1856 is generally considered to be the year when the Tretyakov Gallery was first founded because it was in this year that. Pavel Tretyakov bought his first two paintings by Russian artists: Nikolay Shilder's "Temptation" and Vasily Khudyakov’s "Skirmish with Finnish smugglers". By the end of the 1850-s he had acquired several more canvases: Ivan Sokolov’s "Cherry Picking", Valery Jakobi’s "The Messenger" and also paintings by Alexei Savrasov, Mikhail Klodt and others. It is possible that it was around this time that Tretyakov first considered creating a national gallery of Russian paintings.
Pavel M.Tretyakov, 1871 In 1860 he set off on his first foreign business trip. Before leaving, he made a will in which he stated: "I bequeath the sum of 150,000 silver roubles for the foundation of an art museum or a public picture gallery in Moscow […]". Inspired by this idea, he continued buying paintings. He had no experience in collecting artworks and relied only on his own personal taste. In 1860th he acquired a number of paintings including ‘Prisoner’s Stopping Place’ by Valery Jakobi, "Last Spring" by Mikhail Klodt, and "Grandmother's Dreams" by Vasily Maksimov.
Tretyakov developed long lasting friendships with many artists. In some cases he supported them financially, in other cases he was able to launch a particular artist’s career by acquiring his paintings and supporting him. A case in point was when he bought Vasily Perov’s painting "Rural icon-bearing Easter Procession" (1861). Though many people condemned the anti-clerical message of the portrayal and the Holy Synod considered it to be “an immoral painting”, Tretyakov loved Vasily Perov's work and went on to acquire Perov’s painting "Troika" and "Dilettante". Tretyakov not only bought Perov's finished paintings, he also commissioned portraits from him, and when the artist passed away he helped organise a posthumous exhibition of his works.
In the second half of the 19th century, realism in painting was used as a means to criticize the drawbacks of society and social life. Tretyakov acquired "Unequal Marriage" by Vasily Pukirev (1862), "Alumna" by Nikolay Nevrev (1867), "Knjazhna Tarakanova" by Konstantin Flavitsky (the first picture to appear in the gallery which depicted Russian history) – paintings which portrayed the pressing issue of the day – women’s civil rights. Tretyakov’s preoccupation with women’s rights was evident in another statement in his will: "[…] I bequeath 8, 186 rubles plus later percents of this sum for poor brides could marrying decent men".
Tretyakov was fond of nature and had an innate sense of appreciation for good landscapes which is why he acquired landscape paintings by Lev Lagorio, Alexei Bogoljubov, Mikhail Klodt and Ivan Shishkin. In a letter to one artist he wrote: "I don’t need beautiful scenery, a magnificent composition, brilliant lighting or miracles. Let it be a dirty pool, but let it be real and poetic. There is poetry everywhere – and the task of an artist is to see and show this".
Ivan Kramskoy, 1876 Portraits were of particular interest to Tretyakov. In the 1860’s he acquired a portrait of the Italian archeologist M.Lanchi by Karl Brullov in Italy and subsequently bought more portraits by Bryullov of the architects Alexei Gornostaev and Ippolit Monighetti and of the poet Vasily Zhukovsky. He later added a portrait of V.Zubova by Vasily Tropinin to his collection. By the end of 1860-s Tretyakov conceived the idea of putting together a series of portraits of his contemporaries - outstanding Russian composers, writers and artists.
He not only bought finished paintings but also commissioned portraits from artists. Vasily Perov for example was commissioned to do portraits of Alexander Ostrovsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Apollon Maykov, Mikhail Pogodin, Vladimir Dahl and Ivan Turgenev. Ivan Kramskoy painted portraits of Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Sergey Aksakov and Nikolay Nekrasov.
