The permanent exposition on the second floor of the Academic Museum, displays works from the collection of the Academy of Fine Arts Museum. These are works which have been the examples to follow for the Academy’s students for several generations. The exposition was established in line with historical tradition. Originally, on the second floor of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, the best paintings and sculptures made by Russian and foreign artists were displayed; this display existed until 1917.
The idea to establish the Academy of Fine Arts was first conceived by Peter the Great. After Russia’s new political and cultural capital city of Saint Petersburg was founded, it was necessary to introduce the Western traditions of life and culture that had inspired its creation. The great architectural projects that came to define the city needed professionally-skilled masters.
As there soon became a shortage of foreign architects, the Czar decided to establish an art school in Saint Petersburg. At first it was a Drawing School under the Saint Petersburg Printing House, which Peter the Great used to call an Academy. Originally his ambitious plan was to organize an enlightened Institution of Arts, Sciences and Crafts. In 1724, an order was issued to establish “an Academy where languages and also different sciences and fine arts are to be learned” was signed. In 1757 Elizabeth I, Peter’s daughter, established an Academy of Fine Arts which was independent from the Academy of Science.
The exposition on the second floor starts with works that are connected with the early history of the Academy of Arts. The earliest portrait, “The Artist of Architecture, Draftsmanship of Projects and Facades” (1807), is thought to be the portrait of the architect of the Art Academy building, Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe, a French master who beautified Saint Petersburg with a number of architectural projects. A picture made by V. I. Yakobi, “Inauguration of the Art Academy on the 7th of July”, 1765, represents the next historical epoch. In 1763, Catherine II ascended the Russian Imperial throne. In 1764, the Art Academy became separated from the Moscow University and received its own charter and building. The same year, the construction of the stone building began. The basic ideas behind the academy’s charter were developed by its first president, I. I. Shuvalov. The next president, I. I. Betsckoy, continued the line led by Shuvalov.
According to the tradition to accept rich and honored persons into the academic community, they were obligated to present their portraits to the Hall of the Academy Chairboard. That is how the portraits of P. B. Sheremetiev by his serf I. P. Argunov appeared.
Among the most interesting portraits in the Hall of the Academy Chairboard is the portrait of Duke A. N. Golitcin by A. G. Varnek; one of a court favorite of Catherine II, Platon Zubov, by I. B. Lampi; and the portrait of the Academy-honored member Baron P. F. Maltits by an unknown master of the 18th century. The first paintings that were copied by Russian artists during their educational trips to Europe from the works of the old masters were “Justice” by A. P. Losenko, from Raphael’s frescos in the Vatican, and the “Abduction of Europe” (Paolo Veronese School) by G. I. Ugrumov. Both Russian artists had been developing their professional skills in academies in Italy under famous contemporary masters. Since the main educational approach used at that time in academies was determined to be the practice of copying the old masters, Russian artists used to send these copies to the Russian Art Academy as the fine examples of their achievements. Catherine II paid special attention to the Art Academy. Thanks to her passion for collecting art pieces, we now have a prominent collection in the Hermitage and a number of excellent art pieces in the Art Academy Museum such as the portrait of the Austrian Impress Maria Theresia by P. I. Kobler and a portrait of the Duke V. V. Fermor which was finished in 1765 by A. P. Antropov. Duke Fermor was prominent in military as well as a public figure; from 1742 he became the head of the Architectural Office. Under his management and the creative talent of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, the great architectural ensemble of Smolny Cathedral (a wooden model of which one can find on the third floor of the Academy Museum), was built.
The honored members of the Art Academy Chairboard included prominent figures from abroad. In 1774 Saint-Petersburg was visited by Don Juan de Bragança and Duke of Lafoens, crown prince of Portugal. He was accepted as an honorary member of the Russian Art Academy and later became the head of the Portuguese Academy of Fine Arts. In 1780 Franz Wilhelm Prinz von Preußen acquainted himself with the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. A special place in the portrait gallery is dedicated to the portrait of Cardinal Alessandro Albani, a well known collector of antique artwork. In Italy he played a curatorial role for the Russian artists.
The “Slaughter of the Innocents” by Venetian artist Andrea Celesti is the only painting to have originated from the collection of I. I. Shuvalov, the Academy’s first president. During the first years after the Academy had been established, a number of paintings were purchased. In 1765 the collection of works was supplemented with the “Virsavia” by Luca Giordano and the small piece “A Walk in the Park” by Antoine Watteau (although Watteau hasn’t been confirmed officially as the author). Two of the most truly beautiful paintings of the 18th century in the collection of the Art Academy Museum are the vast paintings that were made by Angelika Kaufman, “Achilles Recognized” and “Servius Tullius as a Child”. Angelika Kauffmann, one of the most popular artistic figures of the age, a friend of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was a royal Artist of the Kingdom of Naples. Both paintings were executed in Rome at the request of Catherine II. Catherine II also obtained paintings from the Houghton Hall collection owned by Earl Robert Walpole. Among them, one can find the work of Pier Francesco Mola and Gregorio Lazzarini. In 1863 Earl N. A. Kushelev-Bezborodko willed his marvelous collection of paintings and sculptures to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. The most prominent part of the collection, which played a big role in inspiring the practice of open air painting among the Russian artists of the early 19th century, were the works of French masters known as the Barbizon School. In 1918, most of this collection was transferred to the Hermitage. The new updated exposition displays a few works from the Bezborodko collection: Carracci’s “The Disbelief of Thomas”, Rudenda’s “Battlefield”, and “Woman’s Portrait” by an unknown Dutch artist of the 17th century.
