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Impressionism in Russia:
Dawn of the Avant-Garde

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This exhibition at the Museum Barberini is dedicated to the reception of French painting in Russia, a subject that has received little attention to date. With over eighty works, the show demonstrates the extent of their international visual vocabulary around 1900 and places Russian artists of the period—from Ilia Repin to Kasimir Malevich—in context of Western European modern art.

As the leading European metropolis of art, Paris attracted painters from the academies of Moscow and St. Petersburg since the 1860s. Through their examination of the Impressionist style of painting modern life, they liberated themselves from the academic rules that governed Realist painting in Russia. Interaction with French painting inspired artists such as Ilia Repin, Konstantin Korovin, and Valentin Serov to produce works that in addition to the impression of the present moment also showed a sensory world that confronted modern life. Electric lights, shopwindow displays, and the architecture of the modern boulevards offered them motifs that they treated with great painterly freedom. 

The practice of painting outdoors that was inspired by the Impressionists transformed Russian art and made landscapes popular. Repin, Vasily Polenov, and their pupils Korovin and Serov explored nature around Moscow and traveled to the expanses of the north. Painting en plein air and a sketch-like style led artists to motifs that expressed a zest for life, encouraging a shift away from the existential subjects of Russian art. Artists captured the carefreeness of modern recreational activities in Impressionist interiors that are suffused with light. Studies of light effects in indoor scenes and in still lifes led to a new appreciation of these genres that were little esteemed at the academy in Moscow. In portraits and pictures of families, Russian artists linked candor with psychological depth to create their own style of Impressionism. Questions of national identity were just as important as the relationship to the tradition of Realism in painting. Impressionism, with its focus on spontaneous expression and modernity that transcended borders, gave new impulses for dealing with this. 

 Ilja Repin:  At the Boundary. Vera Repina with Her Children,  1879, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Ilja Repin: At the Boundary. Vera Repina with Her Children, 1879, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

“When Vasily Kandinsky encountered a work from Claude Monet’s series of Grainstacks in an exhibition in Moscow in 1896, he saw, to his confusion, a picture composed of bright colors—but was unable to recognize any particular object. This unsettling experience led him to renounce the idea of the motif in his work and inspired his artistic development toward nonrepresentative painting. While this anecdote is well known, it is only a small piece in the mosaic of the complex relationship between French Impressionism and Russian art in the period between 1860 and 1925.”

Ortrud Westheider, Director, Museum Barberini
Kasimir Malewitsch
Summer (or House and Garden), 1906
Collection of Vladimir Tsarenkov, London
Konstantin Korovin
Paris: Café de la Paix, 1906
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail Larionov
Lilacs, 1904/05
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Natalia Gonscharova
The Forest, 1913
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Olga Rozanova
Corner of the House and Bullfinches in the Tree: Winter, 1907–08
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Robert Falk
Liza in the Sun, 1907
State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan
Impressionism in Russia: Dawn of the Avant-Garde

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