Faces of Russia

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Discover Russian art and history with your private guide in St Petersburg

The world famous Russian Museum in St Petersburg represents its new permanent exhibition: “Faces of Russia”. The idea of creating the Russian National Portrait Gallery was first expressed at the beginning of the XIX century by Alexander Benois after the famous 1905 exhibition took place in the Taurida Palace in St Petesburg, where about 3000 portraits  of Russians of different ages and social classes were put on display. The exhibition was  organized  by the prominent figures in the national culture ( among them Sergey Dyagelev and Alexander Benois). It demonstrated the significance of historical portrait both as a vivid witness of the past and as an object of the art history, the important part of the national art heritage. Alexander Benois considered St Michael’s castle to be the most suitable place for a national portrait gallery. Today the Benois’s idea is being implemented and everybody interested in Russian art and history are welcome to visit it with your St Petersburg private guide ( //dancing-bear-tours.com)

The exhibition consists of two sections and is situated in newly restored rooms of historical building- Engineering Castle.
The first one includes ceremonial portraits of the Romanov’s dynasty tsars and emperors. As early as the first half of the XIX century the portrait gallery of Romanov family’s members had already existed  in the Winter palace and was constantly supplemented with portraits  of ruling monarchs and members of their families , including those of Nicholas II and Tsarevich Alexei. After the Revolution of 1917, the Romanovs Gallery was closed down .Its works scattered over various museums; some works were sold   out at international auctions or given to the theatres and film studios as properties. The present exhibition of royal portraits is a peculiar model of the Romanov Gallery.

The second section  represents portraits of state officials and military leaders  of the 18-19th centuries and are followed  by  pictures  of representatives of noble families that left mark on Russia’ s history: peasants , merchants , clergy men, raznochintsy  ( intellectuals  who did not belong to the gentry), architects  and artists, musicians and writers.  In most cases portraits were painted by outstanding Russian artists as well as foreign masters who worked in Russia.

A special room is devoted to the people who were  recorded in photographs and newsreels: you will find here familiar faces of soviet leaders (Stalin, Lenin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev) and people of culture (like Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya- two the world famous ballet dancers) piano player Rahmaninov, marshal Zhukov (“marshal of Victory” – one of the leading soviet military commanders  in the WWII) and many more.

The inclusion of photographic works when creating a national portrait gallery still needs some explanations,  however .Having become a special art form at the end of the XIX century and beginning of the XIX century  photography is today becoming more and more significant artistically as convincing testimony not just of  a person’s unique artistic features, but also of his place in the constantly changing world and the scale of detail that is beyond the capabilities of painting. In addition to their iconographic significance, the paintings have remarkable artistic value as well.

With an addition of newly restored rooms of St Michael’s castle, the exhibition will continue to increase, both in size and in the different types of visual mediums used: prints and drawings, miniatures, applied arts. The pictures, that make up collection give a chance to trace the evolution of portrait genre in Russian art and are unique genealogical tree of a whole people: they are objective witnesses to the past and participants in the dramatic collisions of Russia’s History.
The work on creating the national portrait gallery under the general title ”Faces of Russia” based on a Rich Iconographic and art collection of the Russian Museum will be continued  but it is already opened for the public.