Unique collection of masters

The Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition is drawn from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The remarkable Russian museum of art has its foundation in private collections. In this exhibition of 65 paintings, two-thirds of the works were accumulated by Sergei Shchukin and his close friend Ivan Morozov.

“Two individuals began to collect unknown masters for unknown reasons and spent a lot of time thinking about the contemporary art,” says Mikhail Dedinkin, the exhibition curator and deputy head of the Hermitage Department of Western European Fine Art at the State Hermitage Museum.

The visionary, wealthy businessmen began buying modern art in the late 1800s — Shchukin was interested in French art, Morozov’s tastes were more diverse.

Dr Dedinkin says thousands of artworks went on display in Paris every year from academic masters who were well-known in their time but Shchukin and Morozov importantly collected from “unknown, poor masters who worked mostly for themselves, who were independent”.

“They bring the best examples of contemporary masters so far to Moscow and the collection grows very fast,” he says.

Shchukin became a patron of Henri Matisse and collected 38 of his works. Eight of his paintings are on display, among them Sunflowers in a Vase 1898, Nymph and Satyr 1908/09 and A Game of Bowls 1908.

“He was the first person not only to start to collect the works by Matisse it was also a friendship and co-operation between them,” he says.

“They discussed the main paintings by Matisse of this very important time … the colours, the size, their feelings that they wanted explained in his future work and when it was discussed with the collector he realised these were outstanding masterpieces.”

By 1914, Shchukin had acquired 40 works by Pablo Picasso and had a room in his palace dedicated to his art. So it is not surprising that this exhibition also features eight notable works by Picasso all formerly from the collection of Shchukin including Woman’s Head (Portrait of Genevieve) 1902/03, Woman with a Fan 1908, Small House in a Garden 1908, and Table in a Cafe (Bottle of Pernod) 1912.

Three works by Paul Cezanne (The Banks of the River Marne 1888, Fruit 1879/80 and Large Pine Near Aix-en-Provence 1895/97) and two by Claude Monet (Poppy Field 1890/91 and Waterloo Bridge, effect of fog 1903) are also exhibition highlights. The many other works from modern greats adorning the gallery walls include masterpieces by Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro, Henri Rousseau, Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich.

Also showing is Matisse, la Danse et la Musique, a video installation by Dutch multimedia artist and director Saskia Boddeke and British filmmaker Peter Greenaway. The film explores the creation of two of Matisse’s master- pieces and the relationship between him and Shchukin.

The Masters of Modern Artfrom the Hermitage is at the Art Gallery of NSW until March 3. Annelies Gartner travelled to Sydney as a guest of Destination NSW