TOURIST travel to Russia is not yet large, but is increasing each year, as the outside world discovers its safety and exceptional interest. For that reason this chapter is added as a brief appendix, with no attempt to do more than suggest the high quality of the principal museums there.
The only distinctive Russian school of painting before the revolution, except for peasant arts and crafts, was the making of religious ikons. These were usually Madonnas in the Byzantine style, as a result of the relation of the Russian church to Byzantium or Constantinople. The center of their manufacture was at Kieff, where there is still a notable collection, remarkable for their varied and striking developments of a form long obsolete in western Europe.
The Hermitage Museum of the Czars at St. Petersburg, now Leningrad, was however one of the greatest general collections in the world; and since the revolution it has been further enriched by the nationalized private collections of noblemen all through the country. Much inferior bric-a-brac has been sold, but the best paintings have been kept. At Moscow is one of the two or three outstanding collections of recent impressionist and post-impressionist painting; it far surpasses anything of the sort in western Europe. This is the one formed by Stehoukine and Morosoff, now the public Museum of Modern Art. A typical example from this, and one from the Hermitage, are reproduced and discussed below.
The Hermitage Museum
To recount the strong features of this museum is to list nearly all the chief national schools of painting from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century. Of all the individual painters, REMBRANDT is best represented, with a panoramic survey of his great portraits and Biblical scenes from youth to old age. After the Dutch, the Venetians and eighteenth century French come next. A late Venetian work is selected for illustration:
PAOLO VERONESE. THE FINDING OF MOSES.
In Veronese the Renaissance is at its final culmination, and on the verge of decadence. Its early simplicity and fire are gone: the subjects which inspired it, religious and classical, have lost their novelty and vital importance. The technical problems of three centuries have been solved: Veronese is the complete virtuoso in paint. He has little to say that has not been said by Titian or Tintoretto; but he repeats the glorious Venetian color-forms with an ease and fullness in which there is no slackening of power, so that his works are in many ways as good to look upon as theirs.
From the viewpoint of subject-matter, his great offense in the eyes of serious contemporaries was irreverence, in portraying religious figures with modern clothing, and well-fed, worldly faces, in scenes of merriment. Here that blase disregard of sacred history, and of chronological realism, is shown in the quite Venetian character of the scene costumes, dwarf, negro slave, and the rest. Such liberties involve some inconsistency between the form and the ordinary associations of the subject. But they are to some extent a virtue rather than a fault in modern eyes, since they allow unlimited freedom to develop the form by purely visual standards.
Other qualities that mark the picture as Veronese’s are, first of all, the emphasis on surface texture. The brocaded dress of the lady, in particular, has a gorgeous metallic lustre of bright gold over white satin, that focusses all the whites of sky and clothing, and the greenish golds of hair and leaves. A second, and even more distinctive trait, is the importance of cool silver-grays and pale blues in the color scheme, offsetting the gold and brown. Red, so dominant as a rule in Titian and Tintoretto, is reduced to a few pale streaks of rose in subordinate places. A third is the gentle, swirling flow of movement, less vigorous than in Tintoretto. Finally, there is the distinctive skill, which Veronese shows in most of his large group pictures, in using contrasting colors to make certain figures advance or recede, and thus to arrange them in space. The gold-brocaded dress, the yellow shirt of the negro, and the golden leaves, all tend to advance from their contexts; the blue and pale violet costumes in between, and the silver-blue distant landscape, all recede. This effect, of course, is related to light, scale and perspective, to give each object its exact position in space.
These representative titles will suggest the broad scope of the collection.
Italian. BOTTICELLI, Adoration of the Magi. PERUGINO, Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saints. RAPHAEL, St. George. LEONARDO DA VINCI, The Litta Madonna. CORREGGIO, Madonna of the Milk. GIORGIONE, Judith. TITIAN, The Toilet of Venus; Dana. TINTORETTO, Birth of St. John the Baptist. CARAVAGGIO, Mandolin-player.
Spanish. EL GRECO, Sts. Peter and Paul. VELAZQUEZ, Portrait of the Count of Olivares. ZURBARAN, St. Laurence.
Flemish and Dutch. JAN VAN EYCK, The Last Judgment. ROGER VAN DER WEYDEN, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin’s Portrait. BOUTS, Annunciation. HALS, Portrait of a Man. REMBRANDT, Danae; The Return of the Prodigal Son. DE HOOCH, Lady and Cook. JACOB VAN RUYSDAEL, Swamp Landscape. TERBORCH, A Glass of Lemonade. POTTER, Departure for the Hunt. CUYP, Landscape with Cows. RUBENS, Bacchanale.
