Off the Beaten Trail: The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow and the George Costakis Collection

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Ivan Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1883)- the face of Anna Karenina.

 

A haunting building from another period houses masterpieces of world art that span a thousand years. The appearance of the State Tretyakov Gallery has the appearance of a Russian fairy tale style. A statue of Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich dominates the courtyard. A beautiful rose standing alone in the courtyard symbolizes the love of the Russian people for their art history. The dedicated mission of Greek George Costakis to save modern avant-garde art during the communist era is on display. Wherever Greeks immigrate, they build businesses and civilization. George Costakis was born in Moscow of affluent Greek parents. He was not an artist, but a businessman who never went to university. After WWII, he rediscovered the revolutionary art of 1917 which would have been lost. The Russian art of the 20th century to contemporary artist is on display at the Tretyakov Gallery at 10 Krymsky Val.

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”The Princess of the Dream” by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is haunting.
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Rose blooming in front of The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow.

Our guide Irina Chetina made the portraits of Catherine The Great come alive. Her narrations showed us how the average Russian treasures their history. The building was designed by Viktor Vasnetsov between 1900-05. The gallery started as the private collection of 19th century industrial brothers Tretyakov. Pavel was a patron of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers), a group of 19th century painters who broke away from the conservative Academy of Arts. They began depicting common people and social problems. Nowadays they are among Russia’s most celebrated painters. The collection contains more than 130,000 exhibits, ranging from Theotokos of Vladimir and Andrei Rublev‘s Trinity to the monumental Composition VII by Vassily Kandinsky and the Black Square by Kazimir Malevich. In 1977, the Gallery kept a significant part of the George Costakis collection.1

“Look carefully at this painting by Ilya RepinReligious Procession in Kursk Province (1880–83),” said our guide. “The artist shows the hypocrisy of society. The ‘Religious Procession in Kursk Province’ painting tells us a lot about life. It is an Easter procession. The rich and powerful were following the icon while the poor, a cripple were pushed aside, as if they did not count.” This oil painting by Ilya Repin (1844–1930) showed how the rich and church establishment came first, and the poor were pushed aside. This was Russia that led to the overthrow of the Tsar, abolishment of a church state replaced by a communist religion.  After seeing this painting, I understand the Russian Revolution in 1917.

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“Two horsemen with a slain barbarian” stone icon

The face of Anna Karenina has been modeled after the Ivan KramskoiPortrait of an Unknown Woman (1883). She is a woman of strength.” The Princess of the Dream” by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is haunting. It is based on a medieval fairy tale of a dying prince singing to his Dream princess who appears. It is oversized and dominates the hall. I saw the portrait of my heroine, Catherine the Great, adored by my family because she freed Tseme from Turkey for a few years. Irina stood in front of the painting to make history become alive. The stone Russian icon “Two horsemen with a slain barbarian” was impressive. The Raised relief carved from red slate is from Kiev, approximately AD 1062. It is in the Byzantine style, that we see in Greek Orthodox churches. The horsemen are Nestor and Demetrios, the saints of Thessaloniki. The Apotheosis of War,[2] dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come,” by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin, makes his point. He was one of the most famous Russian war artists and one of the first Russian artists to be widely recognized abroad. The graphic nature of his realist scenes led many of them to never be printed or exhibited.2  Siege of Pskov by Polish King Stefan Batoriy (Istvan Bathory) in 1581” reminded me of similar paintings of the Greek Revolution in 1821.

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Siege of Pskov by Polish King Stefan Batoriy (Istvan Bathory) in 1581
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“The Apotheosis of War”, dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come,”

I was intrigued with the George Costakis Collection. George Costakis was a collector of Russian art whose collection became the most representative body of Modern Russian avant-garde art anywhere. In the years surrounding the 1917 revolution, artists in Russia produced the first non-figurative art, which was to become the defining art of the 20th century. Costakis by chance discovered some constructivist paintings in a Moscow studio in 1946, and he went on to search for the revolutionary art which might otherwise have been lost to the world. Born in Moscow of affluent Greek parents, George Costakis had no artistic education but developed an interest in art during his adolescence and as soon as he was able to, he began buying art.

At first, he worked as a driver for the Greek Embassy until 1939, when relationships between Russia and Greece broke down due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. After that he took up work as Head of Personnel for the Canadian Embassy. His work at the Canadian Embassy brought him into contact with many visiting diplomats and he would show them around the Moscow art galleries and antique shops…

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Modern art, George Costakis Collection.

By the 1960 the apartment of George Costakis in Moscow had become a meeting place for international art collectors and art lovers in general: Russia’s unofficial Museum of Modern Art. The ‘détente’ period following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 opened up Russia once again to international cultural exchanges the first of which was the showing of the Costakis Collection in Düsseldorf in 1977. The same year Costakis, with his family, left the Soviet Union and moved to Greece, but there was an agreement that he should leave 50 per cent of his collection in the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow. In 1997 the Greek State bought the remaining 1275 works. They are now a part of the permanent collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art, in Thessaloniki, Greece.3 Visiting Russia was an experience, in a more positive, political climate.

 

 

            References:

  1. http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasily_Vereshchagin
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/03/13/obituaries/george-costakis-77-collector-of-soviet-artworks.html?mcubz=1

 

 

Links:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Procession_in_Kursk_Province  religious procession

https://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/collection/_show/image/_id/256- Vrubel, Mikhail Aleksandrovich

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_Russian_icons

https://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/collection/_show/image/_id/124-

https://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/collection/_show/image/_id/70

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Costakis

https://goo.gl/photos/auQUAv6m4sKKMnwf8 – album

 

Photographs:

Photo1 – Ilya RepinReligious Procession in Kursk Province (1880–83)

Photo 2- Ivan KramskoiPortrait of an Unknown Woman (1883)- the face of Anna Karenina.

Photo3- The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow

Photo 4- Rose blooming in front of The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow.

Photo5 – ”The Princess of the Dream” by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is haunting.

Photo6- Guide Irina showing us Catherine the Great, adored by my family because she freed Tseme from Turkey for a few years.

Photo 7 -“Two horsemen with a slain barbarian” stone icon

Photo 8- “The Apotheosis of War”, dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come,”

Photo9- Siege of Pskov by Polish King Stefan Batoriy (Istvan Bathory) in 1581

Photo 10- Modern art, George Costakis Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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