skillful artist, equally successful as a landscape painter, a view painter, and a “figurist”, masterfully rendering the bustling everyday life of a big city.

Catherine II used to admit that she had never liked Moscow. Moscow repelled her with its medieval gracelessness and dilapidation, luxury and idleness, its enormous size, vast squares, the abundance of paupers, thieves, and useless domestic servants. She commissioned a series of painting, wishing to see Moscow captured in its originality and contrast of its everyday life. That is why she chose de la Barthe, a talented painter of the vernacular city life. The artist was not bound by restrictions and directives; he didn’t have to paint new pieces of architecture. He was free enough to depict what he as a foreigner felt was worth being represented in such a big and curious city.

De la Barthe aims to capture a portrait of the entire city space, not just particular streets or neighborhoods. In his view, Moscow possesses plenty of vast open spaces that are scarce in European cities. These spaces are full of city types: de la Barthe regards the multitude of people from a perspective of their social diversity and at the same time of their interconnectedness and proximity.

Unlike Catherine, Paul I did like Moscow. He felt more welcome there than in St. Petersburg. Paul commissioned de la Barthe to paint 6 canvases: two panoramas of Moscow and four paintings connected with the emperor’s trips around Moscow suburbs. The two panoramas were executed in high, odic manner: the architecture is now in the foreground, the buildings of the Kremlin are elaborated in great detail. The figures in the forefront are no longer part of the city crowd, more likely, they represent public offices.

The exhibition at the St Michael’s Castle will include 15 paintings from the Moscow series by Gérard de la Barthe, accessioned into the Museum’s collection in 1931 from the Alexandrovsky Palace in Tsarskoye Selo and never yet exhibited in its entirety. The display will also include views of Moscow painted around the same time by I. V. Moshkov (1778–1845) and etchings depicting the 1812 Fire of Moscow, the landscape backgrounds of which are based on de la Barthe’s vedute. 

The exhibition is supported by Sistema Charitable Foundation.

Gérard de la Barthe. View of the Kremlin from the Kamenny Bridge. 1794. Oil, canvas. The State Russian Museum View of the Yauza Bridge and Shapkin's House in Moscow. 1979. Oil, canvas. The State Russian Museum

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