The Russian Museum is one of the most important attractions of St Petersburg. It is the biggest collection of national art in general and of Russian art in particular in the world. The collection includes more than 400 thousand exhibits, among them being paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and objects of applied art.
The Russian museum dates back to 1895 when Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia decided to organize a museum of Russian national art. The main building of the museum is the Michael palace a former residence of a Grand Duke. The architect had to adjust a mansion to the needs of a public museum. Most of the rooms were completely redecorated. However, you can still see a couple of the interiors of the former residence designed in Empire style. The Russian museum was first opened to public on 7 March 1998.
Russian fine art has a very special history of development. Before Peter the Great, almost the only genre of art existed in Russia – icons. An icon is a painted image of a saint, usually on board and used for religious worship only. This art is extremely symbolical and saints almost never have facial likeness with real people. Saints in the Russian icons usually have long faces, long thin fingers, and pointed lips. In the museum you can find a great collection of Ancient Russian art. The oldest icon in the collection dates back to 12th century.
However everything changed when Peter the Great started his reforms. It is the most important landmark in the history of Russian culture and art. The emperor put a lot of effort into making Russia into a civilized European country. Painting has changed dramatically. In this period, a sharp transition can be traced from icon painting to secular portraiture. This transition was not quite unheralded, for some of the later icons already expressed individuality, while portraits of tsars, boyards were painted in the icon technique.
So the real development of art in Russia started only in the early 18th century. The most unique thing about Russian art is the fact that what it took centuries to achieve in Europe, in Russia was achieved within a hundred of years. In the Russian museum, you can easily trace this development of Russian painting, from the icon-looking portraits to the masterpieces by such outstanding Russian artists as Ilya Repin, Apollinary Vasnetsov and many others.
Russian avant-garde is very well-known in the world, and in the Russian museum we have an excellent collection of avant-garde and Soviet art. The famous “Black square” by Kazimir Malevich is actually in the collection of this museum, though it is not always on display. You can find works by Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall.
However, the museum is not just about paintings. There is also a huge department of traditional Russian art, where you can find amazing exhibits of Russian Folk art and crafts: fabrics, woodcarvings, lace, tiles, clothes, toys and ceramics. This department will show you the work of Russian people, mostly peasants, who managed to create such beauty. Nowadays most of those handicrafts have become almost a visit card of Russia – that is why you can buy similar items for souvenirs in most shops of St Petersburg – woodcarvings, lacquered boxes, Matryoshka dolls, etc.
So, if you are a true lover of art, a visit to the Russian museum in St Petersburg is a must. Do not miss this opportunity, just contact us for more information!