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Hidden Masterpieces of Russian Art

Photographs by Vova Pomortzeff

Only few people know that the largest collection of Russian painting outside the borders of the former Russian Empire has preserved in the Czech Republic. Some paintings were bought by the Czech Russophiles even before the Bolshevik Revolution, the rest were brought to Czechoslovakia by the Russian emigrants after 1917. With some rare exceptions the masterpieces by the most outstanding figures of Russian art are hidden for the decades in storerooms of Czech museums or in Czech private collections. The only opportunity to see at least some of the masterpieces has occurred this summer. The South Bohemian Gallery in the small town of Hluboká nad Vltavou in South Bohemia has prepared the first large-scale exhibition of Russian art from the Czech collections in the last half century.

1. Exhibition curators Petra Lexová and Vlastislav Tokoš choose a place for the painting by Russian painter Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky entitled 'Tea-Drinking in the Teacher's Garden' (1910) from the collection of the Ostrava Gallery of Fine Arts. The exhibition in the South Bohemian Gallery in Hluboká nad Vltavou, Czech Republic, shows more than one hundred paintings by Russian artists, many of them weren't exhibited for the decades. 

 

2. One of the first visitors of the exhibition of Russian art in the South Bohemia Gallery in Hluboká nad Vltavou examines portraits by famous Russian painter Ilya Repin. The portrait of a man (1899) from the collection of the Ostrava Gallery of Fine Arts displayed in the centre has never been exhibited in modern history until now. It was known previously according to black and white reproductions only. The portrait of an old man (1910) from the same collection displayed in the right is obviously a fake, according to many arts historians. Signature on the painting is definitely false and brushwork itself isn't typical for late Repin.

 

3. Workers prepare to hang on the wall the huge painting by Ilya Repin entitled 'Alexander Pushkin Recites His Poem before Gavrila Derzhavin during the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum Exam on January 8th, 1815' (1911) from the collection of the Prague Castle. The largest masterpiece of Russian art in the Czech collections was acquired in 1933 personally by the first president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk for 120 thousand Czechoslovak crowns. Since then the painting is hung in a staff room of the Prague Castle, which is closed for public. The masterpiece is exhibited now only the second time in the last half century.

 

4. First visitors of the exhibition of Russian art in front of the painting by Ilya Repin entitled 'Self-Portrait at Work' (1915) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague. The portrait was commissioned by Igor Grabar, the director of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, but it wasn't purchased by the gallery for unknown reasons and then was sold to Czechoslovakia. One of the key masterpieces of the late period of Repin wasn't exhibited since the 1950s.

 

5. Exhibition curator Petra Lexová chooses a place for the painting by Vasily Polenov from his Biblical cycle entitled 'Who Do Men Say That the Son of Man Is?' (1909) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague. The landscape by Vasily Polenov 'Tatar Village in the Crimean Mountains' (1905) from the same collection and the painting by Julius von Klever 'Old Moscow' (1912) from the collection of Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts are seen in the right.

 

6. Workers hang the painting by famous Russian marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky entitled 'Coastal Landscape with a Church in the Full Moon' (1852) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague. The painting was acquired by the museum from a private collection in 1953. Czech museums own totally nearly thirty paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky.

 

7. Exhibition curator Petra Lexová helps to move the painting by Filipp Malyavin entitled 'Workers at the Quarry' (the 1930s) from the collection of the Ostrava Gallery of Fine Arts. In 1933, Filipp Malyavin, who lived in exile in France after the Bolshevik Revolution, presented a very successful exhibition of his works in Prague. Many of his paintings were bought by local art collectors then and are owned by Czech museums now.

 

8. Exhibition curators Yulia Yancharkova and Vlastislav Tokoš move the painting Filipp Malyavin entitled 'Young Woman' (1925) from the collection of the Ostrava Gallery of Fine Arts. As the works of Russian art from the Czech collections are not exhibited for decades, often even the art historians don't know which paintings are stored there. For example, this painting though attributed to Filipp Malyavin but unexpectedly is very similar to the painting by Abram Arkhipov 'Young Woman from Ryazan Province' from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague pictured bellow.

 

9. Workers hang the huge painting by Alexander Alexandrov 'Stenka Razin' (1912) from the collection of Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts.

 

10. Painting by Russian painter Mikhail Nesterov entitled 'Blessing' (1923) from the collection of the Ostrava Gallery of Fine Arts.

 

11. Workers hang on the wall the huge painting by Ilya Repin entitled 'Alexander Pushkin Recites His Poem before Gavrila Derzhavin during the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum Exam on January 8th, 1815' (1911) from the collection of the Prague Castle.

 

12. Exhibition curators Vlastislav Tokoš and Petra Lexová choose a place for the painting by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky entitled 'Hero of the Past War' (1924) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

 

13. First visitors of the exhibition of Russian art in the South Bohemia Gallery in Hluboká nad Vltavou examine the painting by famous Russian painter Viktor Vasnetsov entitled 'In the Costume of a Skomorokh' (1882) from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia. Almost one hundred paintings from the storerooms of Czech museums, many of which weren't exhibited for decades, are presented together with three masterpieces of Russian art from the Moscow collection.

