Mysteries of the Tretyakov Gallery: What secrets do the canvases of Kramskoy and Vrubel hide
The unique collection of the museum has more than 180 thousand works of Russian art of different eras and styles. And every masterpiece of the Tretyakov Gallery has its own story, the study of which looks like an exciting detective story. However, the detectives also did not pass over the paintings from the museum. What role did Italian policemen play in the life of the gallery, why did Ivan Kramskoy cut into pieces the last lifetime portrait of Nikolai Nekrasov, and how was Vrubel’s lost work forever found?
Theft in Genoa
In 1991, the exhibition of the Tretyakov Gallery “Russian Art of the Epoch of Alexander II” was exhibited in Genoa. The exhibition was popular, according to information from the gallery, it was visited in three months by as many spectators as it did not visit the museum in a year.
And on the night of September 25-26, 18 of 76 paintings were stolen from the Villa Croce Gallery. The investigation lasted two months. After the arrest, it became clear that the criminals took advantage of the thunderstorm on the night of the robbery, using the stairs they entered the gallery window, and then carried out the canvases and loaded them into the truck.
Then almost all Italian newspapers wrote about the robbery, Interpol joined in the search for paintings. Two weeks later, most of the paintings were discovered, but Ilya Repin’s painting “Rest” was discovered last in the attic of the house in which one of the robbers lived. The criminals who stole the canvases had a poor idea of what value they had. And they were offered for sale in antique shops in Italy. However, they could not sell a single masterpiece of Russian painting. But the Italian police successfully opened this high-profile case and transferred the paintings to the rightful owner – the Tretyakov Gallery.
For a long time, museum specialists could not unravel the mystery of the last lifetime portrait of the poet Nikolai Nekrasov. An attentive viewer could notice that there are traces of cuts in the picture. Only in 2006, specialists of the Tretyakov Gallery received at their disposal equipment with which it was possible to examine the painting in full.
By order of the owner of the gallery, Pavel Tretyakov, Ivan Kramskoy was to paint a portrait of Nikolai Nekrasov. However, the artist was given the condition that the portrait should be intravital. Ivan Kramskoy visited the poet in those days when Nekrasov was already very sick and spent all days in bed. The artist worked in fits and starts, for 10-15 minutes a day. In the original portrait, Nekrasov was depicted in the form in which his artist saw: lying in bed.
When the painting was finished, members of the Kramskoy family opposed such an image of the great poet, as the author of the painting told Pavel Tretyakov in personal correspondence. In order to show the indestructible strength of spirit of Nikolai Nekrasov in the portrait, Ivan Kramskoy cut the canvas into several parts and reassembled the painting, enlarging the canvas and including fragments of the finished portrait. As a result, the poet was not lying, but sitting on the bed. The final portrait, which is today in the Tretyakov Gallery, consists of seven pieces. The artist assembled them like a mosaic and finished the necessary interior details. At the same time, he did not stitch the pieces, but glued them on the back with a thick layer of mastic.
In this case, the portrait is dated 1877, although Ivan Kramskoy finished his work in 1878, after the death of the great Russian poet. Specialists of the Tretyakov Gallery explain this fact by the fact that the artist considered the song “Bayushki-bayu” written on March 3, 1877, to be the best poem by Nikolai Nekrasov. He marked this date in his signature.