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Museum:

Treasure of the Republic, 1918-1941

The decree about the nationalization of the Tretyakov gallery. June, 3rd 1918
On June 3, 1918, the Sovnarkom (Board of People’s Commissars) issued a Decree declaring the Tretyakov Gallery "the State property of the Russian Federative Soviet Republic".

V.I.Lenin made an important amendment to the Decree, more specifically - to the name of the museum: instead of "Moscow Art Gallery of Pavel and Sergey Tretyakovs" he proposed to call it "Moscow Art Gallery named after Pavel and Sergey Tretyakovs". Perhaps that little amendment let the Gallery keep the name of its founders in its title. Many other collections, that had become museums, unfortunately lost the names of their founders and owners in their official names.

Before the nationalization, Tretyakov Gallery was in an unfavorable condition: the subsidizing of the museum stopped. There was no money to pay for the heating of the building or to pay salary to the Gallery's employees, not to mention buying new pictures for the collection. After nationalization, I.Grabar was appointed Director of the Gallery, and a Board of researchers and curators was established. 

In 1918 Grabar was one of the active organizers of the National Museum Fund, which was later renamed into the State Museum Fund. The Fund was a storage, where artworks from nationalized private estates were gathered. The Fund would distribute those artworks among museums throughout Russia. In 1918-1927, the National Museum Fund was one of the main sources, replenishing the Gallery’s collection with pictures and artworks. Through it the Gallery got many single pictures and full collections, just to mention some of them: art collections of Prince S.A.Shcherbatov, of P.I. and V.A.Kharitonenko, of K.F.Artsybushev, of I.A.Morozov, of M.P.Ryabushinsky, of Counts Sheremetyevs and Orlov-Davydovs. But also many private collections came directly to the Gallery, bypassing the Museum Fund storages, for example: the pictures and drawings from the collections of E.V.Borisova-Musatova, A.P.Botkina, V.O.Girshman, M.P.Rjabushinsky etc. 

Summing up the Gallery's work in 1918-1922, the Board declared that the museum's collection had grown up by nearly 50%, and marked, that "the most part of the new entries should be ranked first-class".

It took a lot of effort and dedication to art, to save the museum treasures during the hard years of the Civil war and consequent period of devastation. There was neither heat, nor electricity in the museum. Because of cold and humidity, paintings in the Gallery began to cover with mould and fungus. Experts of the Restoration Workshop did their best to fight those dangers. 

By 1924, there exist four affiliate museums in the Tretyakov Gallery:

1. The State Tsvetkov Gallery contained a marvelous collection of drawings and paintings. In 1925 it was affiliated to the Tretyakov Gallery.

2. The Museum of Icon-paining and secular painting, named after I.S.Ostroukhov possessed items of Old Russian art: icons, miniature plastic figures, embroidery, hand-written books and manuscripts, and secular artworks. The greater part of the collection was added to the Tretyakov Gallery in 1929. 

3. The Proletarian Museum of Rogozhsky - Simonovsky District besides its own exposition partly accommodated the Tretyakov Gallery's stocks. Among artworks arriving from this museum, was a collection of a connoisseur of art I.S. Isadzhanov (icons, painting, and sculpture). The collection was nationalized in 1919 and got the name of the “7th Proletarian Museum named after A.V.Lunacharsky”. It was a precious  collection of contemporary art.

4. The Museum of Painting Culture housed avant-garde paintings. It was closed down in 1928. A considerable part of the collection was joined to the Tretyakov Gallery in 1929 (among them works of Russian avant-guard masters - K.S.Malevich, V.V.Kandinsky, V.E.Tatlin and others), The rest was distributed among provincial museums. 

In the 1920s the affiliates were abolished and those collections were dissolved in the Tretyakov Gallery.

In 1925 works by Russian painters from Moscow Rumyantsevsky Museum were delivered to the Tretyakov Gallery. That was one of the most important moments in the history of the Gallery.  Those artworks belonged to famous collectors F.I.Pryanishnikov, A.P.Bakhrushin, S.A.Shcherbatov and K.T.Soldatenkov. 

The only masterpiece, that still remained in the collection of Moscow Rumyantsevsky Museum, was A.Ivanov's painting "The Appearance of Christ to People (The Appearance of the Messiah)" (1837-1857), but in 7 years together with studies and sketches it was transferred to the Gallery. To accommodate that great (and huge) canvas - its size was 40.5 sq. meters - a special hall was constructed and attached to the Gallery in 1932.

Employees of the State Tretyakov gallery, heroes of work

The Pryanishnikov’s collection included excellent works by A.G.Venetsianov, D.G.Levitsky, F.M.Matveev, V.A.Tropinin, K.A.Somov and P.A.Fedotov as well. Pavel Tretyakov had been dreaming of having the remarkable collection of F.I.Pryanishnikov with the great masterpiece of A.A.Ivanov in his collection since he was a young man. Many years after he had passed away, his dream finally came true.

