The State Tretyakov Gallery
The establishment date of the Tretyakov Gallery is generally considered to be the year 1856. It was then that Moscow's noted art collector, merchant and industrialist Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898) acquired his first paintings by contemporary Russian artists and set himself the goal of forming a collection that could develop into a museum of national art in the future. No such museum existed in Russia at that time. The overwhelming majority of paintings by Russian artists was dispersed among numerous private collections; a few - the most famous and officially acceptable - found their way into the Imperial Hermitage and the museum of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.
Among the private Moscow and St. Petersburg collections in the 1840s and 1850s there were some that could make a museum of national art. However, Tretyakov alone succeeded in turning a private collection into a true museum of national significance, public in spirit and historical in character. This astonishing achievement was to a large degree rendered possible by distinctive traits in Tretyakov's character, his energy, pragmatic efficiency, his personal integrity, in conjunction with the unprecedented rise in national self-awareness that occurred in Russian public life in the years around 1860.
By the early 1860s Tretyakov's collection comprised several dozen paintings, not only by contemporaries, but also by artists of the previous decades. The collector's attention was particularly directed towards the nascent realist tendency. «I do not need rich nature, nor splendid composition or striking lighting, no wonders of any kind», he wrote in the late 1850s. «Give me a dirty puddle, if you like, but let there be truth in it, poetry, and poetry can be in anything: that is the artist's business».
This understanding of aesthetics brought Tretyakov in the late 1860s into close contact with the large group of realist artists who later would form the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, the largest association of its kind in the whole history of pre-revolutionary Russian art. From the first exhibition in 1871, Tretyakov became the main purchaser of paintings by the Itinerants, doing both the individual artists and the whole of Russian art an inestimable service. Subsequently Ilya Repin, one of the leading figures in the Itinerant movement, would remark: «Tretyakov ... alone carried on his shoulders the issue of the existence of a whole Russian school of painting». The support was mutual, however. Appreciating Tretyakov's noble intentions the artists quite often gave him preferential treatment, not selling their paintings until the great collector had seen them and expressed his opinion.
Each year at exhibitions and directly from studios, he bought several dozen works, on occasion as many as a hundred, at extremely large expenses, regardless of all his respect for money, if his adopted cause demanded it. Tretyakov bought, despite the disdain of the critics and the disapproval of the censors, notable instances being Perov's Easter Procession in the Countryside and Repin's Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan. He was purchasing, even if certain aspects of the painting clashed with his own views but were in harmony with the spirit of the times, as was the case with Repin's Religious Procession in Kursk Province, while he was not entirely happy with its social incisiveness.
At first, Tretyakov's acquisitions were all placed at his own home on Lavrushinsky Lane, in the quiet Zamoskvorechye district of Moscow. With the creation of a purpose-built gallery, Tretyakov's collection acquired the status of a real museum, privately owned but public in character, a museum with no entry charge, open almost every day of the week for anyone who wanted to visit, regardless of birth or title.
In 1892, Pavel Tretyakov approached the Moscow Municipal Duma (Council) with the proposal for the city to accept his art gallery as a gift. This collection comprised 1,287 paintings, 518 drawings and nine sculptures by Russian eighteenth and nineteenth century artists, as well as 75 paintings, eight drawings and five statuettes by European artists that had belonged to Tretyakov's late brother Sergei, a former mayor of Moscow and another noted art collector. The duma accepted Tretyakov's priceless gift with gratitude, and Tretyakov was appointed the gallery's curator for life.
In 1899-1900 Tretyakov's now vacant house in Lavrushinsky Lane, which adjoined the gallery, was converted to serve the needs of the museum. In 1901-1902, a new facade designed by the artist Viktor Vasnetsov united the whole complex. It turned the Tretyakov Gallery into a highly distinctive piece of architecture that still stands out among the sights of Moscow today.
In the early twentieth century the Tretyakov Gallery became one of the largest museums not only in Russia, but also in the whole of Europe. It was actively engaged in the acquisition of both modern and early Russian art.
A new period in the history of the Tretyakov Gallery began in the late 1910s and early 1920s. It was marked first and foremost by the rapid growth of the collection. The nationalization of private collections and the centralization of stocks from different museums meant that in the first decade after the revolution the number of exhibits in the gallery increased more than five times. It absorbed a number of minor Moscow museums: the Tsvetkov Gallery, the Ostroukhov Museum of Icons and Painting, part of the stocks of the Moscow Rumyantsev and Public Museums.
During the difficult years of the war, the Tretyakov Gallery collection was evacuated to the cities of Novosibirsk and Perm. Fortunately, the landmark building did not suffer significant damage from bombardments. That was when the need to expand the exhibition space was evoked.
It was not before 1980s however that the Tretyakov Gallery embarked on a program of reconstruction and expansion. In 1985 the building of a new depository wing began that includes extensive storage premises for various forms of art and restoration workshops. It was followed in 1989 by the «Engineering Wing» that included exhibition rooms, lecture and conference halls, a children's studio, computer data and support services. The reconstruction of the main building, started in 1986, was completed in 1994. The facade built from design by Viktor Vasnetsov, which had become the symbol of the Tretyakov Gallery, one of Moscow's architectural landmarks, was preserved and restored.
Through the restoration period a new conception of the gallery formed as a single museum existing on two main sites: Lavrushinsky Lane, where works from the earlier times to the pre-revolutionary years are displayed and stored, and the building on Krymski Val (1964 – late 1970s, architects Yuri Sheverdyayev, Nikolai Sukoyan, Mikhail Kruglov and others), where the exhibition area is to be devoted to the art of the twentieth century. During the same period, the Gallery also absorbed a number of Moscow's memorial museums, including the Viktor Vasnetsov House Museum, Apollinari Vasnetsov Apartment Museum, Anna Golubkina Apartment Museum, and Pavel Korin House Museum.
The process of restoring the gallery building on Lavrushinsky Lane also breathed new life into other architectural and historical monuments in the immediate vicinity, such as the sixteenth to nineteenth century Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi that has become the museum's church as well as a church museum, and the eighteen-and nineteen-century buildings on Lavrushinsky Lane that also house additional exhibitions.
In the following half century the Tretyakov Gallery developed into not only an immense museum known around the world, but also a major research center engaged in the preservation, restoration and study of its treasures, as well as increasing public awareness of them.
Today, the Tretyakov Gallery is home to over 170,000 works of art.