Saturday, December 05, 2009

Enchanting Beauty - Masterpieces from the Collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery (exhibition)

Enchanting Beauty - Masterpieces from the Collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery / Пленники красоты / Kauneuden pauloissa
Tennis Palace Art Museum, Salomonkatu 15, Helsinki, 21 Oct 2009 - 14 March 2010
Visited on 5 Dec 2009

The official presentation: "Beauty will not fade! If you need proof, come and see Enchanting Beauty at Tennis Palace Art Museum. The exhibition of works from the Russian State Tretyakov Gallery is a splendid selection of academic Salon art that combines virtuoso techniques with an idealised treatment of the subject. These Russian masterpieces from the 19th century marry beauty with the sacred."

"The Enchanting Beauty exhibition is divided into ten thematic sections: Beauty of Everyday Life, A Dream of Italy, Still Life, Portrait, The World of Antiquity, Old Europe, Biblical Themes, Neo–Rococo, The Russian Style and Orientalism.

Mythological themes and historical scenes

There were two main movements in 19th century Russian art, academic Salon art and realism, which challenged it. The most notable representatives of both movements were educated in the same school, the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, which was established in the 18th century to emulate European art academies. Teaching in the St Petersburg Academy was highly disciplined and followed strict rules; technique was honed to perfection, composition was expected to be meticulous, and classical antiquity was set as the highest ideal.

Academically trained artists favoured mythological themes, but also painted historical scenes and portraits. They celebrated sensual pleasure, were intoxicated by the beauty of both women and nature, and depicted the glamour of Rococo costumes in works that were like scenes from the opera. They idealised both the Russian people and the country's landscapes.

European influences assimilated into national tradition

They often furthered their education in France. Russian artists were frequent visitors to the Paris Salons, where the virtuosi of European academic painting exhibited their work annually. Another popular destination was Italy, whose landscapes and Renaissance art inspired Russian artists. When the Russians subsequently assimilated these European influences into their national tradition, the result was breathtakingly beautiful art.

There are about 160 works by 83 artists. In addition to paintings, sculpture, drawings and watercolours, the exhibition also includes objets d’art, some of which are on loan from the National Museum of Finland."

Featuring artists such as Ivan Kramskoi and Konstantin Makovski, this was a display of traditional high art in the 19th century just before the breakthrough of modernism and the decisive impact of photography (and cinema).

The glossy surface realism is astounding in the portraits, which certainly go deeper than the best photography or cinematography, yet the first impression is often that of glamour photography of the highest order.

A fascinating exhibition, yet with no immortal masterpieces that one would expect to revisit time and again.

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