Russian Museums and Galleries Moscow Museum of New Western Art

Museum of New Western Art

Sergei Schukin and Ivan Morozov had much in common. Both were descended from Old Believers (the Schukins were a family of Moscow shopkeepers, while the Morozovs were former serfs who had paid for their own emancipation). Both studied abroad, knew foreign languages and loved classical music.

Both men inherited their fathers’ enterprising spirit and multiplied their capital – Schukin in the family firm (Ivan Schukin & Sons) and Morozov at the Tver Manufacturing Company. Both lived in close vicinity of one another – Schukin on Znamenka Street, near the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and Morozov on Prechistenka, on the other side of the boulevard. And both began collecting paintings around the same time, frequenting the same galleries and studios, each finding what he himself wanted.

Sergei Schukin never squandered his money, only ever spending the interest earned on his capital. Ivan Morozov was the richer of the two, employing forty thousand workers at his textile mills. Spending money on paintings came easy to a man described by Ambroise Vollard as “the Russian who never haggles.” Morozov kept every dealer’s receipt and we can now calculate exactly how much he paid for his collection – 1,410,665 francs (at that time, one rouble was equal to forty francs). This does not include the Russian section of his collection, which numbered over three hundred works (Morozov also bought contemporary Russian paintings on a large scale).

Ivan Morozov never admitted strangers. He planned his museum like an experienced curator, knowing in advance that he needed a blue Cézanne or a Matisse landscape, specially reserving a place for them on the wall. He heeded other people’s opinions and trusted artists, particularly Valentin Serov and Maurice Denis.

Sergei Schukin relied solely on himself. He did not buy contemporary Russian artists, though willingly allowed members of the public to visit his mansion on Znamenka Street. Prince Shcherbatov noted that young artists reacted to what they saw “like Eskimos to a gramophone.” Schukin’s enlightened tastes were a major influence on the early Russian avant-garde.

When talking about paintings, Sergei Schukin spoke with the same fervour as which he bought them. When he saw a picture, he would experience a sort of nervous thrill or excitement, dreaming of possessing it no matter what. He described his “Picasso case” as a form of “hypnosis or magic.” Schukin often had to fight against himself, knowing beforehand that he would be called a madman. Little wonder that Alexander Benois called the purchase of Henri Matisse’s Dance and Music an “exploit.”

In August 1914, Russian banks stopped remitting money abroad, putting an end to purchases in Europe. In July 1918, the Bolshevik government nationalised all major industrial enterprises. Morozov handed his account books and the keys to his safes to the workers’ committee. The following month, Schukin abandoned Moscow with a train ticket to Kiev, a false passport and a doll lined with diamonds, leaving his daughter and son-in-law in charge of his collection.

Ivan Morozov held out for another ten months, unable to part with his museum. He did not even give in when his gallery was nationalised and he was appointed deputy keeper, obliged to take visitors on excursions. He only gave in when he and his family were ordered to move to the basement. The house-register entry reports that he “left with his family for Petrograd.”

With the help of high-up protectors, the Morozovs soon found themselves in Switzerland. The loss of his collection was the final blow for Ivan Morozov, who lacked Schukin’s staunchness. Few, indeed, would be capable of enduring the suicides of two sons and a brother and the death of a wife. Morozov died at the age of fifty in the summer of 1921 in Carlsbad, where he had gone to recuperate.

Both collections remained intact – it did not even occur to their former owners to take anything with them – and were turned into the First and Second Museums of New Western Painting (renamed the First and Second Museums of New Western Art in 1923). Moscow was suffering from an acute housing shortage at that time. Although packed out with residents and offices, the relief commission cast greedy eyes on the two mansions. Morozov’s house narrowly escaped being awarded to an orphanage in 1925. Georgy Chicherin, commissar for foreign affairs, interfered by saying that closing down the museum would be a propaganda gift to the enemies of the new Soviet state.

In 1926, it was the turn of the Schukin Museum. To ease the housing problem in the capital, there was a proposal to move the paintings to Leningrad, but leading artists protested and the plans were quashed. Two years later, however, there was no longer any resistance. The Schukin collection was moved to Morozov’s mansion at 21 Kropotkin Street. The Gauguin iconostasis, the pink Matisse drawing room and the Monet music salon survived only in photographs.

