A museum of Russian impressionist art opened in Moscow on Saturday amid efforts to promote the country’s little-known art movement to a global audience.
Housed in a historic former chocolate factory, the private museum features a permanent exhibition of some 70 works by Russian artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries including Konstantin Korovin, Valentin Serov and Pyotr Konchalovsky.
It is based on the personal collection of entrepreneur and philanthropist Boris Mints, who invested some $20 million into a project seeking to help both Russians and foreigners learn more about Russia’s contribution to a movement which originated in France in the 19th century.
“Up until now, only the icons of Andrei Rublev and the works of avant-garde artists (Kazimir) Malevich or (Wassily) Kandinsky were known all over the world,” said museum director Yulia Petrova.
“However, between these two periods there is an artistic movement which deserves to be discovered.”
Designed by British architects, the museum – housed in a new circular building boasting ultra-modern lines – has been built on the site of an old sugar silo of a famous Soviet-era confectionery factory, the Bolshevik.
The move is hugely ironic: the Bolsheviks, who glorified Soviet realism, shunned impressionist art up until the political thaw of the 1960s.
The works of some well-known Russian impressionist artists including Valentin Serov, the author of The Girl with Peaches, are now experiencing a popular revival.
This past winter, an exhibition of paintings by Serov, renowned for his society portraits, broke attendance records at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, with visitors queuing for hours in the snow and even breaking a door.
“The Russians are drawn to impressionist artists because their works are joyful,” said Petrova.
But “in the West, the works of Russian impressionist artists are strangely undervalued and often cost 10 times less than those of their French counterparts,” she added.
Impressionism is arguably the most famous French painting movement.
It originated with a group of Paris-based artists in the 19th century and has become known for the artists’ innovative techniques, their bold use of colour and loose brushstrokes.
Some of the most famous impressionist artists were Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre Auguste Renoir.