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Russian impressionism is beautiful

Russian impressionism is beautiful

In our hard time aggravated by repeatedly occurring crises, one has to hope that beauty will save the world. Following this idea, a Russian entrepreneur Boris Iosifovich Mints saved ante-revolutionary buildings of the Bolshevik confectionary plant in the center of Moscow from destruction. He turned them into a beautiful modern complex, where old architectural forms are successfully combined with ultra-modern solutions. A long-standing flour warehouse was transformed into a museum ― the Museum of Russian Impressionism.

At the building entrance a lady gardener is carefully trimming the roses on flower-beds. The yard is pristine. The glass-and-steel façade glitters in the sunshine. An elderly genteel couple exits the museum. “What a wonderful interior!” “Those works are so beautiful!” The couple is evidently impressed by what they’ve seen; their eyes are shining with joy. 

At the enormous foyer of the museum we are greeted by a director’s assistant. As we are going up in the elevator together with other visitors, two ladies excitedly exchange their feelings: “What a marvelous painting by Serov!” Indeed, the emotion you feel after visiting the showrooms is joy of having met the true beauty.

An art historian and the Museum of Russian Impressionism director Yulia Petrova tells us how the museum collection was gathered, what you can find in the showrooms and why it is Russian impressionism, not some other art school.

Boris Iosifovich Mints, the founder of the museum (on the left)) and Yulia Petrova, the Museum of Russian Impressionism director (on the right)

Boris Iosifovich Mints, the founder of the museum (on the left)) and Yulia Petrova, the Museum of Russian Impressionism director (on the right), photo WEB

- How has the formation of the museum collection started?

The museum of Russian Impressionism is a private museum, opened in 2016. It features a permanent exposition based on the personal collection of Boris Mints. When Boris Iosifovich began to put it together, he, as any novice collector, used to buy the paintings he liked ― it was for him and his relatives. As time passed, he realized that the paintings belonged to the same style. They were united by the same theme which can be best described as “Russian impressionism”. When it was decided to open the Museum of Russian Impressionism, the collection started to grow ― new artworks were purchased specifically for the museum exposition. For example, we realized that such a collection couldn’t do without works by Vasily Polenov.  This artist introduced impressionism to Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture students: Konstantin Korovin, Valentin Serov and others. We couldn’t ignore Yuri Pimenov’s paintings either ― he was one of the few Soviet artists who called themselves impressionists, although he did it with a clause of being a realistic impressionist. In his works you’ll see no pastose strokes or classical techniques typical for the school. For Yuri Pimenov, impressionism mainly meant an impression of the moment. He was an impressionist in the literal meaning of the word deriving from “impression”; he was an impression-driven artist. We hope our collection will acquire more of his works in the future.

Boris Mints and I select paintings for the permanent exhibition together. Some authors attract our closest attention ― they let us give a better picture of Russian impressionism to our visitors. When suitable artworks are located, after a detailed discussion over their quality, price and authenticity ― sometimes it is a serious issue ― we decide whether to purchase them or not.

Wet Posters, Yuri Pimenov, the museum’s collectionWet Posters, Yuri Pimenov, the museum’s collection, photo ©

- What period does Russian impressionism encompass?

- Russian impressionism begins in the 1880s, it is interesting till the early 1970s. Of course, nowadays any artist is able to mimic the impressionists’ techniques ― among other things, this skill is mastered by every art university graduate. But their works lack novelty, while impressionists’ paintings always presented a visual epiphany ― and it was wonderful. I believe there is no such thing as modern impressionism. Whether you like it or not, the history of impressionism is over.

- Did Russian impressionism developed under the influence of French impressionism?   

Many Russian artists went to Paris, but seeing impressionism and drawing inspiration from it wasn’t enough. Not many of those artists who visited this city went to the Nadar gallery and other galleries which displayed impressionists. Leonid Pasternak ― he studied in Germany at that time ― writes in his memoirs that Paris was seemingly close but many people couldn’t imagine what processes were happening there. Thus, it shouldn’t be assumed that impressionism was widely known in Russia. For example, Claud Monet’s Haystack was exhibited in Russia in 1896 for the first time. It raised numerous emotional responses ― negative and exalted, sometimes anecdotic, and even inspired a series of caricatures.

