Tag Archives: Tretyakov Gallery

Tretyakov brothers plaque, Moscow

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My friend Michael Nemirsky, who sometimes reads these posts, sent me a question the other day asking when most of Moscow’s memorial plaques were put up. I don’t have an answer for that grounded in hard fact, but experience tells me that most of the plaques we see these days were put up after the 1950s, some before, and on through the end of the Soviet period. Memorial plaques were one of the ways that the Soviet government paid off people who did its bidding. That’s why many of them are people with checkered biographies, while some of those people that we consider great today are not so  honored. Plaques and monuments still go up in our day, but not as frequently in the past.
Literally just a few hours after Michael put that question to me I happened to be on Nikolskaya Street near the Kremlin when I came upon the tiny street, even alleyway, called Tretyakovsky Passage. It was, and remains, a street that was privately built in the 1870s by the Tretyakov  brothers Pavel (1832-1898) and Sergei (1832-1892) on land which originally had been built up in the 18th century. And right there in the archway leading to the tiny street was a very old memorial tablet. It is so old that it is written in the typescript that was used before the Russian language underwent a reformation that took place on Jan. 1, 1918. With that lovely old-fashioned hard sign finishing off each word or name on the plaque, it directs attention to the “Honorable Citizens P.M. and S.M. Tretyakov.” You can see the marble plaque in the first photo above. I don’t know when it was placed here on this wall, I haven’t been able to find that information. But it obviously would have been before 1918, making it one of the oldest memorial plaques in Moscow.

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The Tretyakov brothers – two of the greatest collectors of paintings in Russian history – began building their collections some time before they built the two rows of stores and boutiques (as we call them today). I’m assuming that art collection, even in the second half of the 19th century, was a profitable endeavor. The stores on Tretyakov Passage were very respectable in their day. There were stores here which traded in furniture, tea, women’s clothing and other items. I remember a time in the late Soviet period when most of these places were empty or abandoned. In recent years they have been resurrected and turned into one of the poshest places in Moscow. Bentley Motors, Ferrari, Maserati, Armani, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent and many other “top” western brands have outlets here. Fashion Week in Moscow is usually held in this little alleyway these days. I particularly love the Tretyakov Spa, pictured above, which opens at 11 a.m. I mean, who, among the hoity-toity in Moscow are going to get out of bed before 11 a.m. to work out? After all, you don’t even have to be hoity-toity in Moscow to sleep in until 11 a.m.
I don’t know if they did it by agreement or if it happened by chance, but Pavel Tretyakov, who was born in December 1832, spent most of his time collecting Russian art, while his brother Sergei, born in January the same year, primarily collected European art. Pavel’s works ended up forming the basis of the famed Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which specializes in Russian art. Sergei actually started out collecting the work of Russian artists too. Some of his first acquisitions were painted by Alexei Bogolyubov, Vasily Vereshchagin, Ivan Kramskoi, Arkhip Kuindzhi and others. But his heart was in collecting the European painters – Jacques-Louis David, Gustave Courbet, Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Paul Laurens, Anton Mauve, Baldomero Galofre Jimenez and many, many more.
The fine arts in Russia are synonymous with the Tretyakov name. I find it has a lot more cache than all the big names tossed around on storefronts here today. Somehow one has the feeling that something along the lines of, say, Dolce & Gabbana may be here today but will be gone tomorrow, while one senses that, whoever else may blow in here in the future, the name Tretyakov will still be in place and will still carry weight. The hotshots here lean on the Tretyakovs for prestige, not the other way around.

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Writer’s House (Pasternak, Olesha, Ilf & Petrov etc.) on Lavrushinsky, Moscow