Although the Museum of New Western Art was allocated the entire first floor of the Morozov mansion, there was still not enough room in these spacious halls lit by a unique skylight. Three hundred paintings from the Schukin collection were added to a similar number once belonging to Morozov. There was not even enough room to display the masterpieces. At that time, the museum owned nineteen works by Monet, eleven by Renoir, twenty-nine by Gauguin, twenty-six by Cézanne, ten by Van Gogh, nine by Degas, fourteen by Bonnard, twenty-two by Derain, fifty-three by Matisse and fifty-four by Picasso.

Most of the pictures had to be put away in storage rooms. Although the authorities promised to solve the problem of space within five years, this turned out to be unnecessary, for the Communists immediately set about destroying the recently opened museum.

The first warning sign came when a Workers’ Team from the People’s Commissariat of Worker and Peasant Inspectors came to look at the new permanent exhibition. Their main aim was to estimate the percentage of “abstract pictures and those that had a subject but would not be understood by the mass viewer,” “those that would be understood but did not reflect social problems” (still-lifes and landscapes without people) and those with people “without any obvious class affiliation.” “Revolutionary active paintings pointing in the right direction” were to be counted separately, singling out “reactionary active pictures obscuring class consciousness” and “neutral, passive-protocol portraits.”

The commission only managed to find nine paintings dedicated to the working class – 2.18 % of the total number of works at the State Museum of New Western Art. The inspectors also discovered that the layout of the permanent exhibition had not been endorsed by the corresponding organs. The question of whether the museum should be preserved “for connoisseurs and aesthetes” or “whether it could be changed” was left open for the time being. One of the options was to transform the State Museum of New Western Art and the Tretyakov Gallery into an “all-Russian complex or body for the planned regulation of the distribution and use of forms of art … within the museum network covering both Moscow and the provinces … under the management of an industrial enterprise.”

That was as far as ideology was concerned. From the material point of view, Morozov’s mansion remained a thorn in the side of the housing authorities, who now decided to award it to the Red Army Military Academy. Andrei Bubnov, people’s commissar for education, saved the museum by threatening to complain to the Party authorities, unless an end was put to the “encroachments on the already established minimum quota of museums.”

Although the museum itself survived intact, its collections continued to shrink. Paintings were moved to the Hermitage “by way of exchange,” while more and more works were relegated to the storage rooms. “Bourgeoisie art” was methodically withdrawn from the permanent exhibition to make way for such shows as Class Struggle or Women in Bourgeoisie and Proletarian Art.

Meanwhile, the “Antiquariat” State Import-Export Bureau was exploring the possibilities of selling modern Western paintings. Dr Albert Barnes expressed a desire to buy Cézanne’s Pierrot and Harlequin, but found the price of nearly half a million German marks “exorbitant.” A telegram inquires: “I have a client quite interested in Madame Cézanne, Van Gogh’s Café, Renoir’s Maid and Degas’ Green Singer. Can you give a good price for the four in dollars?” Stephen Carlton Clark bought these four pictures from the State Museum of New Western Art for $260,000. More might have been sold, as “Antiquariat” managed to get its hands on thirty-six works from the State Museum of New Western Art, had the government not feared lawsuits from the former owners. Also, the Western press began reporting that the Soviets were selling off their cultural treasures.

The Second World War granted the museum a temporary reprieve. The paintings were evacuated to Sverdlovsk and, when returned to Moscow in 1944, were left in their boxes and rolls. Victory failed to bring the long-awaited freedom. The writings of Mikhail Zoschenko and Anna Akhmatova were branded “ideologically harmful” in 1946 and a campaign against “cosmopolitanism” and “toadying to the West” was unleashed in January 1949.

By then, the “mainstay of Formalism” no longer existed. On 6 March 1948, a government resolution abolished the State Museum of New Western Art as a “breeding-ground of Formalist ideas and servility to the decadent bourgeois culture of the period of Imperialism” that had done “great damage to the development of Russian and Soviet art.” Two weeks before the resolution was passed, the museum workers were given twenty-four hours to “roll up the permanent exhibition,” including the huge Matisse panels.

