End of September 2019, I stay in Moscow with friends. The weather is chilly and wet. Visiting museums keeps us dry and warm. Let me tell you about some impressions from the Tretyakov Gallery and from the VDNKh.
Russian art in the Tretyakov Gallery – worth seeing a third time
Today is another rainy day. We take the metro to the Tretyakoswkaya station to visit the Tretyakov Gallery. Pavel Tretyakov (П. М. Третьяков, 1832-1898) was a Russian merchant. In 1856, he started to collect Russian art from former centuries until his time, with the target to make his collection available to the Russian people. He exposed his paintings and sculptures. Also his brother was an art collector. In 1892, both brothers handed over their art collection to Moscow – and the city duma accepted the donation. In 1902, the artist V.M. Vasnezov (В.М. Васнецов, 1848-1926) designed the building of the Tretyakov Gallery with the famous frieze. The statue of Pavel Tretyakov stands in front of the museum. In 2012, I had acquired the guide book with this title page that shows the entrance to the Gallery with the statue of Tretyakov.
Source: Третьяковская Галерия – путеводитель, 2011
The gallery displays Russian art until today.
Vasnezov’s paintings are exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery. This is his the Tsarevich Ivan on a grey wolf (Иван Царевич на сером волке, 1889).
V.M. Vasnezov: Tsarevich Ivan on a grey wolf
A lady teacher stands in front of the Tsarevich with his princess, surrounded by a group of children – about eight years old – and their parents. She explains fervently, what happens here: The son of the tsar, the prince, takes the princess home. They are sitting on a wolf that is carrying them through the dark, dark forest. The only bright spot are some white flowers. The prince protects his princess – his eyes observe attentively the dangerous forest. “And how do you know, this is a princess?” the teacher asks, “well, look at her shoes. Fine and precious shoes with pearls. Does your mum wear such shoes with pearls for work? No, she does not, because she is not a princess. But from the shoes you can tell that this is a princess”. – The lady teacher makes Vasnezov’s painting come to life for the children, and also for their parents and for us.
In addition, Vasnetsov has painted this very Russian portrait of the Bogatyrs (Богатыри, 1898) which refers to the ancient times, the years of the Kievan Rus in the 9th to the 13th century. The Rus existed as a loose connection of principalities under the lead of Kiev. The bogatyrs were heroes or bold warriors that fought for their princes and principalities (in addition, some of them were mercenary soldiers in foreign service). The three Bogatyrs checking the horizon for dangers have names: In the middle is Ilja Murowetz, to his left Dobrynya Nikitich, and to his right Aljoscha Popowich.
V.M. Vasnezov: Bogatyrs
Levitan’s Over Eternal Peace (Левитан, 1869-1900, над вечным покоем) attracts me, not far from here. The gallery guide book points out that the landscape paintings of Levitan can be compared with the prose of A. Chekhov, and, as a matter of fact, they were friends. Wikipedia quotes a reviewer who said that the painting “Eternal Peace” looks at the relationship of human existence and the eternal life of nature (“рассматривается вопрос об «отношении человеческого бытия к вечной жизни природы»”). The small church with the cemetery contrasts with the lake disappearing in the clouds and the horizon (it is the Udomlya Lake north of Tver). Levitan is considered to be the master of romantic landscapes. This small church in the middle of eternity reminds me of the many churches that I found around Kizhi.
I. I. Levitan: Over Eternal Peace
I am always impressed by the hall with the painting “the Princess of Dreams” (Принцесса Грёза, 1896) by M.A. Wrubel (1856-1910, М. А. Врубель). His paintings look like Art Nouveau – they are dancing and swinging along.
M.A. Wrubel: the Princess of Dreams
In addition to his paintings, some of his maiolica work is exhibited, such as the grim Sea King (морской царь, 1898). Oh yes, I remember, it was the grand-father of my long year Russian teacher, P. K. Vaulin, who instructed Vrubel to master the art of maiolica.