German and French. CRANACH, The Virgin in the Arbor. CLOUET, The Duke of Harlon. POUSSIN, Historical Landscape. CLAUDE LORRAIN, Morning; Noon; Evening; Night. WATTEAU, The Hardships of War. LANCRET, Spring; Summer. CHARDIN, The Laundress.
The Modern Art Museum
All too little has been said of contemporary, post-impressionist art in this book, for the reason that little of it has yet found a place in public galleries. Museum authorities are notoriously slow in recognizing the significant movements of their own generations. The public museums of the world are just beginning, through private bequests and hesitant costly purchases, to exhibit some of the impressionist pictures which were radical in the seventies. Still more rarely, examples are coming to be seen here and there of the early post-impressionist movement of the end of the nineteenth century.
The Moscow Museum of Modern Art is unique in Europe as a public gallery devoted entirely to the advanced, experimental movements of the last three generations. Its contents were assembled before the revolution, it is true, and by a nobleman and a wealthy industrialist, not a proletarian. But the present government has been wise enough to conserve them for public use. Only one or two private collections of modern art in the world approach this one in importance.
All the chief controversial figures of the last half of the nineteenth century are here. COURBET is represented by a Landscape blocked in heavily with palette-knife, its broad converging planes of roofs and mountain peaks anticipating Cezanne. MANET has another sketch, Man with a Pipe. The younger impressionists are better represented: MONET with a large early work, The Picnic, somewhat in the style of Manet, and with several later pictures in soft, shimmering broken color, notably Boulevard des Capucines and Garden-corner at Montgeron. Works of SISLEY, PISSARRO, and of RENOIR and CEZANNE in their impressionist period, round out the exhibit of that generation.
CEZANNE’S later, solid style is splendidly represented by several Still-life groups comparable to the one in Munich ; by several portraits, including one of himself and one of Madame Cezanne; and by some powerful landscapes, including one of Mont St. Victoire. There is no important late example of RENOIR, but there are several of his most delightful nudes and portraits of the seventies and eighties, especially a Bather of 1878. DEGAS is shown in all his mature phases: a light, dainty Dancer at the Photographer’s, a heavy pastel of (lancers In the Wings, and a bizarrely naturalistic, richly colored After the Bath.
Among the younger post-impressionists of that day, GAUGUIN is best represented, with over a score of his largest, most elaborate canvases of the Tahiti period. One of these is therefore chosen for illustration and discussion here.
GAUGUIN. WOMAN WITH A PIECE OF FRUIT.
Like many of his contemporaries, Gauguin began as an impressionist in France, then went on to another aim and technique in his later work. Where Cezanne emphasized solidity, Gauguin emphasized flat, decorative pattern, with broad areas of bright, plain, contrasting color, enclosed by lines of primitive, blunt simplicity. It is a striking form, but weaker and cruder than those of Cezanne and Renoir, and a good share of its success has been due to the romantic associations of its South Sea Island subjects and the painter’s life there.
The picture shown is typical of Gauguin’s charm and limitations. There is impressionist feeling for sunlight in the intense, tropical yellow of the background, clouded with fantastic shadows of a greenish gold scarcely less hot. But there is no sparkle or genuine realism; sunlight and shadow are transformed into decorative contrasts on a flat screen. Against it the woman’s body is another flat section, in which the sun’s gold sinks to golden brown. In her dress the leaves’ bright green becomes paler, and the pink fruit she holds is a repetition of others on the tree and on the ground. There is a flow of curves in the background, with bent verticals against it. The crude vigor of such a scheme, borrowed from primitive painting and textiles, was refreshing in an age still hardly aware of any but the main European tradition in art. But after its first refreshing shock has passed, one looks in vain for inner subtleties to hold the attention.
Of the same group, VAN GOGH has contributed several typically agitated, bright-colored portraits and landscapes, and HENRI ROUSSEAU (“le douanier “) one of his jungle scenes of clear-cut, deeply interlacing tropical leaves: The Horse and the Tiger.
Among the men of the present generation, MATISSE and PICASSO, the two dominating figures, are both extensively represented. In particular, Matisse has a brightly flowered Red Room, with vivid opposition of crude cherry-red, gray-blue, lemon and emeraldhis own new harmonies, full of clashing dissonance. Picasso is shown in several of his different periods: an early, Greco-like, emaciated Old Jew and Boy, in blue; and several cubist portraits, still-life groups and landscapes, among them the much-reproduced Factories at La Huerta. DERAIN, BRACQUE, ROUAULT, VLAMINCK and a few others of the present day complete the list, as they do at the Luxembourg in Pariseach striking out on a different path, whose outcome is yet to be disclosed.