I just got back from the exhibition Bonjour, Russland (Bonjour, Russia) at the Kunst Palast museum in Duesseldorf. More than 120 works have left Russian museums for the first time for this show, and its only stop in Germany is the Museum Kunst Palast.
The exhibition features dozens of French and Russian paintings from around 1870 to 1925 held in major museums in Russia. Russian collectors Sergei Schukin (1854-1936) and Ivan Morozov (1871–1921) were discriminating collectors of avant-garde French and Russian art around the turn of the 20th century. Their collections, in turn, helped inspire many Russian modernists. After the Revolution of 1917, these holdings were nationalized and sent to Russian state museums.
Now, Schukin and Morozov’z French paintings — including fine canvases by Gauguin, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Derain, Manet (among them his 1878 Tavern, pictured above) and Matisse — are on display. Alongside these rather familiar works are paintings and sculptures from Russian masters of early modernism such as Ilya Repin, Wassily Kandinsky, Natalya Goncharova, Vladimir Tatlin, Kasimir Malevich, Mikhail Vroubel, and many more. Vroubel, an extravagant symbolist who descended into insanity in the early 1900s, is a fascinating figure. Here is his 1904 Six-Winged Seraph, on view in Duesseldorf now:
The curating is unobtrusive, which suits me just fine. The paintings speak for themselves; if you want to read about them, pick up a catalog (the Kunst Palast museum has a mezzanine fitted out with dozens of catalogs and benches for just this purpose).
I’ve seen several Russian exhibitions in the past few years, including a show dedicated to Ilya Repin (G) in Wuppertal and a massive exhibition of Russian art from the second half of the 19th century (F) in the Musee D’Orsay. Russian painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a comparatively neglected field, but as these exhibitions, along with Bonjour Russland, show, it’s a trove of idiosyncratic, spiritually intense creation. The impressionists and post-impressionists are a bit over-exposed, but it’s the lesser-known Russian paintings that make Bonjour Russland well worth going out of your way for.