One of the most unique masterpieces is the work by a Dutch painter Reyer van Blommendael, “Lot and his Daughters”. This is one of just three works signed by the Harlem artist in the world.
The next three halls display the best works of Russian masters of 18 to early 20 centuries – Carl Brullov, A. A. Ivanov, I. E. Repin, A. I. Savinov, V. D. Polenov, I. I. Shishkin and others. This display shows the evolution of the Russian Art. Amongst these pieces of art there are some for which authors were granted titles of a Painter, Academic, Professor.
The most interesting paintings in this collection are “The Resurrection of Jairus' Daughter” by V. D. Polenov, and “ Kapustnitsa” by N. I. Feshin. There is also a unique work “Statement of the model in the studio of Ilya Repin Academy of Arts” accomplished by the Repin’s students from 1899 to 1903. Among the depicted figures one can find I. E. Repin, F. A. Malyavin, I. Y. Bilibin and A. P. Ostroumova-Lebedeva - the artists who had determined development of the Russian art.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Imperial Academy went through a series of transformations. It was formally abolished in 1918 and the Petrograd Free Art Educational Studios was created in its place. The artists had a choice either to follow the traditional program (A. A. Rylov, A. I. Savinov, L. V. Shervud, etc.) or to experiment with the avant-garde (N. I. Altman, M. V. Matushin, V. E. Tatlin, etc.).
In 1922 the Petrograd Free Art Educational Studios was renamed into VHUTEMAS (acronym for the Higher Art and Technical Studios). The new Institution was made after the Petrograd Academy of Arts Studios and the Moscow School of Applied Arts were united. The Chairboard of the VHUTEMAS consisted of a number of famous artists – K. S. Petrov-Vodkin, S. S. Serafimov, V. A. Denisov, A. E. Karev.
At this stage the changes and the fight of ideas were not finished. The short period of time between 1925 and 1929, when E. E. Essen was the principal was again devoted to the study of the realistic tradition in art. It was finished with the victory of a proletarian art. At that stage the name of the VHUTEMAS was changed into the VHUTEIN (acronym for the Leningrad Institute of Arts and Engineering) and F. A. Maslov was appointed the principal. He was closely following the given directives and was gradually changing focus of the Institute into utilitarian art education.
In 1930 the reorganization of Moscow’s and Leningrad’s VHUTEIN took place. The Faculty of Painting and the Faculty of Sculpture were moved from Moscow’s Institute to Leningrad’s Institute and the Faculty of Printing was moved from Leningrad’s Institute to Moscow. F. A. Maslov became the new director of the new, united Institute of Proletarian Fine Art. One of the main aims of the new institution was to draw proletarian cadre. Day and evening course in painting and sculpture were organized for workmen by the Institute. Its participants could gain entry into the Institute without the entry exams.
In 1931 the new structure of the Institute was established. The Faculties were reorganized according to different branches of knowledge. Many new specialties were introduced. But having found out about some cases when the museum’s pieces of art had been destroyed and being against the structural changes some of the famous artists and art historians started to express their anxiety in the press.
In the summer 1932 Maslov was dismissed from his position. That year the Institute name was changed again, this time into Leningrad’s Institute of Art, Architecture and Sculpture. Sculptor A. T. Matveev became the principal of the new establishment. On the 11th of October, 1932 the resolution about “The Creation of The Art Academy” was passed. Latter from 1934 I. I. Brodsky hosted the principal’s position of The Russian Art Academy.
A good selection of students’ works and diploma works from 1920s to 1930s is displayed in the eight hall of the permanent exposition. The majority of them by unknown artists feature industrial motifs. The workshop of K. S. Petrov-Vodkin is represented by the biggest number of works. Most of the students of that time also admired compositions made by A. E. Karev. It is very interesting to compare diploma works made in 1926 by his students S. G. Vasilevskaya-Pecheneva and A. P. Pochtenny on the topic of “Laundress”.
The painting “Woman with a child” (1925) by E. S. Gaskevich who was a student of A. E. Eberling is displayed this hall for the first time after a restoration. That masterpiece was to become the artist’s diploma work. Latter she became a member of a famous artists’ association “The Circle of Artists”.
The period of experiments and searches in different styles of art was finished at the beginning of 1930s with a resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union “On the reconstruction of literature and art organizations” (1932) which proclaimed the Socialist realism as the only acceptable style. It determined the development of the Soviet Art for many years to come.
The next period in the development of the Soviet Art was not to be without an artistic controversy. The works by the students of A. I. Savinov and A. A. Osmerkina are full of experiments. The works by G. V. Pavlovsky and E. A. Aslamazyan are great examples of the above. On the other hand the diploma works from the workshop of I. I. Brodsky such as art pieces by N. V. Yudin, A. I. Laktionov, A. P. Zarubin show the contrast in the Soviet Art. Yet the style of the Itinerants (a late 19th-century Russian school of realist painters) in the Socialist realism was followed by the students from V. N. Yakovlev’s workshop. (B. V. Scherbakov “Chekanschik”, 1935). The work by L. G. Krivicky “The first faculty for workmen” finished in 1959 resembles the atmosphere at the end of the 1920s very well. It represents a period when semiliterate proletarian youth wanted to gain knowledge.
“Ajax” by M. G. Manizer from 1918 is the earliest sculpture in the hall. The 1920s is represented by the “Reaper” which is a diploma work by V. V. Beloshapko. In the hall where the works by the students of M. G. Manizer and A. T. Matveev are displayed the most interesting is a bust of an outstanding master of constructivism an architect A. S. Nikolsky made by M. Murisier in 1933.
The final display of photographs of the Academy, the teachers, the students, workshops, the museum halls and a church turned into a sport hall constitutes a very good addition to the exhibition.