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Collections of the Russian museum

Drawings and watercolours

The origins of the graphic collection of the Russian Museum date back to the time of its opening, 7(19) March 1898. On this day sketches, drawings and watercolors by K.Brullov, F. Bruni, A. Egorov, K. Beggrov and other masters of the first half of the nineteenth century were exhibited in two halls of the Mikhailovsky Palace.


Almost half of 979 watercolors and drawings, exhibited for the first time in the museum, were donated by Duchess M. Tenisheva. In this excellent collection were works by O. Kiprensky, K. Brullov, P. Fedotov, I. Kramskoy, I. Repin, V. Serov, as well as members of the Society of Russian Watercolorists. In the following years M.Tenisheva augmented her gift, donating to the museum 196 paintings more by artists of the “World of Art” M. Vrubel, L. Bakst, K. Korovin and others.

The first acquisitions to the museum collection were quite heterogeneous and reflected the choice and taste of the donors. But gradually, as early as the 1910s, the basic principles of the formation of graphic collections evolved, based on the need to fully reflect all significant developments in Russian art. In those years, for the first time it was considered necessary to collect not only drawings and watercolors, but also sketches, studies and drafts of famous painters, sculptors and architects. The widening of the graphic collection was marked by the creation in 1918 of an independent department, which included not only drawings and watercolors, but also engravings.

The department continued to receive new acquisitions. In 1923, the museum received 1713 works from the Makovsky family of artists. Another important part belonged to the collection of S. Botkin. Among the 1320 graphic works, given to the museum by his widow, there were rare watercolors by M. Ivanov, drawings by A. Losenko, M. Kozlovsky, A. Egorov, O. Kiprensky, P. Fedotov, P. Sokolov, I. Repin, V. Surikov, M. Vrubel, V. Serov and other masters of Russian art.

Mention must also be made of the priceless collection of L.Zhemchuzhnikov (4722 pieces, among them are paintings of P.Fedotov), the remarkable collection of A.R. Tomilov and E.G.Shvarts which is based on the works of artists of the first half of the nineteenth century, O. Kiprensky, A. Orlovsky, A. Venetsianov and G. Quarengi, as well as collection of Prince V. Argutinsky-Dolgorukov (1895 pieces) and famous architectural graphics of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century.

In 1972, the drawing and engraving section was divided into two separate parts, each of them having unique material reflecting all the stages of the development of Russian graphic art from the eighteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. Modern graphic art, from 1917, was exhibited in a different museum collection — the department of Soviet graphic art, created in 1932. The formation of this collection from the outset was associated with active participation of department specialists in the artistic life — visiting exhibitions and artists’ studios and maintaining close contacts with collectors and heirs.

At the basis of the collection of modern graphics lies material that was obtained by the Russian Museum in 1926, of paintings and graphic art from the Museum of Artistic Culture. The works by the leading masters of the Russian avant-garde: K. Malevich, M. Chagal, P. Miturich, N. Kulbin, L. Bruni and others have become the pride of the continually growing collection of contemporary graphic art.

In the pre-war years the museum acquired a considerable number of paintings, watercolors and sketches by K. Petrov-Vodkin, V. Lebedev, N. Tyrsa, A. Samokhvalov and V. Konashevich. The graphics performed during World War II became part of an interesting and varied collection, its foundation was made up of works acquired in 1942 for the Russian Museum from the exhibition “Leningrad During the Siege”. In the post-war years the collection of book illustrations significantly increased, including not only originals from actual publications, but also numerous sketches.

The history of the development of Russian drawing in the twentieth century has its own peculiarities. The museum has always been interested specifically in the works of the first third of the twentieth century, when art of drawing prevailed over other art forms. It is no accident that in the recent years the early drawings of Yu.Vasnetsov and V. Ermolaeva, M.Sokolov and R. Florenskaya were acquired to the collection. In the second half of the last century the reception of ​​the graphics changed, witnessed by its genre, thematic and sculptural innovations, and in the collection of the department many new names appeared, for example, P. Shuriga P. Dik, K. Mamonov and A. Agabekov. Among them were artists of the so-called “alternative art” of Moscow and Leningrad of the 1950s to the 1980s; A. Arefyev and R. Vasmi, E. Belyutin and M. Shvartsman.

Of particular importance for the department of drawings and watercolors are the works of one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, P. Filonov, whose legacy (including more than 200 pieces of graphics) was donated to the museum by his sister E. Glebova in 1987. The largest donation of the past few years can be considered to be the collection of doctor and theatre historian G. Levitin (about 2.300 works, including works by K. Petrov-Vodkin, N. Goncharova, A. Tyshler, and B. Grigorev and many other artists of the twentieth century), which was transferred to the Russian Museum by heirs according to the will of the owner in 1984. Dozens of first-rate works came to the department in 1998, through a donation by famous St. Petersburg collectors brothers I.A. and Y.A. Rzhevsky who had, among other objects, collected graphic art of the twentieth century.

Recent decades have seen important and fundamental changes in the history of the department of drawing. In 1995 it was decided to reorganize the graphic sections of the Russian Museum, and instead of the three that had existed formerly, two departments were established. So the department of “old drawing” as it was commonly called, received materials from the department of Soviet graphics. A new department of drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth to the twenty first centuries appeared, one of the largest in the museum, housing more than 110 thousand pieces.

The collection of national graphic works, which is among the world’s most significant collections, found its completion, allowing a conversation about the common problems of the development of drawing, including its recent movements. It became possible to combine the materials that characterise the development of the art of drawing over three centuries. At one time dividing one collection into two parts, 1917 ceased to be a strict watershed, separating the work of artists into “before” and “after”. The complicated logic of the development of art of the twentieth century can now be restored at least within the traditional forms of the art of drawing.

Pavel Filonov. Pub

Pavel Filonov. Pub.

1924. Indian ink, quill, brush and graphite pencil on paper.

Nikolai Tyrsa. Portrait of Anna Akhmatova

Nikolai Tyrsa. Portrait of Anna Akhmatova.

1928. Lamp soot.

Ivan Ermenev. Peasants at Dinner

Ivan Ermenev.

Peasants at Dinner


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