Tag Archives: Pushkin Fine Arts Museum

Two Masterpieces from Must-see Show in Moscow

The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow has put together a show of art collections of Schukin brothers, kings of the Russian textile industry at the beginning of the last century. Thanks to one of them Russia boasts a great collection of (post)impressionists, fauvists, and cubists. It was split between Moscow and The Hermitage in St.Petersburg in 1948 and is now reunited and exhibited to mimic the way Sergey Schukin hung his paintings.

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While critics applaud this decision, I can’t see real value here. Yes, most Russian avant-guarde artists got introduced to Western art when visiting Schukin’s home, and it might be interesting to see their “starting point” through “their eyes”, but something tells me it was not the hanging that inspired them, but the paintings themselves, and most likely, not as a group, but individually. Gauguin was striving to recreate a paradise lost, but I don’t think he would view his objective accomplished only after a buyer builds a wall out of his work.

All this travesty of Gauguin tapestry ended up with one of Van Gogh’s most amazing portraits, that of Dr.Felix Rey, being hung near the ceiling, where it can’t be seen properly. The portrait was rejected originally (being used to mend a chicken coop), and now it is pigeonholed as a painting which quality is somewhat below Gauguin’s works by hanging it to fill an empty spot above them.

This portrait is worth its own wall. Van Gogh painted it as a form of gratitude, immediately upon his release from Saint-Paul asylum. He portrayed the closest and most caring person in his life at the time. It is an icon of compassion and hope.

Look at the blue whites of his eyes! Look at the Monalisian smile created by his mustache! Look at the sensual lips an Instagram diva would kill for today! This young intern would become a world famous tuberculosis doctor…

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I wrote a bit about the secret to Van Gogh’s portraiture, and I can write a lot more about Van Gogh’s portraits, but let’s get back to the show, and, specifically Matisse.

We all know, thanks to Picasso, that great artists don’t copy, they steal. What is left unsaid, I believe, is that the theft must me meaningful: the stolen stuff needs to be processed and transformed by the artist into something new (even if Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst believe that out-of-court settlement would alone suffice, it would not). Matisse and Picasso were both thieves. They stole from Gauguin, from Cezanne, and from each other. Today, for the way they integrated African art into their own, they’d be facing cultural appropriation backlash on twitter. That thievery is well documented and appreciated. Yet, there was an artist in Italy from whom Matisse stole in broad daylight, and no one has noticed.

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Antonio del Pollaiuolo, 15th c., the Battle of Ten Nude Men. The etching reflects the idea that men can’t but fight each other. Matisse’s Dance is about love and harmony that men can achieve if they stop fighting and include women into their circle. One can see some violent vibes in Matisse’s Satyr, of course, but it was painted a year before the Dance, so let’s not exclude the possibility that the man in this painting leans down to wake up and invite the sleeping nymph to a dance.

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Matisse steals figures, alters them, and mirrors them, but his message is new and polar to that of Pollaiuolo.

Fortunately, the Dance is given its own – huge – space at the exhibition, but art appreciation is invariably spoiled by people queuing to have their photo taken in front of it:

IMG_20190618_204748 Matisse was a visionary, but he failed to foresee Facebook or Instagram. Were this painting a photograph or even a more realistic painting, it would be banned on both platforms, by the way.

Is this Modigliani guy dead or alive?

Today’s Daily Prompt is about conversations that were involuntarily overheard while the overhearer wished it had been otherwise. 

Many visitors to art exhibitions annoyingly believe their opinions, questions, or concerns are something to be loudly shared because obviously everyone else must have the same opinion, question or concern, so maxing the volume up serves the public.

Sometimes, these exchanges are, indeed, a bonus. Very often though, the effort that goes into NOT bursting with laughter prevents subsequent involvement into the art being exhibited.

Dialogue 1

Queue for tickets to The Encounter with Modigliani exhibition at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow.

“Modigliani… Do you think he’s alive?”
“Of course he is! The show’s name is “The Encounter with Modigliani”. It would be sick to make people bump into him were he dead!”

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Dialogue 2

A large Picasso exhibition in Moscow a few years ago had a few photographs of Picasso with his contemporaries on one of the walls. Now imagine a formidable middle-aged man, looking a great deal posh and a bit artistic, with a young “model” trailing behind. The man is both exhibiting his girlfriend and attending the exhibition.

They approach the photographs, the girl leans towards them and reads out names of artists in the picture: “Pablo Picasso… Lucien Freud…” and then she happily announces, “I remember you were telling me that Lucien Freud was a son of Picasso!”

The gentleman lover, now blushing, hisses spitefully, “No!! (“you idiot” can be lip-read, but not heard) He was a grandson of Zigmund Freud!” 

As the embarrassed gentleman nudges his girlfriend towards the exit, giving her hushing signs and sounds along the way, she keeps entertaining the room with her glamorous Moscow drawl, “But daaaarlin’! Was Zigmund Freud also a painter?”

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Have you ever overheard a dialogue about art that changed your perspective?