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The Temple of painting and art – The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg

The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg is one of the largest and most visited museums in Russia. The huge exposition occupies several buildings and offers more than 400,000 exhibits from the 9th to the 20th century - in one museum you can see how painting and applied art developed from century to century, how styles and visions of beauty changed, and get acquainted with religious works of worldwide famous Russian masters. If you want to plunge into the mysterious, fabulous and extraordinary world of Russian painting, feel free to go to the museum - you can walk through the halls on your own, join the tour or use the audio guide!

How to reach the museum and when is it better to go to an excursion

The main building of the museum is located on Inzhenernaya Street, 4, near Gostiny Dvor and Nevsky Prospect metro stations (literally a couple of minutes’ walk). The entrance to the main building is on the side of the Arts Square, and the entrance to the Benoit building is from the Griboyedov Canal.

Tuesday is a day off at the museum, and the doors are closed on December 31 and January 1. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday the museum is open from 10:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m., and on Thursday the museum works until 21:00. The ticket office closes half an hour before the museum closes.

A big plus of the Russian Museum is that even at the peak of the tourist season there are far fewer people in it than in the Hermitage. Therefore, the halls are not so crowded and very calm, especially in the afternoon on Thursday and Friday. If you are on one of the “crowded” days, start visiting from the Benoit building - you will move towards the main stream of visitors and you will be able to view more exhibits. It is quite difficult to see the whole museum within one day – the size is simply huge, so it is better to choose one or two subjects and visit the corresponding halls during one visit.

A little history of the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg

The exhibition complex history began with Alexander III, who had the idea to create a museum of art by Russian masters. The monarch himself failed to realize the idea, but his son, Emperor Nicholas II, succeeded. The museum was established by his decree in 1895, and on March 7, 1898, the museum received visitors and became the first museum of painting in Russia.

The collection began with 80 paintings donated by the Hermitage, 120 canvases from the Academy of Arts and 200 works from the monarch country residences. The exhibition was placed in the Mikhailovsky Palace. Further, the exposition was expanded through private collections and exhibits purchased at auctions.

The Mikhailovsky Palace, which became the first “home” of the museum, was built in 1819-1825 for the younger heir to Paul I, Mikhail Pavlovich. Years later, the palace was sold and transferred to the “Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III” and re-equipped inside as exhibition halls.

By 1914, there was not enough space in the castle for all the exhibits, and three years later, the Benois project began the construction of a building of the same name on the embankment of the Griboyedov Canal — today, paintings of Soviet-era art and the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century are exhibited in the Benois building. The revolution brought many new exhibits to the museum due to the nationalization of cultural values.

During World War II, the exhibits were transported to Perm, and everything that could not be taken out was hidden in the cellars of the Mikhailovsky Palace. Both the palace and the corps of Benoit were seriously destroyed during the bombing, but on May 9, 1946 the museum reopened its doors to visitors in honor of the first anniversary of the victory. In 1992, the museum was recognized as a particularly valuable cultural heritage of Russia by presidential decree.

Nowadays, the Museum takes part in international auctions, which allows it to regularly replenish the collections of Old Russian painting, applied art, sculpture, drawing, engravings, numismatic exhibits and handicrafts.

Interesting and unusual facts about the Russian Museum

  • Until 1917, the museum bore the name of Emperor Alexander III, as he was the author of the idea of creating a museum of Russian art. However, only his son, Nicholas II, was able to realize this idea;
  • The museum covers an area of more than 30 hectares, and all expositions are located in historic buildings that are architectural monuments;
  • One of the castles - the Engineering - once belonged to Paul the First, and in 1891 the building of the Main Engineering School was located there. The second name of the castle is Mikhailovsky, in honor of the Archangel Michael, to whom the church was dedicated. By the way, Paul the First was killed in this castle;
  • The Marble Palace, the part of the museum complex, was designed by Rinaldi and became the first building in St. Petersburg, which was covered with granite and about thirty types of marble;
  • The museum contains one of the most significant collections of craft arts and crafts in the world - you can see ancient china, jewelry, weaving masterpieces and clergy attire;
  • During the Leningrad blockade, the museum’s collection survived only thanks to the efforts of curators and volunteers - the most valuable canvases were rolled onto ten-meter ramparts and hid, sculptures were hidden in basements, and many exhibits were buried in gardens in the museum;
  • The Russian Museum has several branches around the world - for example, in 2015 one of them opened in Spain, in the city of Malaga;
  • The first exhibits in the museum came from the Imperial Palaces, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Hermitage, and many works were donated by the patrons of art. The first exhibition was about 1800 canvases in total;
  • The total collection of the museum contains about four hundred thousand works, covering the period from the tenth to the twenty-first century, and all the major genres and schools of art - this is a wonderful manual on painting for connoisseurs and for all who are not alien to the sense of beauty;
  • The exhibition features more than 5,000 icons, including from the iconostasis of the Assumption Cathedral of Vladimir, Ferapontov Monastery and other iconic temples;
  • In the Mikhailovsky Palace there is a granite staircase, decorated with two sculptures of lions - they are replicas of antique statues of the sixteenth century. The lions were created in 1824;
  • Summer House of Peter the Great, part of the museum complex, is 1 day older than St. Petersburg;
  • There is a legend that the monk predicted the birth of his son to Pavel I and ordered him to be called Michael and build a palace in his honor - it is believed that the emperor did so;
  • Another legend tells that a certain soothsayer promised Paul the First as many years of his life as there would be letters in the inscription above the main castle gates. Surprisingly, the prediction came true, and some believe that the spirit of the emperor remained in the castle after death, and today in the night you can hear his quiet steps and moans, and see the ghostly flame of a candle in the window;
  • In 2018, a portrait of Pushkin was discovered in the Russian Museum, which was considered lost. He was discovered in the study of the picture of Petrov-Vodkin "Collective Farmers" - under the upper layer was found the image of the poet, dated 1933. The artist considered the work unsuccessful and cut off its lower part, and on top wrote a new picture.