It was not always easy for Tretyakov to acquire particular portraits. The story of how he managed to get Leo Tolstoy to agree to sit for a portrait by L.Kramskoy in 1873 is an interesting one. Tretyakov had been dreaming of commissioning a portrait of Leo Tolstoy for many years, but the great writer was "strongly against the idea". Over a period of four years, many people tried to persuade Tolstoy to sit for a portrait but to no avail. Kramskoy finally persuaded him to change his mind by putting forward a convincing argument: "[…] So, I will not paint your portrait” he said “and none of my contemporaries will, but in some 30, 40, 50 years someone certainly will do so, and then we will all regret that it wasn't done at the time". Leo Tolstoy accepted the argument, but asked the artist to paint two portraits - one for Tretyakov's collection and the other for him. Kramskoy agreed and painted two portraits..
The portrait of Nicolay Nekrasov also has an interesting story behind it. The poet was very ill when Kramskoy began drawing his portrait and was bed bound. Nekrasov died in December 1877, and Kramskoy was forced to finish his work from memory. As a result the picture consisted of several parts: the head of the poet was painted on a small separate canvas when Nekrasov was still alive. Kramskoy painted his body separately and glued the head onto the canvas of his painting "Nekrasov in the Period of his Last Songs" (1878).
Ilya Repin, 1900 Tretyakov was highly appreciative of Kramskoy’s talent. They also had shared views on values, morals and the concepts and mission of art and so became close friends. In 1876 Kramskoy lived in Tretyakov’s house in Lavrushinsky Lane while painting a portrait of Vera Nikolaevna Tretyakova - Pavel Tretyakov’s wife. And when Pavel Tretyakov himself fell ill and had to stay at home, Kramskoy took advantage of the situation and painted a portrait of the great art-collector - "Portrait of Pavel Tretyakov" (1876). Another portrait of the collector was painted by Ilya Repin in 1883.
In the 1860-s Tretyakov became an enthusiastic supporter of the newly formed Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions - which evolved into the Travelling School (or “Peredvizhniki”) of Russian painting. Pavel Tretyakov attended all the Peredvizhniki exhibitions, encouraging them and supporting them financially. Many of the pictures from these exhibitions were bought for the gallery. Sometimes Tretyakov would buy canvases direct from the artists’ studios even before the exhibitions took place. It was in this way that he acquired the paintings "Christ in the Desert" by Kramskoy, "Pine trees Forest" by Ivan Shishkin, "The Rooks Have Returned" by Alexey Savrasov and "Peter the Great interrogates his Son, Alexey Petrovich" by Nikolay Ge in the 1860’s.
Vasily Vereshchagin, 1880 By the 1880-s his collection had grown considerably. Tretyakov bought a series of paintings from Turkestan and etudes by Vasily Vereschagin for the fantastic sum of 92,000 roubles - the largest and most expensive purchase for the gallery to date. It was also during this period that many more masterpieces were acquired including "Morning of the Strelets’ Execution", "Menshikov in Berezov" and "Boyarynia Morozova" by Vasily Surikov, "Religious procession in Kursk Province"; "Not expected" and "Tsar Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan" by Ilya Repin "After the battle of Igor Svjatoslavovich with Polovtsians" by Viktor Vasnetsov, "Morning in Pine Wood" by Shishkin, "Inconsolable grief" by Ivan Kramskoy "Life everywhere" by Nikolay Jaroshenko, and also other canvases of Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Apollinary Vasnetsov and Ilya Ostrouhov.
Pavel Tretyakov used to hang all the paintings in his house in Lavrushinsky Lane, and though the house was large, he soon ran out of the space. Many times (in 1874, 1882, 1885 and 1892) the house underwent reconstruction: it was enlarged and new, specially designed museum halls were added. In 1881 Pavel Tretyakov decided to open the Gallery to public, but was forced to close it ten years later in 1981 due to the fact that so many paintings were being stolen.
By the 1890-s Tretyakov had became a very experienced art collector. He would acquire art works despite the objections and even indignation of prominent artists. Thus in 1888 he bought Valentin Serov's "Girl Bathed in sunshine", Mikhail Nesterov’s "The Hermit" and "Young Bartholomew's Vision" and also Isaac Levitan’s "After the Rain. Pljos".
1892 was a landmark year for the gallery because Pavel Tretyakov presented it to the city of Moscow.