Though paintings of Russian artists constituted the main part of the Gallery, there were many pictures of foreign masters in the collection too. In mid-1920s the Gallery stopped accepting canvases of foreign masters from the Museum Fund. In 1925 paintings by foreign masters together with the foreign collection of Sergei M.Tretyakov were withdrawn from the Tretyakov Gallery and sent to the Museum of Fine Arts (now - The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts).

In 1927, the State Museum Fund terminated its work, and the remaining artworks were transferred to the Tretyakov Gallery, among them - Russian paintings from the collection of I.A. Morozov, which became true pearls of the Gallery. 

In the period between the 1920s and 1930s the Tretyakov Gallery established contacts with main museums in other cities of Russia. That enabled the Gallery to fill in the gaps in the continuity and integrity of the collection. Thus the Kremlin Armory Chamber delegated several important works dated to the epoch of Peter the Great; a "Portrait of P.A.Demidov" (1773) by D.G.Levitsky and two portraits by I.N.Nikitin were presented by the Russian Museum of St.-Petersburg; and two gala portraits: "Portrait of Peter III" (1762) by A.P. Antropov and "Portrait of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna" (1743) by I.Y.Vishnyakov the Gallery got from the former Senate Collection. 

With the museum’s life bit by bit returning to normal in the 1920s, the Gallery’s authorities decided it was high time to begin presenting new entries to public. That time should be considered the beginning of the  exhibiting activity in the Gallery. I.Grabar had conceived the idea of organizing temporary exhibitions in the Gallery long ago - before the nationalization of the museum. His idea was first realized in 1918 – an exhibition was called "Artworks from Moscow Private Collections Temporarily Exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery". 

The first exhibition was followed by a number of others. They could be called exhibitions-reports (e.g. "New acquires of the Tretyakov Gallery"), or exhibitions-investigations (e.g. "The origins of Russian Painting"). But mostly those were personal exhibitions, devoted to the creative work of the celebrated masters. In 1919 the Gallery organized an exhibition of K.A.Somov, in 1922 - an exhibition of D.G.Levitsky, in 1920-1921 - an exhibition of M.A.Vrubel, in 1923 - an exhibition of F.S.Rokotov, in 1924 – exhibitions of V.D.Polenov and I.E.Repin , in 1925 - an exhibition of I.S.Ostroukhov, and in 1927 – an exhibition of V.I.Surikov. 

Much attention was paid to the artists of the early 20th century - N.P.Krymov, P.P.Konchalovsky (personal exhibitions in 1922) and  R.R.Falk – (personal exhibition in 1924). The Gallery also held exhibitions of “Blue Rose” (1925) and "Bubnovy Valet" (Jack of Diamonds, 1927) groups. 

In total, over 20 temporary exhibitions took place in the Gallery during a decade. The temporary exhibitions were big success and very popular, but did not solve the problem of reorganization of the museum: the growth of museum stocks demanded additional areas for placing artworks. Many exposition halls were turned into storerooms. A big portion of pictures remained inaccessible for not only exposition or studying, but even for counting and inventory: the Gallery had accumulated about 15 thousand pieces of art, but many of them did not belong legally to the museum.

By the mid-1920s, the Gallery acquired a status of an “educational institution". In 1926, a special educational department to deliver lectures and excursions was open in the Gallery. Since that time, the Department has still been carrying out the important part of the museum work.

Directors of the Tretyakov gallery

In 1926 an Academician of Architecture A.V.Shchusev was appointed a new Gallery’s Director. He and his successor M.P.Kristi (starting from 1928) did a lot to expand the Gallery's existing areas and to add new annexes. In 1927, adjacent building in Maly Tolmachevsky lane (formerly Sokolikov’s mansion) was joined to the Gallery. After reconstruction, it was used as an office-house, accommodating the Gallery's administration, scientific-research departments, a library, an archive depository and a storeroom of graphic works. A special passage connected the building with the Gallery. 

In 1928, heating and ventilation systems underwent a complete overhaul and modernization. In 1929 the Gallery was provided with the electric power, thus the staff could work and the halls could be open to public till late evening. Before that, the Gallery was open only at daytime.

Also in 1929, the adjoining church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi was closed for religious services, and in 1932 it was appropriated by the Gallery to become a depository of painting and sculpture. Later it was attached to the exhibition halls through a newly reconstructed two-storeyed building, the upper floor of which was allocated to Ivanov's fundamental canvas "The Appearance of Christ to People”.  Passages between the halls ensured a continuity of the tour through the Gallery. 

As a result of the construction works in the Gallery, the exhibition area increased significantly.  That prompted Gallery’s experts to ponder over a new arrangement of the artworks, because the exhibition demonstrated only a small number of graphic works and sculptures and had no old Russian art at all. 

Since 1923, the exposition, created by the titanic efforts of I.Grabar, did not look any more like a consistent, logical and successive narration about the Russian art. Numerous additions, incidental replacement of pictures, closing halls for inner reorganization caused considerable changes. The exposition needed revising badly.

A concept of the exposition of 1928 brought the collection back to Igor Grabar’s chronological order and concentration pictures of one artist (or one art school) in one hall or on one wall.  It was again recommended to begin the tour from the upper floor with the paintings of the 18th century and move along the halls to the late 19th century artworks. The ground  floor (14 halls) was assigned for paintings of the turn of the 19th - 20th centuries and for the contemporary art (paintings by K.A.Korovin, V.A.Serov and M.A.Vrubel were the highlights of those halls).  