What surely should be seen in the Russian Museum

"The Last Days of Pompeii" by Bryullov

The world famous painting is dedicated to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. For the first time the canvas was presented in 1833 in Milan, and since then the artist Bryullov became an object of worship in Italy - not a single master has received such fame since the times of the Renaissance. Passersby took off their hats in front of Karl Bryullov, the audience in the theater got up when he entered the hall, and his house was a place of pilgrimage for lovers of fine art.

“The Ninth Wave” by Aivazovsky

The amazing canvas by Ivan Aivazovsky was painted in four colors - red, yellow, green and brown. All smooth transitions and rich colorful effects created only by mixing four shades. The artist himself is unique - he possessed an exceptional visual memory and most of his paintings were painted without nature, only from conditional sketches. This amazing ability helped him to work so quickly that he could write a perfect sea view in just two hours, and he wrote over six thousand canvases during his life!

"The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan of Turkey" by Repin

This painting was created in 1891, and the artist’s acquaintances and friends posed for her. For example, the Cossack in a white hat-papakha was written with Vladimir Gilyarovsky, the traveler and the writer.

Few people know that the picture has two “sisters” – the first one was painted in 1887 and is exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery, and the second is shown in the Kharkov Art Museum, in the artist’s homeland.

«Sadko» by Repin

Another amazing painting by Repin and the only painting written on a fairy tale in the technique of impressionism, with which he met in France during his travels. Shortly after writing some of the paintings, Repin departed from impressionism, although he was foreseen great fame in this direction among the artists. The prototype of Sadko was a close friend of the master - the artist Vasnetsov.

“The Knight at the Crossroads” by Vasnetsov

The canvas was written in 1882 and differs from its "brothers" in that the hero turns his back to the audience. In versions of the paintings from 1878 and 1879, the knight looks at the audience from the canvas. The first version of the painting is kept in the Serpukhov Museum of History and Art, and the second is in a private collection of an American collector since 1904.

“Moonlit night on the Dnieper” by Kuindzhi

This is truly an amazing canvas, which in 1880 was devoted to an entire exhibition - in a dark room, viewers were surprised to see a single picture, on which the moon was burning so brightly that it was hard to believe that it was paint. Skeptics diligently searched for a light bulb or other light source behind the canvas, but the whole secret of the “glowing” moon was enclosed in a technique of working with shades - the master managed to portray the luminary so realistically that the work is amazing and is still considered a real masterpiece.

“Suvorov’s Crossing the Alps” by Surikov

In order to find a suitable plot for his picture, Surikov went to Switzerland and visited all the passes, which in 1799 the army passed under the command of the famous Generalissimo. The artist not only sketched landscape for his work, but also rolled over ice and snow in order to understand the speed of movement and determine suitable poses for the characters. The picture was put on public display in 1899 in honor of the centenary of Suvorov's military feat.

"Gumno" by Venetsianov

Venetsianov began to paint his picture in 1822 and worked on it in the present threshing-floor — the room where bread was threshed. The artist really wanted to make the characters alive, and the prospect - deep and naturalistic, so to clearly convey the lighting, he ordered the front wall to be cut down. In 1824, Alexander I saw the canvas and included it in the catalog of the Imperial Hermitage. By the way, Venetsianov is considered one of the founders of Russian household painting, which showed the life of the peasants.

"Taking the snow town" by Surikov

The idea of this canvas was given to Surikov by warm memories from childhood. On the last day of Shrovetide in the village people built a snow town and flooded it with water, and the players were divided into teams - the first team attacked, and the second defended the town with brooms and branches. The game ended when the town was completely destroyed.

"Christ and the sinner" by Polenov

Vasily Polenov was excited about the idea of creating a picture in which Christ had already entered the world and made his way among the people, even in his youth. His first sketches for the future picture were made in the 1870s, but this work stopped and continued only in 1881. For inspiration, the artist went to the Middle East and brought with him sketches from Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Palestine - they became the basis for creating an architectural and landscape composition. For the characters, Polenov went to Italy, where he painted portraits of Italian Jews. Returning to Russia, the artist created a full-size sketch, and in the subsequent years 1886-1887 he wrote the final version of the painting. After the exhibition in 1887, the painting was bought by Alexander the Third.


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