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The Tretyakov Gallery loses its Patron. 1899-1918

Ilya Ostroukhov, Alexandra Botkina, Valentin Serov at Ilya Ostrouhov's house in the Trubnikovsky lane. The beginning of 1900-s
With the death of Pavel Tretyakov, the gallery did not simply lose its patron – it lost a father. On making his last will and testament in 1896, Pavel Tretyakov decided that he must take care of his ‘child’. He bequeathed 150,000 roubles to the Moscow State Duma stipulating that the interest on this capital should be used to carry out repairs on the Gallery. He also left 125,000 roubles, stipulating that the interest should be spent on ‘replenishing the collection with paintings and sculptures.’ Knowing that the money he had allotted to the Duma was not enough to fully support the Gallery - which at that time contained the largest collection of Russian art in the country - Tretyakov hoped that the money he bequeathed would at least benefit the cause of  Russian art. He also bequeathed icons and buildings. His will stated:  ‘The house in Lavrushinksy Lane which stands next to the house (formerly known as Stepanov House) should be given to the city to be joined to the art gallery.’

 In the early 1900’s his will was found to have various flaws and so only entered into force in August 1899 following the personal intervention of Tsar Nikolai II. In June 1899 the Moscow Duma approved a decree on the ‘Regulation on the Management of the City Art Gallery named after Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov’ which stated that the museum should have a Board of Trustees – a corporate body in charge of the museum. The first Board members included Prince Vladimir Golitsyn (head of the Board), Alexandra Botkina – Pavel Tretyakov’s daughter, the artist Valentin Serov, the art collector and artist Ilya Ostroukhov and the art collector Ivan Tsvetkov. E.M. Khruslov was appointed the curator of the Gallery. Tretyakov’s house was completely renovated in 1900-1901 in order to be incorporated into the Gallery. It was designed by Vasnetsov who created a new facade which for many years was to become symbolic of the Tretyakov Gallery.

Ilya Ostrouhov with artists and public figures in City Art Gallery of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakovs. 1900
The process of getting new art works to add to the collection was initially hampered by disagreements within the Council, but when I.S. Ostroukhov was appointed the new patron of the gallery in 1905, he began to regularly acquire great works of art including Old Russian Masters and also contemporary artists. Ostroukhov wrote: ‘To begin with we should be a little calmer and more selective in our choices. Pavel Tretyakov had a reputation going back many years and used his own funds…We must not be distracted from the task at hand.’

In the 1900s, paintings were purchased from the World of Art exhibition and the ‘Blue Rose’ Union of Russian Artists. An exhibition of Pavel Tretyakov’s own personal collection of icons was also created – again as a stipulation of Tretyakov’s will.

A small public art library consisting of Pavel Tretyakov’s own books was created. In 1910 the Gallery was bequeathed some paintings from the collection of entrepreneur, art collector and patron of the arts, M.A. Morozov. These included works from French impressionists Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissaro, Degas and other artists.

In 1913 the famous artist and art historian Igor Grabar, became the new patron of the Gallery. The Council now consisted of Grabar, Tretyakov’s elder daughter P.M. Tretyakova, V.P. Ziloti, the architect R.I.Klein and the art collector A.P. Chernogubov. N.N. Chernogubov was appointed the Curator of the Gallery. It was at this time that the Gallery underwent significant changes – the so called ‘period of Grabar’s Reform.’ It was decided to rebuild the entire exhibition in the Gallery with scientific precision based on the model of major European museums which, according to Grabar ‘reveal the sequence of the evolution of art so that the visitors can easily get the very best from the museum.’

Igor Grabar
It was therefore decided that each artist should have an individual room and every work of art in the Gallery should be placed in a strictly chronological order, starting with the old Russian paintings and ending with the works of contemporary artists. All the paintings were taken out of their frames and examined and measured – a process which helped the Gallery to clarify exactly who the artist was and when it was painted. A permanent restoration workshop was also created. The re-arrangement and scientific study of the works of art were reflected in the new catalogue which was edited by Grabar and published in 1917.

These reforms – especially the re-hanging of all the paintings – caused a mixed reaction in the community. People were angry that the original exhibition plan from the days of Pavel Tretyakov had been changed. But the forward looking artistic community supported and endorsed Grabar in his quest to make the Gallery Russia’s biggest contemporary art museum.

The 1917 Revolution did not have an immediate impact on the Gallery which was nationalised in June 1918. Grabar, managed to switch from  being a supervisor to a procurer of paintings. He focused his attention not only on preserving the Tretyakov Gallery collection but also on the safekeeping of many art works which were sent to the Gallery for temporary storage at a time rife with plunder and destruction.