That reasonable concept, however, was not realized, because of the “social approach”, that prevailed in all forms of museum activities: already at the stage of forming, the 1928-exposition was heavily criticized for discrepancy with Marx-Lenin ideology, and thus was not finished. 

Party’s and government’s decrees of that time stated a new line of museums’ activity - maximum attention to the socialist propaganda and minimum attention to research work and work with museum funds. A resolution of the People’s Commissar of Education on August 27, 1929 stated: all museums must have so called social-and-political councils. That meant all museums "were mobilized" to participate in all political campaigns, held in the country, for promotion of industrialization, collectivization and new “socialist way of life”. In line with this government campaign, several exhibitions took place in the Gallery:  "Anti alcoholic" (1929), «Red Army in the Soviet art» (1930), «Posters promote five-years plans of Socialist National Economy » (1932), etc. 

A new, “socialist” restructurion of the exposition approached. The "Experimental Marxist Exposition" opened in 1930 was regarded as the beginning of that new realignment in the museum. The exposition was devoted to the art of the 18th century and early 19th century, but was presented from a "new point of view". The aim of that new vision was to harmonize the art of the past with the goals of the Revolution. At the exhibition, pictures of old Russian masters were interpreted as "a class phenomenon of art". Besides paintings, the exposition demonstrated objects and photos of everyday life, supplied with detailed explanations. That fallacious approach was nothing but a vulgarization of classical Russian art. Neither the party leaders, no the society approved or accepted the exposition, and starting from 1934 the Tretyakov Gallery was back to its former history-monographic arrangement of the exhibited masterpieces. 

"Collective-farm exhibition" in the Tretyakov gallery, 1930

A new exposition organized in 1934-1935 signaled that return: the section of Old Russian Art was reopened and works of all artists were sequenced in due order.Replenishing of the collection in the 1930s happened mainly on account of Old Russian and Soviet Art sections.

A Soviet Art section was formed in 1931. After new revising it turned out that a collection of the contemporary art is so big, the Gallery needed a separate area to place those works. It became even more obvious in 1933, when the Gallery received a series of paintings and sculptures from the Jubilee exhibitions "Russian Artists of the last 15 Years" and "15 Years of RKKA". Among those artworks there were paintings by P.D.Korin, A.A.Deineka, P.P.Konchalovsky, M.V.Nesterov and I.I.Mashkov. 

A significant innovation, which turned the Gallery into a museum of the multi-national Soviet art, was the decision to collect and expose the most interesting pictures, drawings and sculptures, created by the artists of  the Soviet Republics. The Gallery got the primary right of picking up pictures and sculptures from the most important Soviet exhibitions and artistic competitions.

By mid-1930s, the Soviet section could already boast of a collection of over 500 paintings, some 100 sculptures and over 4,000 drawings.

Starting from the late 1930s, Gallery exhibitions were accompanied by conferences of scholars invited from other cities and republics. 

In 1935, Sovnarkom (Board of People’s Commissars) assigned money for reconstruction of the Gallery’s premises and design of a new building. The erection of a two-storeyed building on the northern side of the Gallery was completed in 1936. Constructed in accordance with A.V.Shchusev’s project, the new building harmonized with the historical part of the Gallery and Vasnetsov's facade. "Shchusev's Building" became an integral part of the panorama of Lavrushinsky Lane. Its spacious halls (four on the upper floor and four downstairs) were used as an exhibition area, and since 1940 had been included in the general Tretyakov Gallery tour.

xperimental Marxist exposition in the Tretyakov gallery, 1931 – 1932

The 1930s were marked by the jubilees of many artists. Within five years the Gallery organized seven national-wide personal exhibitions. In 1934 it was Vasily Perov’s exhibition (dedicated to the centenary of his birth), in 1935 - Valentin Serov’s exhibition (marking the 70th anniversary of his birth), in 1936 - Ilya Repin’s exhibition, in 1937 - Vasily Surikov’s and Ivan Kramskoy’s exhibitions (dedicated to the centenary of both artists' birth). In 1938 the list was followed by Isaak Levitan’s, and in 1939 - by Orest Kiprensky’s exhibitions. Three more thematic expositions can be added to this impressive program - a Jubilee exhibition, commemorating the centenary of A.S.Pushkin’s death, an exhibition “Russian Historical Painting” in 1939, and an exhibition "Best Works of Soviet Artists” in 1941 – not long before the World War II broke out. 

In the 1920s the contemporary art was in great favor and it was the main trend of the time, but suddenly in the 1930s the wind changed and they started to condemn it, as “the art, expressing ostensible objectivity". Thus a crusade against “formalism in art” was launched.  It was strictly banned to collect the artworks of "leftist" art groups of the 1910s - 1920s. The prohibition lasted for 25 years. 

Meanwhile the Tretyakov Gallery began exposing artworks in the style of Socialist Realism - the dominant art style of the Soviet epoch.