CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Vadim Sadkov

Dutch and Flemish paintings in Russian provincial museums: history and highlights

It is a great pleasure for me to greet the participants in the CODART TWEE congress on Dutch and Flemish Art in Russia. In connection with this topic I would like to devote the present paper to the memory of the late Dr. Yuri Kuznetzov of the Hermitage Museum. He was my teacher and supporter and first of all, of course, an outstanding scholar. He was the first art historian who devoted serious attention to Dutch and Flemish paintings in the provincial museums of Russia.

Since the time of Peter the Great every new generation of art collectors and amateurs in Russia has had a strong interest in the European old masters, especially for those of the Dutch and Flemish Schools. Besides the famous collections of masterpieces in the Hermitage and the imperial palaces in and around St. Petersburg, there were many private collections of Dutch and Flemish art belonging to aristocrats and merchants. They were kept in both their city and country homes and estates in almost every region of our vast country. From the late 18th century until the Revolution of November 1917, each successive generation of art lovers in Russia was active and ambitious in the collecting of old masters, mainly Italian but also Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. Typically, these collections would at a given moment be sold in estate auctions or via art dealers not only in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but also in various provincial centres. Some Russian collections were even sold in Europe, as the famous collection of Paul Delaroff, which was sold in Paris in 1914.

In general, Russian collectors of old master paintings can be divided into two main categories. The most numerous group are the noblemen and rich merchants,. They were interested in European art mainly as a form of self-fashioning, as a demonstration of their many-sided European education and of the prosperity of their town and country estates. In the 19th and early 20th centuries a new category of collectors emerged in the more democratic circles of society. This phenomenon manifested itself not only in St. Petersburg and Moscow but even more pronouncedly in provincial centres like Saratov, Kazan, Smolensk, Tambov, Nizhni Novgorod, Tver and Serpukhov. By way of exception – but a very important exception – there were also collectors in the Siberian towns Perm, Omsk and Irkutsk, old cultural centres located at a great distance from the capitals of Russia.

Because of their comparatively small dimensions, reasonable price and captivating subjects, paintings of the Flemish and especially Dutch schools made up the bulk of these collections. The artistic merits of the pictures, largely the work of minor, sometimes rare and little-known masters, were for the most part of a very high order. It is on the basis of these private collections that many city galleries and art museums came into being. Thus, the State Art Museum in Saratov, the first public art museum in provincial Russia, was founded in 1877, when the famous landscape painter and collector Aleksei Bogoliubov presented his large collection of works by European artists to the township. The erection of the museum building was sponsored by the municipality. The foundation stone was laid on May 1, 1883 and the Saratov Art Museum was opened to the public on June 29th, 1885. The museum’s evident preference for Dutch landscape and genre paintings is a reflection of its founder’s tastes. Good collections of Dutch and Flemish painting can also be found in the Smolensk Art Museum as well as in the museum of Kazan. The Dutch section there is based on a collection that once belonged to Alexandr Likhatchiov, a professor at the local university.

Very soon after the October Revolution, Lenin pronounced decrees ordering the nationalization and preservation of art treasures and the democratization of all art institutions. These measures led to a more systematic acquisition of works of art and their redistribution among the country’s museums. The popularization of outstanding art works among the broadest possible masses now became government policy. During this period the existing state collections were consolidated and new ones were created. New museums were founded in Ulianovsk, Tambov, Serpukhov, Koursk, Toula, Voronedz and other provincial towns. The Soviet government’s prime achievement in the museum field, though, was the organization of art galleries in the outlying areas of the former Russian Empire, in the cities of Central Asia, Siberia and the Far East. Today their holdings of Dutch and Flemish art include works of high and in some cases outstanding artistic merit. Such paintings as Hendrick Terbrugghen’s Christ crowned with thorns in Irkutsk, Jan van Scorel’s Madonna and child in Tambov and an oil sketch by Jan Steen in Khabarovsk form some indication of the quality and importance of the collections in these museums.

