I’m hugely interested in Russian culture, and so the National Portrait Gallery‘s exhibition Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky was an absolute must-see for me. The exhibition features pictures loaned from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, paintings of some of the greatest cultural figures Russia has produced, including writers, artists, actors, composers and patrons. It’s also possible to trace the development of Russian art through the exhibition, as it covers the period 1867 to 1914, and features Realism, Impressionism and Cubism.
This relatively small exhibition had several highlights for me. Ilya Repin’s portrait of composer Modest Mussorgsky, painted in 1881 just a few days before Mussorgsky died of alcoholism, is powerfully unnerving. The picture Tolstoy shows the great writer relaxing at his home, while the portrait of Turgenev is urbane and smart. The 1872 portrait of Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov is familiar to me from the cover of the author’s works, and portrays the author as pensive and gaunt. I think my favourite, however, was the 1898 portrait of Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz. Intellectual and intelligent, the writer stares out of the painting as if challenging the viewer. I kept returning to this picture as I was going round the exhibition. The show was small in size, but contained more cultural giants than any other I’ve seen.