M.A. Wrubel: Sea King
All these pieces of art belong to the period that the gallery guide book calls “second half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century”. A group of artists left the Imperial Academy of Arts, and, in 1870, founded the Association of Travelling Art Exhibits or Peredvizhniki (передвижники). The most famous painting of this group of artists is Ilja Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Wolga, which is exhibited in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg (here, I studied Russian painting from the 19th back to the 11th century and from the late 19th century until present in detail). The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg had been initiated by Tsar Alexander III and then inaugurated by his son, Nicolaus II, in 1898. Both the Russian Museum in Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow were founded almost at the same time, around 1900.
Before leaving the Tretyakov Gallery, I want to show the icons collection to my friends. Where are the icons? I ask the guardian. He tells me that they have moved to the Andrey Rublev Museum (Музей Древнерусской Культуры). So I have to go back to my photos taken in the Tretyakov Gallery in 2012 to show the Archangel Michael (Архангель Михайл), the Savior (Спас) and the apostle Paulus (Апостол Павел) painted by Andrey Rublev in the beginning of the 15th century.
When going to Moscow the next time, I will include the Andrey Rublev Museum in my visiting plans.
VDNKh (ВДНХ – Выставка достижений народного хозяйства)
To return from Sergiyev Posad to Moscow, we took the bus number 388 and after about one and a half hours we arrived at the metro station VDNKh which is the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (Выставка достижений народного хозяйства). The rocket can be seen from far and reminds us of the fact that in the 1950’s the Soviets were the first to start conquering the space.
The exhibition area was initiated 1935-39, then closed during war, reopened in 1954, first as an agricultural exhibition, later enhanced by an industrial area. For the first time, I came across the exhibition in 1968/69, when I started to learn Russian via TV (“Russian Language for you” or “Русский Язык для Вас”). One of the lessons was about a guided exhibition tour by a young lady. She proudly showed the household aids available, one of them being an electric coffee grinder. The young lady put some coffee beans into the grinder and forgot to close the lid. She turned on the grinder, and the coffee beans flew around. “Oh”, she said, and she started to clean up the mess. The educational book was an official Soviet edition and I did enjoy their humor.
After the 1990’s, the exhibition area of the VDNKh was closed. In 2014 the Soviet architecture of the exhibition area had been renovated and the exhibition area became an open air museum, including some sports offerings.
This is the main entry gate with the Soviet couple showing the success of harvesting corn. The gate is welcoming the visitors to the ВДНХ or VDNKh.
Behind the main entry gate, Lenin looks down at the visitors – his face expresses pride and strictness.
We enter the Space Pavillon with the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics under the rocket. I was here already in 2002. From that time, I remember one room with the Sputnik, Sojus, Vostok, Luna and Lunokhod. Furthermore I remember, the spacesuits of Belka and Strelka, the first (small) dogs that went into space, the spacesuit of Gagarin (he was very small) and small tubes for borzhtzh (the Russian soup) and liver – how delicious. Now I find the exhibition much enlarged and it included the Russian-US cooperation in space.
The official Website of the Cosmonautics Museum names 15 exhibits, some of them being
- A duplicate of Sputnik I (один/one) that the Soviets had sent to the orbit on October 4th 1957. I was six years old then, and my father told me: “Look, with this Sputnik a new area is now starting: We begin to conquer space. You will see more of that, remember this date, when you get older.” And I do remember this date, now that I am much older.
- The conserved bodies of Belka and Strelka, the dogs that were sent to space in August 1960, along with the landing box. I could not find their spacesuits now.
- The spacesuit of Gagarin and his successors. Gagarin was sent to space in August 1961 (Wostok I). Yes, I see the suit again and Gagarin was not tall, he measured 1m57. I learn that he died early – in an aircraft accident.
- The spacecraft Soyuz designed in the 1960’s which is, in its fourth generation, still in use today, also by the US (that gave up their Spaceshuttle in 2011).
- The model of the base station Mir. I enter it and feel, how small the space is for human beings that are courageous enough to fly to space.
- The model of the first Lunokhod (Луноход-1) with the original control unit.
- The spacesuit of Michael Collins, the third man on the flight to the moon who did not put his foot on to the moon. He stayed in the shuttle. Printed on the white suit are the NASA sign and the US flag.
It is an interesting museum.
We say good-bye to the space rocket and return to the city center and to our cosy hotel Matreshka.
Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018,; various Wiki-entries; В. Родионов et alii, “Третьяковская Галерия – путеводитель”, 2011; various Websites (linked in on the spot).