This development also had its disadvantages. The great distance between the provincial centers and the capital cities cut off the collections from the world network of researchers. Moreover, the provincial museums were unable to hire skilled curators in the field of old master paintings. Usually, the curators responsible for European paintings would consult scholars from the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum concerning their collections. In this regard it is a great pleasure for me to honor the important contibution in this field by two outstanding scholars – the late Yuri Kuznetzov and his wife Irena Linnik, from the Hermitage. In the course of three decades from 1960 on, Yuri and Irena aided the research efforts of curators in many provincial museums and galleries. Thanks to their stimulation, catalogues of the European paintings from the collections in Smolensk, Krasnodar, Koursk, Nizhni Novgorod, Perm and Ulianovsk were compiled by local curators and published. In this respect, last but not least, special mention should be made of the publication of the large volume on Dutch Painting in Soviet Museums, were prepared by Kuznetzov and Linnik and published by Aurora Art Publishers in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1982.

In today’s talk I will call attention to some of the many other Dutch and Flemish paintings in Russian provincial Museums. Most of them are unpublished and therefore unknown to Western scholar who have not visited the Russian east and western Siberia.

Vorondez Museum of Fine Arts

In my brief talk today I’d like to begin with the two beautiful double-sided wings of a destroyed portable altarpiece by an unknown Netherlands painter of the first quarter of the 16th century preserved in the Voronedz Museum of Fine Arts. The basis of the Voronedz collection of Old Master paintings are works evacuated there in 1918 from Yuriev (Derpt) Imperial University because of the threat of military operations in World War I. Depicted are the man and woman donors and their patron saints Barbara and Augustine (oak, 47 x 15 cm.). Kuznetzov and Linnik included in their book works by Pieter Claesz. and Samuel van Hoogstraten in Voronedz. Other paintings that merit study are a fantastic rocky landscape by Tobias Verhaecht, a monogrammed still-life with fruits by Frederick van Royen (canvas, 33 x33 cm.) and a marvelous representation of a groom with a horse by David Teniers the Younger (transferred from panel to canvas, 20.5 x 15.5 cm.)

Nizhni Novgorod Art Museum

Another first-rank example of Teniers’ style is to be found in the outstanding collection of the Nizhni Novgorod Art Museum. This is a large composition known as The sheepfold. It is signed both by Teniers, who was responsible for the figures and the animals and by an unknown monogrammist who executed the sheepfold’s interieur.

Also in this collection is Jan Victors’ Tobias curing his blind father (canvas, 115 x 138), signed and dated March 31, 1669. By Otto Marseus van Schrieck is a canvas of Butterflies, lizards and autumn leaves. A portrait of an unknown man by Jan Cornelisz. Verspronck is in the museum, as is a signed and dated (1636) panel of Queen Artemisia by the Haarlem artist Pieter de Grebber.

Kaluga Museum of Fine Arts

Other works by the same master are in Kaluga (reproduced in Kuznetzov and Linnik)

Omsk Museum of Fine Arts

and the unpublished Head of a girl from the Omsk Museum of Fine Arts.

Art Museum of Smolensk

An important collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings is preserved in the Art Museum of Smolensk as well. Besides the family portrait by Eglon van der Neer, a Portrait of a man by Nicolas Eliasz. Pickenoy and a Landscape by Jan Asselijn reproduced in Linnik’s book, I can show you A glass with flowers marked with the monogram of Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (oak, 25.2 x 18.5 cm.), the portrait of a girl attributed to Dirck van Santvoort and a Pronk still-life attributed to Simon Luttichuis.

Penze Art Gallery

The same artist is represented in the Penza Art Gallery by a monogrammed still-life of a Dessert (canvas, 50.5 x 44).

Kazan Museum of Fine Arts

Luttichuys was previously known only for his still lifes, but now we know him as a prolific portraitist as well. Kuznetzov and Linnik published his Portrait of a gentleman from the Museum of Fine Arts in Kazan.

Ostaninko Palace

To this I can to add a Portrait of a man from the Ostankino Palace Museum near Moscow. Such palace museums are often relatively unknown.

Another important example is that in Arkhangelskoe. In that collection is an important, unpublished Parable of the rich man and Lazarus by the rare Liège painter Gerard Duffet, monogrammed and dated 1624, during his early, Caravaggesque period. This panel is from the famous collection of Prince Yusupov. In Arkhangelskoe one also finds a Burning of Troy by Gerard de Lairesse, painted about 1670 (canvas, 102 x 118 cm.).

