At the National Portrait Gallery

David Jackson

The National Portrait Gallery’s Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (until 26 June) displays a small but rich body of works made between 1867 and 1914, focused on Russia’s writers, artists, actors, composers and patrons, most of whom will be familiar – Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov. It also takes in significant but less well-known figures, such as the formidable critic Vladimir Stasov, whose efforts did a great deal to shape the cultural scene. The portraits are drawn from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the first museum dedicated to Russian art, amassed by the wealthy merchant collector Pavel Tretyakov. The stress is principally on the sitters, even though – in Russia – the artists who painted them enjoy equal celebrity with their literary and musical counterparts. Most important here are the groundbreaking painters of Russia’s nascent realist school, especially the Peredvizhniki (the ‘Wanderers’), though the exhibition also focuses on late 19th-century aesthetic and decorative developments ushered in by early modernist movements such as Symbolism and Diaghilev’s Mir iskusstva.

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