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13th-17th Centuries
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The Collections of Shchukin and Morozov
Early 20th Century and Avant-Garde
Late 1920s-1930s
1980s to the Present

Paul Gauguin, Conversation (Les Parau Parau)
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The Collections of Shchukin and Morozov
Prior to the late nineteenth century, art collecting in Russia was a privilege principally confined to the tsars, their entourage, and wealthy noble families. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 and the countryís rapid industrialization under Alexander III (reign 1881–94) facilitated the emergence of a second generation of Russian merchants. Well-educated and confident in their cultural aspirations, they formed a new social category of art collectors, who were ready to shock the public with their taste for the new and the unconventional.

Both Sergei Shchukin (b.1854–d.1936) and Ivan Morozov (b.1871–d.1921) came from merchant families engaged in the textile industry and were foremost representatives of this new social category. Their names are well known in the West due to their spectacular collections of modernist masterpieces by such artists as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, which they assembled at a time when these artists were still undervalued in Western Europe.

Despite having much in common, Shchukin's and Morozov's tastes for art and styles of collecting differed markedly. Shchukin collected passionately, and he largely based his decisions on instinct, focusing on one or a few artists at a time. Among his favorites was Claude Monet, whose work he first acquired from 1898–1904. From 1904–10 he collected the works of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh; and from 1910–14, he championed Matisse, Picasso, and André Derain. Shchukin developed an especially close relationship with Matisse, buying thirty-seven of his paintings within a few years and inviting him to Russia.

By contrast, Ivan Morozov collected cautiously and systematically, seeking to represent every major modern artist by their best work and often relying on the advice of friends and art dealers for his purchases. Morozov collected over 300 paintings by young Russian artists, while in 1903 he began to acquire outstanding works by French modern artists. When asked about his favorite painter, Morozov invariably named Cézanne, whose finest paintings formed a major part of his collection. He also valued Gauguin and commissioned large decorative panels from various Nabis artists, among them Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard.

Beginning in 1909 Shchukin opened his house to the public free of charge and gave tours of his collection. Regularly, artists, critics, and art aficionados would fill his house, and his collection would serve as a living classroom for the generation that came to be known as the avant-garde. By contrast, Morozov preferred to keep his collection more private and allowed only scholars and prominent people to visit; however, he intended to give his entire collection to the city of Moscow upon his death. With the Bolshevik Revolution, both men found themselves in precarious circumstances. For a time, the state allowed Shchukin to serve as caretaker and tour guide of his collection, while Morozov was made assistant curator to his own collection. By 1918, the two merchantsí collections were officially nationalized. They both emigrated to Western Europe that same year, leaving behind their beloved art.

In 1919, their homes were transformed into the First Museum of Modern Western Art (Shchukin) and the Second Museum of Western Art (Morozov), and in 1928 these museums were combined into the State Museum of Modern Western Art, which was closed in 1948 as part of the Stalinist campaign against ěcosmopolitanismî and bourgeois influences. Threatened with destruction and deaccession, the collections were saved, divided, and preserved by the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). Prohibited from public view and kept hidden in storage rooms for decades, these treasures of international modernism now definitively testify to the boldness of the contemporary art collections amassed in Russia in the early twentieth century.

ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, Conversation (Les Parau Parau), 1891. Oil on canvas, 70.5 x 90.3 cm. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo: © State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.