Like most large capital cities, Moscow has several museums. The main attraction is of course the Kremlin. You can’t enter the part still used by the government, but you can wander in a courtyard of churches full of icons, and visit the Armory collection of Faberge eggs and other gold-encrusted artifacts. For some reason, I left my Kremlin stop until the end of my visit. By the time I got there I was over-saturated with icons and gold things, so I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.
The first museum I went to was the History Museum, across from the Kremlin and in a matching red brick. I thought it would give me a better historical background with which to appreciate the rest of the sights, but it wasn’t that kind of place. In fact, it was mostly gold stuff. As one would expect, these gold treasures had been created to serve either the tsars or the priests.
The most interesting aspect of the museum for me was the building itself. Every room was lavishly ornamented with painted walls. Here’s one with apostles on the ceiling:
The primary museums of Russian art in Moscow are the Tretyakov Museums. The Tretyakov Gallery has Russian art up to the 20th century; later works are in the Tretyakov Modern. The two branches are not next door to each other, though both are in the general vicinity of the city center.
There’s also the Pushkin Museum, which specializes in Impressionists. I skipped that one because my host suggested I see Russian art while in Russia. That made sense, since there’s no shortage of Impressionist art in my home town of New York. On the other hand, internationally acclaimed artists are internationally acclaimed for a reason. Next time I’m in Moscow I’ll be sure to check it out. Actually, I don’t usually go to many museums on my first trip to a city; I prefer to wander neighborhoods to soak up the atmosphere of a place. But I managed to hit quite a few on this trip to Moscow.
I quite enjoyed the Tretyakov and the opportunity to be introduced to artists I was unfamiliar with. The most memorable of these were Korovin, the Impressionist, and Golovin, known for his stage designs for Opera and collaboration with Stanislawski. Coincidentally, both were best represented by their portraits of the great operatic bass, Chaliapin. Here’s Korovin’s, in a style reminiscent of Cezanne.
And here’s Golovin’s portrait of Chaliapin as Holofernes, which seems to have a Matisse influence:
Of course the Tretyakov Gallery’s collection of Byzantine icons is magnificent. For quality and quantity, if icons are your thing, you won’t be disappointed.
The Tretyakov Modern was a bit of a letdown. I’d expected to see a room full of Kandinskys and Chagalls, but each artist was represented by only one or two paintings.
If you really want to get a feel for 20th Century Russian art, you should check out Moscow’s extraordinary metro system. There were times when I asked myself, “am I in the subway or is this Versailles?”.
And it’s not just the regal architectural design that’s noteworthy; there are mosaics, paintings and sculptures at various stations. If I’d done better research before my trip I’d have known that the Moscow Metro was a main attraction. There are various Moscow metro tours I could have taken, including one you download as an mp3 that functions like those museum audio guides.
As a New Yorker who feels like a rat in an experiment every time I descend into the bowels of the city to ride the MTA, I humbly give credit where it is due. The Soviets may have built a lot of ugly apartment buildings, but they built a beautiful subway system.