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I would call this one of the greatest-kept secrets in Moscow cultural lore. This building, which you have surely seen if you have ever spent time in Moscow (because it is located right across the street from the Tretyakov Gallery and you, of course, have been there), is absolutely chock-full of literary history, real and imagined. This, for example, is the very place to which the slicked-up and scantily-clad Margarita flies and destroys a critic’s living quarters at the end of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. You see, Bulgakov was in line to receive an apartment here in the early 1930s, but was refused. A nit-picking critic who was always yapping at the heels of Bulgakov’s work did receive an apartment here. It pissed Bulgakov off enough that he famously avenged the nasty man through his literature. The only change Bulgakov introduced into the story was that in M&M the building ostensibly stands on the Arbat. In fact, this is it: 17 Lavrushinsky Lane, in the Zamoskvorechye region.
Just look at the list of people who were entered in the list of the winners of the “lottery” to receive apartments a full year before construction on the building was complete in 1937: Boris Pasternak, Ilf and Petrov, Konstantin Paustovsky, Ilya Erenburg, Viktor Shklovsky, Agnia Barto, Vsevolod Vishnevsky, Mikhail Prishvin, Lev Kassil, Nikolai Pogodin. Other luminaries who lived here in later years and decades included Veniamin Kaverin, Valentin Kataev, Yury Olesha, the theater director Anatoly Efros, the singer Lidia Ruslanov and more. In terms of literature and art, this building surely beats out the famed House on the Embankment, located just a mile or two away, for saturation of fame and infamy. I bother to add that second word in large part because of the fact that Vsevolod Vishnevsky, the rabble-rousing playwright, lived here. Vishnevsky was an acid-tongued, often jealous and envious, man who wrapped himself in the cloak of Revolutionary fervor and purity as, behind the scenes, he sent others to their doom. Vishnevsky played no small role in the downfall of Vsevolod Meyerhold, Zinaida Raikh and Nikolai Erdman.
If you know Yury Olesha’s famous last book, No Day Without a Line, you now know where it was written. Here is what Olesha had to say about living here shortly after having moved in: “Constant meetings. The first is Pasternak, who has barely come out his own doors. He’s carrying galoshes. He puts them on after crossing the doorstep, not while still inside. Why? For cleanliness’ sake? Going on about something he says, ‘I talk with you as I would with a brother.’ And then there’s [playwright Vladimir] Bill-Belotserkovsky with his unexpectedly subtle commentaries about Moliere’s long monologues…”
I’ve drawn this quote, as I have much information, from an article on the Writer’s House on the Big City website.

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This building, an article on the Travel2Moscow website tells us, was actually signed off by Joseph Stalin, in large part because Maxim Gorky had convinced him there needed to be not only a home, but a whole neighborhood or small city of writers. Many talk about the distinctive black marble frame of the entrance (see the photo immediately below). It, indeed, is impressive, if not off-putting. And it becomes increasingly so when you think about the reality of the people, the years and the events that converged in this structure. It was built in 1937 and people began moving in precisely as the Great Purges (about which I have often had reason to write, and about which I’m sure I will write more – such is the nature of that beast) were beginning. As such, there were numerous people who were arrested here and sent packing to Siberia, barely having had the opportunity to move in. Could it be that Stalin took Gorky up on the idea of putting a bunch of prominent writers in one place in order to make it easier to spy on them and round them up? I mean, why is the entrance to this building framed in black granite? It looks like a building in permanent mourning. Was Stalin – by way of his architect Ivan Nikolaev – telling the tenants something? ‘Beware all ye, who enter these premises!’ Am I making that up? Maybe. Stalin has been known to do much weirder things. One thing is certain, the building is “within reach” of the Kremlin. Look at the first of the grouping of three photos above. You will see the yellow buildings of the Kremlin rising up there in the distance. The Kremlin is just a hop, skip and trip across the Moscow River away.
Interestingly, the building was erected around an old 17th-century structure that now stands hidden behind the grand facades. You can see that 2-story building in the final photo below.
And now let me, again, turn things over to those who know more than I. This last lovely bit is from the Travel2Moscow site:
“The building’s most famous tenant, Boris Pasternak, wrote a poem that began, ‘The house loomed large like a watchtower…’ Neighbors spread humorous rumors about it, such as the one where Pasternak kept a huge dagger on his wall and could often be seen on the building’s rooftop. Indeed, Pasternak’s apartment was located on the top floor and even had an exit onto the roof. Valentin Kataev wrote that during the war Pasternak (‘at night, without a hat, without a tie, and with shirt collar unbuttoned…’) heroically battled incendiary bombs [launched by the Germans], putting them out with sand. In fact, two of these bombs destroyed five apartments and half of a wing, penetrating five floors into the building. During the bombings Paustovsky’s apartment was damaged. Pasternak himself, unlike many writers, did not leave the building during the war, writing that ‘all the dangers frightened and intoxicated.’ It was precisely in this building that he wrote his famous novel Doctor Zhivago.”
Absolutely fascinating stuff, if you ask me. I have just one question at this point, however. Why in the world would Kataev have considered it odd that Pasternak battled incendiary bombs on the roof of his home “without a hat or tie”? What was he supposed to do, don a tux to greet the German bombs?
I must add here a few words spoken by my wife Oksana after I allowed myself to scoff at bit at Kataev. “The humor is Kataev’s,” she said. “What that means is that Kataev, like everyone else, rarely ever saw Pasternak without a hat or tie.” I.e., the only thing that could induce Pasternak out without a tie were German incendiary bombs. Whatever the case may be, my fascination with this structure and its inhabitants is only going to grow.

