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From Russia - Royal Academy of Arts (preview)

Preview by Lizzie Guilfyle

FROM January 26 to April 18, 2008, the Royal Academy of Arts is staging a landmark exhibition entitled From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Peterburg.

The modern masterpieces will be drawn from Russia’s principal collections – from the State Pushkin Museum and the State Tretyakov Museum in Moscow; and the State Hermitage Museum and the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

Over 120 paintings by Russian and French artists working between 1870 and 1925 will be displayed together for the first time ever in the United Kingdom in an exhibition which surveys the main directions of modern art from Realism and Impressionism to Non-Objective painting.

Works will include paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse together with those by Kandinsky, Tatlin and Malevich. This exhibition will provide a unique opportunity to explore the fascinating exchange that existed between French and Russian art during a crucial period that was witness to upheaval and revolution.

Selected from Russia’s premier museums, the exhibition will be a testimony to the glorious history of Russian collecting and Russia’s influence in the development of modern art. The ground-breaking yet individual tastes of collectors Pavel Tretyakov, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morosov will be illustrated in the collections they bequeathed to Moscow and St Petersburg.

The exhibition will be structured around four main themes starting with a presentation of works by the Russian realists, namely the Wanderers, an important group of Russian artists who broke away from the St Petersburg Academy and focused on Russian landscape, contemporary social issues, scenes from traditional peasant life and Russian history.

Works by Ilya Repin, Ivan Kramskoy, Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov and Mikhail Nesterov and others will be shown with paintings by French artists of the Barbizon school such as Théodore Rousseau, Charles Daubigny and Jean-François Millet as well as the Salon painters Jules Bastien-Lepage and Albert Besnard.

The second section of the exhibition will display not only masterpieces from the two great Moscow collections, those of Ivan Morosov and Sergei Shchukin, but also demonstrate their differing points of emphasis. These two Moscow textile merchants were, without doubt, the most brilliant and daring Russian collectors of their day. They scoured Paris for paintings by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and accumulated works by Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso.

Shchukin became Matisse’s greatest patron, commissioning the celebrated The Dance as part of an astonishingly bold scheme to decorate the grand staircase of his Moscow mansion. The Dance will be perhaps the most sensational highlight of the exhibition.

The third section of the exhibition will be devoted to the famous theatrical impresario and exhibition-maker Sergei Diaghilev, who was at the forefront of the World of Art movement. He played a vital role not only in presenting modern French art in Russia but also in taking Russian art to the West, particularly in Paris. Vasily Kandinsky drew on the imagery of Russian fairy tales and combined it with Fauvist colour as a starting point for his daring steps towards abstraction, and Marc Chagall adapted elements of French Cubism to his highly individual and poetic distillation of Russian-Jewish folklore.

Artists presented in this section of the exhibition will also include Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst, Boris Kustodiev, Nochiolas Roerich, Alexander Golovinund Valentin Serov as well as a selection of impressive portraits of great figures of Russian cultural life such as Vsevolod Meyerhold, Feodor Chaliapin and Anna Akhmatova.

Cross-currents between Russian and French art were particularly fertile in the early twentieth century. The final section of the exhibition will encompass the exhilarating kaleidoscope of rapidly succeeding artistic developments. Mikahail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova responded to both the French Post-Impressionists, particularly Cézanne and Gauguin, and the vigour of Russian folk art in their unique Neo-Primitive style.

Bold reinterpretations of Cubism, as well as Italian Futurism, resulted in the brilliant Cubo-Futurist works by Jean Pougny, Pavel Filonov and a remarkable group of experimental women artists including Olga Rozanova, Lyubov Popova and Alexandra Exter.

Included will be Vladimir Tatlin’s ground-breaking three-dimensional constructions which heralded the advent of Constructivism and Kazimir Malevich’s celebrated triptych Black Square, Black Circle, and Black Cross rejecting all forms of pictorial tradition and an icon of the purely abstract style of Suprematism.

The exhibition has been curated by the Royal Academy of Arts and organised in conjunction with Museum Kunst Palast in Dusseldorf. It has been initiated and made possible by E.ON. Co-curators are Sir Norman Rosenthal, Exhibitions Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts; Ann Dumas, Exhibitions Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts; and Mattijs Visser, Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf.

Admission: £11 – full price; £9 – Registered Disabled and over 60s; £7.50 – NUS/ISIC cardholders; £4 – 12-18 years and Income Support; £3 – 8-11 years; free – 7 years and under.

Times: 10am to 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

For more information or to book tickets in advance, call 0870 848 8484 or visit the website.