The pictures were examined by a group of government officials including Kliment Voroshilov, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, and the president of the Academy of Arts. Nina Yavorskaya, the widow of the first director of the State Museum of New Western Art, recalled their laughter and ironic comments as they viewed the canvases spread out on the floor. They eventually left the museum without saying a word. Polikarp Lebedev and Pyotr Sysoyev were put in charge of the liquidation of the museum and given ten days to distribute the “most valuable works” between the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Hermitage Museum. The rest were to be “scattered” around the provinces, while the “riskiest pieces” were to be physically destroyed.

Josif Orbeli, director of the Hermitage Museum, stepped in at this point. He sent his wife, art historian Antonina Izergina, to Moscow with orders to “get everything you can.” Orbeli and Sergei Merkurov, director of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, allegedly sat in the White Hall of the Pushkin Museum and divided the Schukin and Morozov collections between themselves. Orbeli took everything the more cautious Muscovites rejected, including the huge Matisse panels, Picasso’s Cubist paintings and Maurice Denis’ Story of Psyche, which had been hidden behind screens throughout the entire history of the State Museum of New Western Art.




November 18 – Decree on the nationalisation of the Schukin Picture Gallery

Late August – Sergei Schukin secretly leaves Moscow.

December 30 – Decree on the nationalisation of the collections of Ivan Morozov, Alexei Morozov and Ilya Ostroukhov.


Late April/early May – Ivan Morozov secretly leaves Moscow.

June – The Schukin and Morozov collections are transformed into the First and Second Museums of New Western Painting.


July 22 – Ivan Morozov dies in Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary).


January - Ekaterina Keller, Sergei Schukin’s daughter, who was the gallery keeper from November 1918, leaves Soviet Russia.


March – The First (Schukin) and Second (Morozov) Branches of the State Museum of New Western Painting are administratively incorporated into the State Museum of New Western Art, with Boris Ternovets as director.


Sergei I. Schukin revokes his will of 1907, in which he bequeathed his collection to the Tretyakov Gallery.


March – Sergei Schukin’s mansion (8 Bolshoi Znamensky Lane) is awarded to the Porcelain Museum.

October 24 – The First and Second Branches of the State Museum of New Western Art are brought together in the same premises.

November/December – The Schukin collection moves to Ivan Morozov’s former mansion at 21 Kropotkin (formerly Prechistenka) Street.


December – The State Museum of New Western Art opens its new permanent exhibition, laid out in accordance with the history of art. The museum publishes its first and last catalogue, in which the former collection owners are listed under the initials “?” and “?”.


The State Museum of New Western Art and the Hermitage exchange paintings.


Paintings are expropriated from the collection of the State Museum of New Western Art for sale abroad.


January 12 – Sergei Schukin dies in Paris at the age of 82.

January 28 – Pravda publishes an article entitled “Muddle Instead of Music,” officially launching a campaign against Formalism. The State Museum of New Western Art comes under attack, with every movement from Impressionism onwards condemned as Formalist.


January 1 – Boris Ternovets learns from the newspapers of his dismissal as director of the State Museum of New Western Art, a post he held for fifteen years.


The collections of the State Museum of New Western Art are brought back from the evacuation and stored temporarily at the Museum of Oriental Cultures, where they remain unpacked.


August 5 – The All-Russian Academy of Arts is transformed into the USSR Academy of Arts. Its first president, Alexander Gerasimov, suggests that the building of the State Museum of New Western Art be used to house the Academy.


Late January – Staff at the State Museum of New Western Art are given twenty-four hours to mount the museum exhibition, which is then examined by a commission headed by Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Kliment Voroshilov.

February 10 – The Central Committee passes a resolution on Vano Muradeli’s opera Great Friendship.

March 6 – The USSR Council of Ministers announces its decision to close the State Museum of New Western Art. The collection is divided between the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Hermitage.


January 5 – The Academy of Sciences in Leningrad condemns “toadyism to the West” and advocates Russian priorities in science.


December – The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts unveils its new permanent exhibition, showing Impressionist paintings by Renoir, Monet and Degas for the first time.


May – The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts holds an exhibition of French art from David to Cézanne from French museums. Over 200,000 people visit the show. In autumn, Picasso is exhibited at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, while Cézanne is shown at the Hermitage.

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