An overview of the Peredvizhniki

Peredvizhniki, or the Wanderers, marked a crucial turning point in the history of Russian art. The Peredvizhniki was the artist group, led by Ivan Kramskoi, that revolted against the Russian Academy’s solely Romantic art style in pursuit of a more Realist style. This simply means art should be seen by the people of Russian and be about the people of Russia and not the Romanticism that was primarily Western European.

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Above is a photograph of the Peredvizhniki group.

In France, a similar situation unfolded as the Impressionists were denied entry into the French Academy and thus were put into the Salon des Refuses. Interestingly enough, these events both took place in 1863. The difference is, however, that the art of Peredvizhniki did not change in style as with the French Impressionists. Instead, the Peredvizhniki revolted against the establishment of the academy that monopolized the entire art world of Russia at the time.

Edouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass - Google Art Project.jpg The Luncheon on the Grass, Edouard Manet, 1886-18863. A famous example of a work in the Salon.

Pavel Tretyakov became the first private collector in Russia and bought a significant number of Peredvizhniki works, for the first time providing competition for the Academy. Even so, the Academy maintained a relationship with the Peredvizhniki, giving them financial support and studio space. Eventually, the Peredvizhniki had to join the Academy in order for these artists to be able to afford to create more art. There was just not enough outside commissions after about the 1870s. By the 1890s the Peredvizhniki was fully engulfed by the Academy, and by then was considered to be the old style and had competition from the newer movements, such as Rayonism and Suprematism.


Above are the self portraits of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larinov, housed in the Tretaykov Gallery on Krmsky val, who are the pioneers of ‘avant-gardeism’ in Russia.

However, Stalin liked the Peredvizhniki, saying it matched his party line because these works are Russian in subject, not Western, and revealed the Russian people in a positive light. Therefore, Stalin suppressed the avant- garde, the aforementioned Rayonism and Suprematism, calling the Peredvizhniki the foundation for Soviet Socialist Realism. Then, Socialist Realism became the only art form allowed because it was essentially progoganda for Stalinism. However, as mentioned in a previous post, 100 Years Since the Russian Revolution, there were also Realists arts who held out the reign of Stalin. They created their own revolutionary art by going, once again, back to true Russian subjects as the Peredvizhniki did.

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Ilya Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga, 1870-1873. Repin is one of the most well known Russian artists of the 19th century.


Sergei Gerasimov, Collective Farm Celebration, 1937. an example of Socialist Realism.



The Hillwood- A Collection

Previously, I introduced Marjorie Merriweather Post as a collector by providing a brief synopsis of her life. Now, I would like to present some highlights of her collection that I feel encapsulates its beauty and dimension, while providing some critique. All of which can be seen in her Entry Hall.

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From the top of the stairs looking down to the front hall main wall.

In the Entry Hall, Russian Imperial art and French decorative art is not in juxtaposition, as some may assume. Rather, they come together in a seamless display of wealth, power, and superb taste. The apex of the entry hall is, of course, the massive portrait of Catherine the Great  painted in 1788 by Dmitry Levitsky. In this portrait there is a quote that reads “She finishes what has begun.” This is in reference to Catherine the Great finishing Peter the Great’s mission to Westernize Russia. Catherine enhanced the arts and sciences for the benefit of Russia- opening schools, and bringing in European fashion and culture to her court. Both Marjorie Merriweather Post and Catherine the Great collected and commissioned French art, however, much of Marjorie’s collection was once Catherine’s. In an interesting documentary the two women are even compared due to their similar tastes, wealth, and influence. By having this portrait in the front hall, it makes a statement about Post as a collector. It was Catherine the Great who began the Hermitage Museum out of her personal collection, and now a portrait of hers sits in the Entry Hall of Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood Estate.

                                            Catherine II, Dmitry Levitskiy, 1788.

There were two less obvious pieces in the Entry Hall that drew me in. In the coat closet is a soft yet striking portrait of a partially nude woman draped in billowing black fabric. Then, below the grand Portrait of Catherine the Great is a stunning detailed and painterly portrait of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. The former was painted by Ilya Repin and the latter by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. However, it took me until I got home and looked it up that I discovered that those were the masters were behind these pieces. There lays my only qualm, nearly nothing was labeled and not every piece had its information in the pamphlet. I imagine it is because wall text and labels would make her estate feel less personal and intimate, both of which are the desired experience the Hillwood wants to provide. (I imagine Post had her reasons for displaying a Bouguereau in a closet then instructed that her estate remained as she left it postmortem). The names of Ilya Repin and William-Adolphe Bouguereau carry much weight, especially to the Russian and French. Therefore, I would have expected a little more attention brought to them.  In spite of that, the mystery leads people to look it up on their website (like myself), or go on a guided tour in the future. At any rate, both of these men are a testament to her as a collector.

