Russia. A View Over the Centuries. Works
of Jewelry and Paintings from the Collection of the State Hermitage
The exhibition in Smolensk is the central event in the program The Hermitage in the Russian Diamond Capital, Smolensk 2006 which the State Hermitage has organized together with the Smolensk State Museum-Park, the Kristall Production Association OJSC, and the Kristall Jewelry Center Ltd, with support from the Administration of the Smolensk Oblast.
The exhibition includes more than 100 items divided among three sections. The largest section familiarizes visitors with Russian portrait painting of the 19th century. The two other sections present examples of jewelry production dating from the 10th and 11th centuries discovered in the largest archeological complex of its type in Eastern Europe located at Gnezdovo (near Smolensk), as well as works dating from the 17th to 19th centuries made by of Russians and foreign masters working in Russia. These all come from the Treasure Rooms of the Hermitage.
The nineteenth century portraits from the collection of the Department of History of Russian Culture in the State Hermitage reflect all basic art trends of this period in Russia. The exhibition opens with two works from the 1800's: "The Portrait of an Unknown Woman" (1801) by S. Tonci (1756-1844) and a "Portrait of Princess Shakhovskaya" (1806) by J. L. Monnier (1743/44-1808). These reflect brilliantly the complex period at the turn of the 19th century when various movements were interlaced and both Classical and Sentimental ideas often coexisted in unbroken unity with emerging Romanticism.
The most important master of the Romantic movement in Russia art, O.A. Kiprensky (1782-1836), is represented by one of his best works from the1820's - the "Portrait of Count G.G. Kushelev" (1827 ?). One artist who was highly esteemed by the critics of the age was A.G. Varnek (1782-1843). His portraits of V.S. Apraksin (1812) and A.P. Stroganov (1812) are convincing and true to life, which are the distinctive feature of this master.
I.I. Oleshkevich (1777-1830) occupies a special place in Russian art. He was a Polish artist who worked in Russia in the first two decades of the 19th century. The exhibition displays two of his works - the "Portrait of M.I. Kutuzov" (1810-1820's) and the "Portrait of Senator P.V. Myatlev (1824), one of his best canvases.
V.A. Tropinin (1780-1857), an outstanding artist of the first half of the 19th century, combined in his work all the best known features of the art of his times. He is represented by a matched pair of portraits of the Sapozhnikovs, a merchant couple (1826). Two works by K.P. Briullov (1799-1852) allow the viewer to appreciate the difference between his early paintings ("Portrait of N.A. Okhotnikov," 1827) and his mature canvases ("Portrait of S.A. Shuvalova," 1849).
The 1850's and 1860's were largely a difficult time for the development of Russian portrait art. The genre experienced a revival in the 1870's, when major works were produced by V.G. Perov (1834-1882), N.N. Ge (1831-1894), K..┼. ╠akovsky (1839-1915), I.N. Kramskoy (1837-1887), and then I.E. Repin (1844-1930). The Hermitage collection has one of the early works by V.G. Perov - the portrait of an unknown person (1861), which is a typical image of the "new man of the 1860's." The exhibition displays three portraits by I.N. Kramskoy in which we see his interest in conveying the individual and inimitable features of each personality taken separately, something characteristic of his late works: the portraits of Count P.A. Valuev (1880), Empress Maria Fedorovna (1881) and the banker E.I. Lamansky (1886).
The exhibition shows portraits by N.N. Ge - N.A. Nekrasov (1872), Count P.A. Valuev (1880), and Princess O.P. Volkonskaya (1882). In the exhibition one can see three works by K.E. Makovsky - his "Portrait of Lieutenant of the Life Guards of the Hussar Regiment Count V.A. Bobrinsky" (1879), "Portrait of a Boy" (1863), and "Portrait of the Mining Engineer N.N. Teplov" (1878).
I.E. Repin was the master who addressed in his work the main issues of art in the second half of the 19th century. The Hermitage collection has one work by this very great Russian artist - a recently acquired portrait of Emperor Nicholas II (1895).
The second section of the exhibition comprises works of jewelry by Russian
masters discovered in archeological excavations of a complex at Gnezdovo.
Gnezdovo was a commercial and craft center which lay on the path between Kiev and Novgorod. There were large metal working ateliers here. The exhibition displays foundry articles and clay spoons used in casting metal, as well as other equipment of smelters. Among the exhibits are tools which were not seen earlier in the northern part of Eastern Europe except for Staraya Ladoga - jeweler's tongs and dies. Visitors can also see neck ornaments (grivna) and temporal rings, a variety of pendants with filigree decoration, fibulae and half-moon metal decorative articles (lunnitsa) with niello, as well as various forms of stamped metal articles (blyashki) and a small pot.
The third part of the exhibition on Russia. A View Over the Centuries consists of works of Russian masters and foreign masters working in Russia during the 17th - 19th centuries. These come from the Hermitage's Treasure Rooms.
The history of the jewelry collection in Petersburg goes back to the beginning of the 18th century and is associated with Peter the Great.
Among the very early things shown in the exhibition are the icon of Our Lady of Iversk (Moscow, 1690's) and three works dating from the first quarter of the 18th century: a diamond anchor-shaped pendant, a panagia in the form of a closed crown with decoration in painted enamel, and a gift portrait of Peter the Great done in painted enamel.
Jewelry from the reign of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna is represented in the exhibition by a gold beaker, a snuff-box made to commemorate Russian victories in Poland and Prussia during the Seven Year's War, and a small box with the monogram of Elizaveta Petrovna.
The second half of the 18th century may be called the time of the flowering of Petersburg jewelry production, with tastes reflecting the orientation of the Russian court to European fashions and the arrival of a great many foreign masters. One of the more famous masters was I.G. Scharf, whose golden snuffbox is on display: the lid is decorated with an enamel medallion depicting Catherine the Great in the form of Minerva. For a gift to Count A.G. Orlov-Chesmensky, the Empress commissioned a snuff-box with painted enamel miniature showing the landscape of the Tsarskoye Selo Park and Chesmen Column. Catherine the Great owned a clock with mechanism made from wood held together by metal rods.
One other display item is a gold salt-cellar with the Emperor's monogram,
decorated with diamonds and colored enamel. This was presented to Paul
I in 1797 in the name of the Moscow merchants' guild.
A chain of 36 oval medallions with chased portraits of the Russian Grand Princes and Tsars was once kept in the private rooms of Alexander II.
An illustrated catalogue to the exhibition has been issued by the Slavia Publishing House (St Petersburg, 2006). The authors of the articles are the chief curator of applied art in the Department of Western European Art O.G. Kostiuk, leading researcher in the Department of Archeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia R.S. Minasyan, and senior researcher of the Department of History of Russian Culture Yu.Yu. Gudymenko.