Exhibition ‘The Excellent’ - Russian impressionism museum
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Temporary exhibition

Exhibition ‘The Excellent’

9 February - 21 May

From February to May the Museum of Russian Impressionism will present the exhibition ‘The Excellent’, showcasing the European travels of young Russian masters — the best graduates of the Imperial Academy of Arts and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. At the turn of the 20th century ambitious aspiring artists, reluctant to imitate foreign masters, gave impetus to the development of Russian art by reinterpreting the experience they gained abroad. This turning point can be seen in the works of those who participated in state-funded ‘pensioner’ trips, from the academic paintings of Henryk Siemiradzki to the new modes of artistic expression of Ilya Repin, Vasily Polenov and their followers. 

Mention of foreign travel ‘for improvement in art’ is often found in the biographies of famous artists. This exhibition will be one of the first major studies devoted to pensioner trips in the 1870s to 1910s, to their influence on the stylistic formation of individual painters, and the way in which traditions of the national art school evolved.

The diversity of modernist trends in Europe at the end of the 19th century offered young artists new guidelines. As a consequence, the academic subjects of Henryk Siemiradzki and Ivan Aivazovsky with ancient ruins and sea views were replaced by the plein air paintings of Vasily Polenov and Ilya Repin. After the 1893 reform of the Academy of Arts reports on pensioner trips were greatly simplified and painters of the new generation such as Yefim Cheptsov and Mikhail Demyanov depicted the daily life of ordinary Europeans, referring both to works by the Wanderers and the bold manner of Vincent van Gogh.

For many pensioners these educational tours gave rise to a period of active, creative searching. Visitors can see rather serious subject matter from Boris Kustodiev, for instance, before his recognisable style was fully formed: the master spent long hours at the Louvre in Paris, he copied works at the Prado in Madrid, made sketches in cabarets and painted studies at the Bois de Boulogne.

The exposition will feature both famous masters and those for whom their time abroad became the most striking of their oeuvre. Visitors can see works by Nikolai Ge, Konstantin Gorbatov, Isaac Brodsky, Mikhail Demyanov, Alexander Yakovlev, Vasily Shukhayev and other painters from federal and regional museums including the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum and the Krasnodar Regional Art Museum named after F. A. Kovalenko, as well as from private collections.

This exhibition is the first art project in Russia to be adapted on such a large scale for blind and partly sighted visitors. As before, there will be tactile versions of selected works. Seven models created with the support of partner of the inclusive programme Arts, Science and Sports, courtesy of the Alisher Usmanov Charitable Foundation as part of the Special View programme, will complement the permanent exhibitions of regional museums on completion of the project. Fragrance experiences produced by the blind perfumers of Pure Sense will help provide a full impression of the artworks.

The exhibition catalogue will include articles by curator Olga Yurkina on the history of pensioner trips by Russian artists, and by Candidate of Art History Anna Poznanskaya on 19th-century European culture. Exhibition continues the third floor of the museum with paintings by European masters mentioned in the letters and academic reports of Russian painters on foreign trips. 

This exposition will feature works by Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Carrière, Franz von Stuck and other artists, from the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. 

Paintings by some of them, for example the landscapes of Charles François Daubigny, delighted and inspired Russian artists, while others made no strong impression and left them largely indifferent. However, the combined impact of the Barbizon School alongside canvases by naturalists, realists and symbolists makes it easier to understand the aesthetic environment in which pensioner artists worked at the turn of the 20th century. 

Abandoning the academic tradition, European artists were immersed in a world of new themes and images. Modest landscape motifs and interest in the transitional natural states depicted by painters of the Barbizon School largely anticipated the path taken by the Impressionists. Scenes from the life of ordinary people and subjects captured at their daily tasks were consonant with the art of the Wanderers.

Exhibition and special project curator — Olga Yurkina, exhibition department specialist at the Museum of Russian Impressionism.