Night (La Nuit) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1883, (above) is on display in the men’s coat closet. The contrast of the milky soft skin of the woman and the black light fabric caught my eye. I figured someone extremely well trained painted it due to the impeccable quality of the skin’s tone, texture, and softness. So, I made a mental note to look it up in their collection and discovered a French 19th century master, Bouguereau, painted it. Bouguereau spent his lifetime featured in the Paris Salon. Thus, this is a testament to Post’s collection that she owns his work because he is also in the Musee D’Orsay, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bouguereau is most known for his paintings of nude women, classical subjects, and mythological scenes. More attention brought to this piece would broaden the scope of her collection significantly. I would argue that Bouguereau is a more recognizable name to a Western audience due to his fame and the emphasis in most art history classes, than some of the names that were mentioned. Even myself, didn’t recognize many of the names were in the pamphlet. I believe a broader audience of art aficionados would come to the Hillwood, if they knew a French master was featured. While seeing a Bouguereau was a pleasant surprise, realizing I stood in front of an Ilya Repin painting had me floored.


Portrait of Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna, Ilya Repin, 1896.

Beneath the Portrait of Catherine the Great is another portrait of Russian royalty. What drew me in wast the beautiful woman wearing white, ivory, and gold against a black background. Again, I had no idea who the artist was or a definite idea of who the subject was. Once home, I realized I had guessed correctly, it was a portrait of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, however, I was not expecting the artist to be the Ilya Repin. Repin is easily one of the most-well known Russian artists and is the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century. He is so revered in Russia he even has a statue in Moscow. He is also one of my personal favorite artists. However, I can confidently say there is not much of his art outside of Russia, his work in mainly in the Tretyakov Gallery and the State Russian Museum. Repin is known for his realist works like Barge Hauler on the Volga 1873, and Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan 1885. What also makes Ilya Repin an ideal fit for the collection of Post, he was the one of first Russian artists, painting Russian subjects, to receive praise from France. He even got to study in France and maintained relationships there. Repin’s name carries significance to a Russian audience, and should really be a name American art history audiences recognize. Again, I would have expected attention brought to this piece. Further, because of his relationship with France he represents a collision of Russia with France, similar to Post’s collection.

Summer Auction Results

The results of the Russian auctions earlier this month were in line with predictions for a year of economic decline. Total sales between all of the auction houses came to $48 million, less than half of last summer’s $105, but within pre-sale estimates. Falling oil prices and a weak ruble meant Russians were timid this year, though a number of Ukrainians made big purchases. Alina Aivazova, the wife of Kiev’s mayor, set records for artists Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Ilya Repin, buying works for $1.8 million and $2.3 million respectively. Alexandre and Sergei Tabalov, owners of the Art Kapital auction house in Kiev were also reported to have been “active bidders*”. The top lot at auction was Boris Kustodiev’s “The Village Fair” sold for $4.5 million, a record for the  artist, at Sotheby’s.  Contemporary works did poorly at the sales, but nearly seventy percent of lots in traditional categories found buyers. Overall, the June auctions have been declared a success within the standards of a weakened market.

William MacDougall (of MacDougall’s) said after the sales that, “Though it has not yet reached its peak of a year ago, the market is in recovery from its winter blues, and some better works are even surpassing their pre-crisis peaks.”

*For details see the Telegraph’s article on the sales

Christie’s November Auctions

the-hunter“The Hunter” – Ivan Pokhitonov

Christie’s will be holding two sales of Russian paintings this month. Their Russian Pictures sale will take place on the 26th of November, and another sale of Russian Pictures and Works of Art will be held on the 27th.

The auction will feature work by a number of important Russian Realists including Konstantin Korovin, Vasily Vereshchagin, Ilya Repin, Isaak Levitan, Ivan Aivazovsky, and Ivan Pokhitonov. Pokhitonov is particularly well represented at this sale. The works up for sale were given to their current owner by the artists son. An article published by Art Daily tells us that, ” the group includes intimate portraits of some of the individuals who played an important role in Pokhitonov’s family life, such as Ivan, The Red Army Soldier […] who, according to family legend saved the artist’s life.” Along with these portraits are several beautiful miniature landscapes, including The Hunter (above). In their online catalog, alongside the image of The Hunter, Christie’s provides a short biography, which relates the work to an excerpt from Turgenev’s collection of stories, Hunter’s Sketches. The comparison is very fitting, and a reminder of the common goals of both writers and artists during Russia’s struggle to redefine its national identity in the 19th century. While Russian authors of the 19th century seem to have gained a wider audience in the west than Russian painters of the same period, both authors and artists were driven to greatness in the rush to preserve and reinvigorate their national culture in the wake of a period of rapid westernization.

Other highlights of the auctions include: Vasily Vereshchagin’s – “Anchinjinga, Pandim and other Mountains in the CloudsIsaak Levitan’s, “A Farmhouse by a Lake“, and Sergei Gerasimov’s “Autumn in the Moscow Suburbs.”