 

14. Landscape by Russian painter Ivan Shishkin 'Morning in the Forest' (1888) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

 

One of the largest collections of Russian panting in the Czech Republic has preserved in the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts, located in a small town beside the Czech-Polish border. Every two years exhibitions of Russian art are traditionally prepared there, giving an opportunity to see at least some of masterpieces from the gallery collection.

15. Preparation for the exhibition of Russian art in the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts in February 2009. Research worker Marcela Trojanová carries the painting by Sergey Svetoslavsky entitled 'Spring Flood' from the gallery storeroom to the exhibition hall.

 

16. Director of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts Jan Kapusta carries the painting by Filipp Malyavin entitled 'Spring' (1927) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague while his son Jan Kapusta Junior carries the painting by Abram Arkhipov entitled 'Young Woman from Ryazan Province' (the 1920s) from the same collection.

 

17. Landscape by Vasily Polenov 'Tatar Village in the Crimean Mountains' (1905) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

 

18. Staff of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts hang the huge painting by famous Russian painter Ilya Repin entitled 'Religious Procession in the Oak Forest' (1877-1924) from the collection of the Gallery of Modern Art in Hradec Králové. This painting is considered to be the most important work of Russian art in the Czech collections as well as one of the largest works. Ilya Repin worked on this painting for almost half a century, several times radically changed the composition. The painting was presented for the first time at the exhibition in 1891, but it was sold only three decades later. In 1925, Czechoslovakian businessman Tomáš Maglič acquired 'Religious Procession in the Oak Forest' from the author himself.

 

19. Portraits of Russian noble Nikolay Lopukhin and his spouse Yekaterina Lopukhina painted by an unknown Russian painter from the beginning of the 19th century seen together with other works by Russian painters in the storeroom of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts.

 

20. Research worker of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts Marcela Trojanová makes a mat for the sketch by Ilya Repin for his famous painting 'The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire' (1890) from the gallery collection.

 

21. Director of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts Jan Kapusta and his son Jan carry the painting by Ivan Shishkin entitled 'Yelagin Park in St Petersburg' (1896) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

 

22. Research worker of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts Marcela Trojanová makes a mat for the drawing by Ilya Repin 'Portrait of a Young Man' (1870) from the gallery collection.

 

23. Jan Kapusta Junior, a son of the director of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts, carries the Portrait of Poet and Translator Alexander Strugovshchikov by Karl Brullov from the gallery storeroom.

 

24. Painting by Abram Arkhipov entitled 'Young Woman from Ryazan Province' (the 1920s) and the painting by Filipp Malyavin entitled 'By the Samovar' in the storeroom of the Náchod Gallery of Fine Arts.

 

25. Painting by Vladimir Makovsky 'Wedding Procession in Orel Province' (1888) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague.

 

From time to time some Russian paintings from Czech private collections are appeared in local auctions. For example, the painting by famous Russian artist Filipp Malyavin entitled 'The Portrait of Singer Nedezhda Plevitskaya Wearing a Boyar Costume of Kursk Province' was sold in October 2010. Nedezhda Plevitskaya, who has depicted in the portrait, was a performer of Russian romances. She was extremely popular in the beginning of the 20th century. Tsar Nicholas II nicknamed her 'the Kursk Nightingale'. Then the long years in exile followed and finally the death in a French prison, where the singer had got on a charge of a collaboration with the Soviet secret police NKVD in the kidnapping of Russian general in exile Yevgeny Miller. Filipp Malyavin portrayed Nedezhda Plevitskaya in 1924. The painting was shown once at the artist's exhibition in Prague and then remained in a Czechoslovakian private collection. Masterpieces of Russian art of such high quality haven't appeared in the Czech auctions for about a decade. The portrait was sold for 2.5 million korunas (approximately 120,000 US dollars) with a starting price of 650,000 korunas (approximately 30,000 US dollars) at the auction of the Pictura Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic. Less than one year later the painting was resold for almost three times more expensive at the MacDougall's auction in London, UK. A new owner has paid for the painting 233,700 pounds (approximately 375,000 US dollars).

26. Painting by Filipp Malyavin entitled 'The Portrait of Singer Nedezhda Plevitskaya Wearing a Boyar Costume of Kursk Province' (1924) displayed at the pre-auction exhibition in the Pictura Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

Even more surprising was the result of the paintings by Konstantin Makovsky 'The Birth of Venus' in March 2013. Konstantin Makovsky was an older brother of famous Russian painter Vladimir Makovsky. His works was inspired by French salon painting mainly. The erotic painting entitled 'The Birth of Venus', which was kept previously in a Czech private collection, is an outstanding example of the artist's late works. Even despite of this the price was unrespectable high. The painting was sold to an anonymous buyer from Russia for 10.2 million korunas (approximately 525,000 US dollars) with a starting price of 1.2 million korunas (approximately 62,000 US dollars) at the auction of the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic. The result was almost ten times more expensive than the starting price.