Saratov Museum of Art

The old master paintings collection in the Saratov Museum of Art includes A Riverside Walk (panel, 59 x 93 cm.) by the Antwerp artist Louis de Caullery . Besides some outstanding works by Mathias Stomer, Karel du Jardin and Mathias Withoos published by Linnik I can add panels by comparatively little-known artists like Pieter van Noort (Sewing), Arnold Verbuijs (Lady with a Letter) and Christ preaching on the Lake of Gennesareth by Abraham Willaerts.

Serpukhov, Museum of History and Art

The Willaerts family is represented with a rare Fishmarket on the Seacoast, signed by Isaac Willaerts, in the Museum of History and Art in Serpukhov, a small town in the Moscow area. Indeed, the very interesting Serpukhov collection is typical for provincial museums located in central Russia. It was created on the basis of the former collection of the local merchant Anna Maraeva, which was nationalized in 1919. Among the more important paintings in Serpukhov are A scholar in his study by Isaac de Jouderville, one of Rembrandt’s first pupils. This panel was first recognized and published by Yuri Kuznetzov as a representation of the very obscure subject Melancholia Secunda. This interpretation is based on Erwin Panofsky’s theory that Dürer’s famous print depicts Melancholia Prima.

Other interesting holdings in Serpukhov include the large canvas The Queen of Sheba before Solomon by Frans Francken II. This work was not available when Ursula Härting wrote her book on Francken. (Another version of this composition, also unpublished so far, is in the Kharkov Musum of Fine Arts.) In Serpukhov we also find the panel Road through the dunes by the Haarlem landscapist Guillam Dubois, a Vanitas allegory by the Antwerp artist Jan Boeckhorst, called Langejan, and a small Still-life with fruit signed by David Cornelisz. de Heem. This little-known member of the famous Dutch-Flemish still-life painters family worked in Antwerp and was the son of Cornelis de Heem.

Ulianovsk Art Museum

Another painting by the same hand is in Ulianovsk Art Museum. Beside it there are a by Adriaen Ocker and a fine Merry Company which seems to me to be an early work by Jan Verspronk. Ulianovsk houses an attractive pair of pendant genre pieces by Jan Miense Molenaer as well.

Other provincial museums that own other interesting Netherlandish paintings are:

Riazan Art Museum

A panel of the comparatively rare subject Prophet Elisha and Ne’eman by the Amsterdam Pre-Rembrandtist Jan Pynas.

Perm Art Gallery

Jacob Gerrritsz. Cuyp, Portrait of a Lady (oak, 52 x 43 cm). This portrait was formerly preserved in the Gatchina Palace, and was transferred to Perm in 1941. The location of the pendant “Portrait of a Gentleman,” first published in 1916 by the Russian connoisseur and collector Vasily Rshavinsky, is presently unknown.

Kazan State Museum of Fine Arts

A fine Merry Violinist with the monogram of Pieter Quast.

Tula Art Gallery

Dead Game by Jan Vonck, signed and dated 1656, and Rural Landscape by Abraham Teniers. Tula also owns the perfectly preserved panel Road in the Forest by the Antwerp artist Abraham Govaerts. Although I published it more than 20 ago in Russian, it continues to escape the attention of foreign scholars. But in fact this is one of the finest landscape pieces by the artist.

In conclusion, some general points can be made. As you can see, numerous provincial museums in Russia preserved Dutch and Flemish paintings. In comprision with regional museums in Germany, France or the United States, however, the Russian institutions do not include works by great masters like Rembrandt, Frans Hals or Vermeer van Delft. Their main art-historical value lies in a predominance of very attractive and high-quality works by minor, in many cases little-known artists. I’m sure it would be an excellent contribution to the literature of art history to compile a general catalogue of all the Dutch and Flemish paintings in Russian museums outside St. Petersburg and Moscow, comparable to Peter Sutton’s well-known book Dutch Art in America. In preparation for such a task, it would help to organize an exhibition of 60 or 80 of the most important paintings from these museums, with careful art-historical and technical examination of each work. This project, as essential as it seems to me, presents a difficult challenge to scholars and curators in the years to come.


Page last updated on 7 February 2004.