Haystack, Claude Monet (1891), currently at the Kunsthaus museum in Zurich

Haystack, Claude Monet (1891), currently at the Kunsthaus museum in Zurich, photo WEB

Both Vasily Kandinsky and Andrey Bely later remembered facing this work and the emotions it inspired. This visual art was absolutely novel, it broke the mold. The previous generation matured and learned almost unaware of this art. Few of those artists who went to France had ever visited avant-garde workshops and studios.

In the Park, Konstantin Korovin (1880)

In the Park, Konstantin Korovin (1880), photo ©

An artist Vasily Polenov saw the works of impressionists. Upon returning to Moscow ― where he taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture ― he shared his impressions with the students. He was a very popular tutor; students tried to befriend him, came to his home for drawing sessions, devoured his every word. That was how our artists learned what was happening in Europe. For instance, Konstantin Korovin recalls in his memoirs how Polenov looked at his sketch at the school and asked, “Young man, are you an impressionist? Do you know them?” But Korovin had nothing to reply. By that time he had never been in France: he spent most of his life in the countryside. I’m sure that impressionism is a natural development stage of any Western art. The French were the first to show it, but they had no monopoly. Scandinavia, Spain, the United States of America among other countries ― they all had their impressionists. It was a general trend: when artists realize that academism is obsolete, they embark on a quest for new forms, colors, light and perspective. Those Russian painters lucky to see that artworks, could draw inspiration from them, but it is impossible to say that Russian impressionism copies the French one. Similarly, Scandinavian impressionism does not copy the French one.

Summer Day (1915), Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov

Summer Day (1915), Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov, photo ©

The exhibition of Russian impressionism in Venice

The exhibition of Russian impressionism in Venice, photo ©

- Is popularization of Russian impressionism an important activity for the museum? Whatareyouplansfororganizingexhibitions?

In 2015, even before the museum was opened, we organized a large exhibition devoted to Russian impressionism in Palazzo Franchetti,the headquarters of the Venice Academy of Science. The exhibition was warmly received by critics and audience. Afterwards the exposition was displayed in Freiburg, Germany and then in Sofia, Bulgaria. I think we will resume foreign displays in 2018. Meanwhile, we negotiate with several museums, including the Giverny Museum not far from Paris ― Claude Monet lived there and the famous lily pond is located there. The museum is called the Museum of Impressionisms ― not a particular impressionism, but an entire range of impressionisms. Its existence in French proves that the Frenchmen acknowledge impressionism of other countries. Maybe champagne should only be French, but impressionism ― not.

Giulia Ilina, the Museum of Russian Impressionism, Moscow


Four times a year the Museum of Russian Impressionism hosts variously themed temporary exhibitions. In summer, 2017 there will be an exposition of the private collection of Vladimir Spivakov which includes both classical and modern artworks. The museum has also designed a unique exhibition project ― A Painting in a Library ― with one of its masterpieces being exhibited in a Russian regional library. The project was launched several years ago jointly with the Rudomino All-Russian State Library for Foreign Literature; it is very successful among the visitors.

Children at the Museum of Russian Impressionism

Children at the Museum of Russian Impressionism, photo WEB

The museum is constantly working on special programs for children of various ages. The programs address both the permanent and temporary exhibitions. These are quests, lectures, interactive stands and classes with artists at the showrooms. The museum is organized in such a way as to be interesting and comfortable for children and grown-ups alike.

The showrooms have special plaster stands for blind visitors. They can “look” at the paintings via touching and listen to their history by means of an audio guide with the background music composed by Dmitry Kurlyandsky.

The Museum of Russian Impressionism

15, bld 11, Leningradsky prospekt, Moscow, Russia