If you like art, there is a museum that you should not miss in Moscow: the State Tretyakov Gallery, the main Russian national art museum. Let me assure you that you will be surprised by the Russian painting collection of this museum, through which you can better understand the history of Russia. In this post I’ll explain how to organize your visit and what works you should not miss.
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0. THE ORIGINS OF THE MUSEUM and the different buildings
When I was in the Hermitage shop, glancing through an artbook, I found a list of the seven best art museums in the world: the Hermitage, listed as the first and, below it were the Louvre, the Met, the Van Gogh, the Prado and the Rijks. The seventh was the Tretyakov museum.
The State Tretyakov Gallery is one of the most important museums in the country, the best in Moscow and the main repository of Russian art, an essential place for art lovers. Its art pieces range from medieval icons to the trends of Soviet socialist realism or the avant-garde, passing through the main national painters throughout the centuries, reaching to these days.
The Museum Founder
Its name is due to Pavel Tretyakov, a Moscow textile merchant art collector, who began his acquisitions in 1856. His brother, Sergei, also helped him. In 1892, when he already had 2,000 collected works, he gave his legacy to the city. A year later, the official inauguration of the museum took place.
This great philanthropist died in 1898 and is buried in the unique and beautiful Novodevichy cemetery. Surely, he had no idea of the great popularity that his private painting collection would reach. Here you can see a portrait of Pavel Tretyakov, by Ilya Repin (1883):
A museum located in different buildings
It is important that you know that different museum spaces are grouped together under the brand and named State Tretyakov Gallery. The most important are the State Tretyakov Gallery itself, where works from the 11th century are exhibited, all the way till the beginning of the 20th century, and the New Tretyakov Gallery, in which you can see representations of contemporary Russian art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Both museums are really centric.
The Tretyakov State Gallery, the New Tretyakov Gallery and other branches with their own name, are estimated to house more than 180,000 works, one of the most precious Russian artistic treasures, mainly paintings but also sculpture works and other graphic artworks.
1. STATE TRETYAKOV GALLERY (Lavrushinsky Lane, 10), the main building
The main exhibition of the Tretyakov Gallery, and that everyone visits, is the one located in Lavrushinsky Lane, 10, a very centric location, a 15-20 minutes’ walk from Red Square, the Kremlin or the Cathedral of Christ Savior.
The closest metro station to the Tretyakov Gallery is Tretyakovskaya station.
The main facade of the Gallery (located on Lavrushinsky Lane, 10) recalls a Russian fairy tale and was erected between 1902 and 1904. The entrance to the museum is presided by a statue of its founder, Pavel Tretyakov. This building houses artworks that go from the 11th century to the beginning of the 20th century, from the famous Russian icons to pre-Mongolian mosaics, without forgetting, of course, the Russian masterpieces in the form of a portrait or landscape of modern times.
Then, adjacent to the museum, you can find the Church of San Nicholas, which dates back from the 17th century, in which artistic works are also exhibited, such as icons, as it’s another part of the museum that accompanies the spirituality of the place.
Also, other annexed constructions were added to the Tretyakov Gallery complex, such as the Engineers Building, the result of successive extensions that multiplied the exhibition halls.
An outstanding fact was that in May 2012, the State Tretyakov Gallery was the headquarters of the World Chess Championship, trying to promote sport and art in unison.
Another curiosity is that during World War II, in 1941, the collection was provisionally moved by train to Novosibirsk, the Siberian capital, and to Perm.
1.1. What to see in the State Tretyakov Gallery: the most important works
I would like to highlight some of the most recognized works and artists of the Tretyakov Gallery, in case it can help you in your visit:
- Works by Vasily Ivanovich Surikov (1848-1916), who was one of the most famous Russian realistic painters. His most outstanding works deal with historical topics related to Russia. Among them it stands out:
- The Morning of the Streltsy Execution, 1698. The Streltsy were a Russian military body, created in 1550 during the reign of Ivan IV “the Terrible.” The Streltsy received land in payment for their services. During the 16th century they became an elite body and gained influence in the Russian court. They rebelled in the year 1698 (Revolt of the Streltsy of 1698), against Tsar Peter, when he was outside Moscow. When Peter returned, he severely punished the Streltsy, personally cutting off the heads of some of them.
- The Boyarynya Morozova. Feodosia Morozova was one of the best-known supporters of the movement of the Old Believers or raskolniki. The picture portrays the arrest of Feodosia in 1671, in which he holds two fingers raised, thus showing the ancient form of the Sign of the Cross made with two fingers.
- Bogatyres (1898) It is one of the main works of Viktor Vasnetsov, in which he worked twenty years. Here he represents the Slavic heroes: Dobrynia Nikítich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich.
- Religious Procession in Kursk Governorate (1880–1883) of Ilya Repin, an exquisite and famous Russian realistic painter, which also highlights Ivan the Terrible and his son (1885), a picture that suffered a vandalism attack in May 2018.
