by Natasha Walter
Curiously, the newly relocated Museum of Russian Art is housed in a Spanish-Revival style church based on elements of the Texas Missions of San Antonio. The orange tiled roof and desert-style garden are a dramatic contrast to the extensive collection of Russian realism inside.
In the Russian Tradition showcases 50 historically significant paintings from collections at the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow and from the museum itself. The exhibit emphasizes that Russian realist painting was built upon the cumulative knowledge of generations of master painters with art academies as bastions of rigorous and formal art education.
For good reason, the star of the exhibit is “The Bathing of the Red Horse.”
Petrov-Vodkin's prophetic painting depicts a young boy with an eerie gaze that
suggests he is holding a dark secret. As the title implies, he rides a red horse
and behind him a pool of intense blue swirls ominously. Mounted high on the
altar apse of the erstwhile church, this virtuous piece magnetically pulls the
Milkmaids, Novella” by Nikolai N. Baskakov captures humor and optimism
in refreshing contrast to the typically stern subjects of Russian realism. Three
women lounging in a field lit by the summer light are caught in a moment of
honest and fulfilling laughter. Behind the giggling girlfriends, cows graze,
and beside them a milk pail waits for the return of the hard-working women.
The famous “Mika Morozov” is an exceptional treat. In this endearing
portrait of innocence, painter Valentin A. Serov captures the wild-eyed beauty
of the son of Savva Marozov, a well-known industrialist and art patron. Mika
is truly enigmatic with his pink lips and striking brown eyes surrounded by
a mop of untamed curls. The experience of the painting is intensified if the
viewer realizes that this innocent boy later went on to become a well-known
philologist, Shakespeare expert, writer and playwright. It seems then that the
boy is catching a glimpse of his future and doing everything he can to stay
seated in his small wooden chair.
If you want to contemplate the soulful face usually associated with the dark
spirit of Russia, make sure to stop at Ilya E. Repin’s “Portrait
of V.V. Stasov.” Among his numerous portraits, Repin loved this one most,
believing it “expresses this passionate youngster who is more than 50
years old.” The subject, Stasov, a famous art and music critic, wrote
of Repin that he is “a knight in the purest sense of the word. He seemed
to be born for the arts.” The painting is infused with exactly this kind
of mutual admiration, illuminating the depths of this high-powered individual.
All the paintings here are magnificently presented and include lively commentary—many
with quotes from the painters themselves. Minneapolis is fortunate to house
The Museum of Russian Art, a world-class museum worthy of many visits. With
exquisite architecture and luminous content, the museum offers a tour of Russian
art comparable to a trip to the galleries of the enigmatic country itself. ||
In the Russian Tradition runs through July 31 at the Museum of Russian
Art, 5500 Stevens Ave. S., Mpls. 612-821-9045. Hours are Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5
p.m. & Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Closed Sun. Admission $5 for adults.