27. Painting by Konstantin Makovsky 'The Birth of Venus' at the pre-auction exhibition in the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

The most expensive work of Russian art, which was sold at Czech auctions in recent years, is the painting by famous Russian impressionist painter Konstantin Korovin entitled 'Summer Day in Okhotino'. It was sold also by the Dorotheum in May 2012. Konstantin Korovin painted this landscape in summer 1916 at his dacha in the village of Okhotino in Vladimir Province. Czechoslovakian diplomat Josef Košek, who was the first consul of Czechoslovakia in Latvia, obviously bought the painting during his diplomatic service in Riga. For many years it was kept in the family of the diplomat. The painting 'Summer Day in Okhotino' by Konstantin Korovin was sold to an anonymous buyer from Russia for 11.7 million korunas (approximately 560,000 US dollars) with a starting price of 1.9 million korunas (approximately 92,000 US dollars) at the auction of the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic. One year later the landscape was also resold almost for the double price at the MacDougall's auction in London, UK. In June 2013, the new owner has paid for the painting 747,000 pounds (approximately 1.1 million US dollars).

28. Painting by Konstantin Korovin 'Summer Day in Okhotino' at the pre-auction exhibition at the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

Not every work of Russian art has found a buyer immediately. In March 2009, the auction house Meissner Neumann tried unsuccessfully to sell the sketch by Ilya Repin to his painting 'Barge Haulers on the Volga River'. Nobody wanted to buy the sketch by the outstanding Russian artist for nearly 5,000 euros.

29. Wife of the owner of the auction house Meissner Neumann Dana Neumannová shows a sketch by Ilya Repin to his famous painting 'Barge Haulers on the Volga River' at the pre-auction exhibition of the Meissner Neumann in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

30. Owner of the Meissner Neumann auction house Jan Neumann conducts the auction.

 

The last notable sale has occurred in November 2013, when the excellent painting by Ilya Repin entitled 'Natalia Nordmann with a Book' was sold by the Dorotheum. Natalia Nordmann was the artist's second wife. The portrait was obviously painted in summer 1900 in the Austrian mountain resort of Zell am See. Repin himself never sold this portrait as well as the other portraits of his second wife, who died in 1914. After the artist's death in 1930, the painting was inherited by his daughter from the first marriage Tatiana Repina-Yazeva. In March 1934, it was displayed at the exhibition of Russian artists in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Apparently at the same time the painting was sold to a local art collector. At least since then the portrait has not been seen for almost eighty years, although it was mentioned in a book about Ilya Repin by Igor Grabar published in the Soviet Union in 1937. The rediscovered painting by Ilya Repin 'Natalia Nordmann with a Book' was sold to an anonymous buyer from Russia for 7.1 million korunas (approximately 356,000 US dollars) with a starting price of 3 million korunas (approximately 157,000 US dollars) at the auction of the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic.

31. Staff member of the Dorotheum sets the painting by Ilya Repin entitled 'Natalia Nordmann with a Book' at the pre-auction exhibition at the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

32. Painting by Konstantin Makovsky 'The Birth of Venus' seen on the poster of the Dorotheum in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

One of the most significant private collections of Russian painting in the Czech Republic was exhibited for the short time in the Museum of Russian Art. The museum was opened in the centre of Prague in December 2010. Art collector Valery Larionov has spent almost twenty five years in search and purchase of works of Russian artists, which have remained in Czech private collections. The result of his work was the superb collection of more than four hundred paintings and drawings, which was exhibited in his new museum. Unfortunately, the museum was closed by the owner just few months after the opening.

33. First visitors examine the Portrait of Madame Frankenstein (1875) by Ilya Repin from the collection of Valery Larionov in the newly opened Museum of Russian Art in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

34. Painting by Franz Roubaud entitled 'The Cossacks Crossing the River at Down' (1880) from the collection of Valery Larionov seen in the background during the preparation works for the opening of the Museum of Russian Art in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

35. Worker controls the position of the painting by Fedor Burkhard 'Spring Landscape on the Volga River' from the collection of Valery Larionov during the preparation works for the opening of the Museum of Russian Art in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

36. Worker checks light intensity on the Portrait of Masha Morozova by Vladimir Rossinsky from the collection of Valery Larionov.

 

37. First visitors of the newly opened Museum of Russian Art in front of the painting by Franz Roubaud entitled 'The Cossacks Crossing the River at Down' (1880) from the collection of Valery Larionov.

 

38. A book by Czech art historian Vladimír Fiala 'Russian art in the collections of Czechoslovakia' was published in 1974 and is still the only serious study on the subject. Many painting by Russian artists are known only by the colour or black-and-white reproductions in this book today. For example, the painting by Abram Arkhipov entitled 'Laughing Woman in Red' (1924) from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague was exhibited last time in 1961.

 

The photographs of this feature were shot from February 2009 to June 2015 in the Czech Republic.

Copyright © 2015 Vova Pomortzeff

 
   
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