- Works of Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910)
- The Princess of the Dream(1896)
- The Swan Princess (1900)
- The Appearance of Christ Before the People (1837-1857) by A. A. Ivanov, which took twenty years to complete.
- Christ in the Desert (1872) by Ivan Kramskoi.
- The Trinity by Andrei Rubliev, the most famous religious artist in the country. A famous icon, probably painted between 1425-1427.
- The apotheosis of war (1871) by Vasily Vereshchagin, one of the most famous anti-war arguments in art history. Leaving a pyramid with the heads of its victims on the outskirts of the conquered cities was a custom of the Turkish-Mongol conqueror Tamerlane. With this shocking scene, Vereshchagin wanted to denounce not only this, but all the wars that would come in the future.
- Composition VII (1913) by Wassily Kandinsky, a precursor painter of abstract and expressionist art worldwide, with more works in the New Tretyakov Gallery.
- Princess Tarakanova (1864) by Konstantin Flavitsky, which represents a flood in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in a cell occupied by a supposedly false daughter of the Empress.
- The Virgin of Vladimir, an icon of the early 9th century, for which he feels much veneration in Russia. Its author is anonymous, of Byzantine origin and located in the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi.
- Portrait of an unknown woman (1883) by Ivan Kramskoi. It represents a calm woman with an earnest look. It is a very popular work in Russia at the moment, though in the beginning it was not since there were people who thought that it represented an arrogant and immoral woman.
- Girl with Peaches (1887) by Valentin Serov, one of the great Russian painting masters. This painting is generally considered the beginning point of Russian Impressionism. Also, it is worth noting Servov’s painting, The Village (1898).
- Morning in a pine forest (1889) by Ivan Shishkin and Konstantin Savitsky. One of the most popular paintings of Russian art. There is a part of the painting that serves as a wrapper for a famous brand of Russian chocolates that I have loved since I was little.
- The Demon Seated (1890) by Mikhail Vrubel. This is not the typical portrait of the devil with horns and tail. This demon is beautiful because he had actually been an angel before facing his creator.
- Bathing of a Red Horse (1912) by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
- The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich, it’s a work that never leaves anyone indifferent and whose latest version is estimated to be from the late 1920s or early 1930s. We can also note his Self-portrait (1910-1911).
1.2. Schedules, entry fees and purchase of tickets online
- Duration of the visit. The visit can last at least 2 hours, though you already know that it will depend on your concerns or preferences.
- Restaurants. Inside the museum there is a cafeteria, in case you want to eat or drink, though I would not recommend eating there. There is also a souvenir shop. If you are looking for a good restaurant at the museum exit, I recommend the Russian cuisine restaurant Abramov, a 5-minute walk from there. The Ukrainian cuisine restaurant Taras Bulba is more economic, which you can find also at a 5-minute walk, or Grabli restaurant.
- Hours. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Closed Mondays.
- Online tickets. The Tretyakov Gallery offers a basic entrance fee to its permanent exhibitions for 500 rubles. You can purchase them online. If you want to access temporary or combined exhibitions, there are other types of tickets. Students with an international ISIC card only pay half and for those under 18 entrance is free. As in other busy places of the capital, and especially in summer, it is advisable to buy tickets in advance to avoid lines. The process of buying tickets online can be seen in the following screenshots. In the following example I’m buying tickets for 1 adult (500 rubles) and 1 under 18 (free) for July 21, 2019:
2. NEW TRETYAKOV GALLERY (Krimsky Val, 10), the 21st century art museum
The New Tretyakov Gallery (located at Krymsky Val, 10), was administratively merged with the Tretyakov Gallery in 1985, and today delights us with representations of Russian contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries, avant-garde art and new trends until today.
The adjacent building, called the Central House of Artists, has been the site of outstanding exhibitions by world-class artists since the 1980s. By 2022, there is planned a great remodeling of all this cultural network.
The closest metro station to the New Tretyakov Gallery is Oktyabrskaya station.
You can go from the Tretyakov Gallery (Lavrushinsky Lane, 10) to the New Tretyakov Gallery (Krimsky Val, 10) on foot in about 25 minutes, on a journey of about 2 km or a little more. During this journey on foot, you can contemplate the Statue of Peter the Great, on a small islet, a colossus 98 meters high and close to 1,000 tons in weight.
The New Tretryakov Gallery is well worth visiting. It exhibits works of modern Russian art with pieces by Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich. I also recommend touring the surrounding park with sculptures and monuments of the former Soviet Union.
The ticket costs 500 rubles and can also be purchased online. The schedules are the same as those of the main building of the Tretyakov Gallery. The visit can also last a minimum of 2 hours.
3. GUIDED TOURS
If you want to take a guided tour and understand the works of this fabulous museum much better, there are different tourist agencies that organize guided tours of the museum. I recommend the following:
I hope this article has helped you organize your visit to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. If it has been useful, you can help me by sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you.