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Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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One of my favorite places in the neighborhood where I live. When I go out for walks my autopilot takes me right here, to the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Pereulok, or Lane, almost 80% of the time. The whole surrounding area is beautiful, but the gallery and the short street it stands on are especially so. Just a few hundred yards northward is the marvelous Bolotnaya Square, with its imposing Ilya Repin statue, about which I wrote a month or so ago.  The Tretyakov is one of those incredible structures that oozes Russianness. I would hazard to say that the only other building I know like it is the stunning St. Basil’s Cathedral, about which I’ll get around to showing and telling-about some day. Pavel Tretyakov, who is the individual emerging from the chaos of granite here, was one of the great Russian philanthropists and supporters of the arts. He was an avid, not to say obsessive, collector of art, with a particular interest in Russian work (as opposed to his brother Sergei Tretyakov, who collected much European art). Even when he began collecting in his 20s he had the thought in mind of creating a national gallery of Russian art.

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Indeed, Tretyakov – and the curators to whom his collection was bequeathed – put together one of the most astonishing collections of Russian art ever assembled (the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg is the only competitor, and, as one who has spent many hours in both museums, I come down on the side of the Tretyakov as the leader). There are painters here of genius that almost no one in the West, sometimes even among specialists, has any notion of. The large collection of pieces by Karl Bryullov is a self-contained treasure in its own. The room dedicated to several huge (and small) works by Mikhail Vrubel is magical. My beloved Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Alexander Ivanov are well represented. The downstairs room of icons  takes you on a breathtaking, unexpected journey through centuries of Russian spirituality. Interestingly, Alexander  Kibalnikov’s statue of Tretyakov, which stands in the courtyard of the museum entrance, has only been in place since 1980. From 1939 to 1980 the position of “greeter” was held down by a large statue of Joseph Stalin, and before, that, Vladimir Lenin. Take a look at these pictures and just imagine what that must have looked like.

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Ilya Repin Monument, Bolotnaya Square, Moscow

IMG_0997.jpg2The monument to the great Russian realist painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930) stands with its backside aimed in the direction of the Kremlin on the other side of the Moscow River, and facing in the direction of the spectacular Tretyakov Gallery of art just south of it. It stands in the middle of what is called Bolotnaya, or Swamp, Square, the site of many historical events over the centuries. Here in this place the rebels Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachyov were executed in tsarist times, in 1671 and 1775, respectively. Here in the 2000s numerous huge political demonstrations were held, protesting, to one extent or another, the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here, on Bolotnaya Square, on May 6, 2012 – exactly two years ago today – Russian authorities coaxed protesters into conflict then reacted swiftly and violently. To this day there are people in prison who were caught up in that confrontation and used as examples by the authorities to frighten off future demonstrators. That policy worked. Two years ago today there were some 100,000 participants in the so-called March for Freedom; today perhaps 500 people showed up on Bolotnaya Square to declare solidarity with those who were arrested and are still in prison. Repin did not gaze upon the executions of Russian rebels in the 17th and 18th century, but he has presided over all of the protests in the 2000s, big and small. For some reason it always seems like there is a particularly momentous sky behind him, even when the common low Moscow clouds obscure all sunlight. This monument has a genuine nobility to it, a lovely line and a very human feel, even though it is very big. That was brought home to me deeply one day when I approached the statue on one of my walks (I live in the general neighborhood) and I saw a young boy, perhaps eight to ten years old, break free of his mother’s hand and run hell bent for leather towards the statue. “Repin! Mama! Repin! Look, mama! It’s Repin!” he shouted with absolute, genuine glee. For that boy the statue was no statue, it was Repin, in the flesh. The boy’s excitement about the huge bronze structure was no different than if he had espied his grandmother or grandfather and was running to greet them.

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Many years ago – I’m talking ancient 1979 – I had the marvelous opportunity to visit Repin’s home in the woods northwest of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). It is a lovely wooden structure, filled with light and space and fresh air, and you can easily imagine an artist living and working there. Repin’s reputation as one of the great portrait painters and chroniclers of Russia’s lower and working classes will, I suspect, never be in doubt. I am particularly fond of the Moscow statue. Ever since that day when I encountered that happy young boy, I cannot approach the monument without hearing in my head the words, “Repin! Repin! Mama, it’s Repin!”

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