The treasure of Russian art and its tormented history arrives in Paris
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The program of the new exhibition of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris reads like a who’s who of artistic giants of the Belle Epoque: Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cézanne …
What’s more surprising is that they all come from one collection – a pair of late 19th century Russian brethren who just had an absurdly good eye for who would become the geniuses of their generation.
Mikhail and Ivan Morozov, born into a textile dynasty in the 1870s, went to Paris and returned with treasures – Manet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin – which were hardly recognized as such at the time.
Indeed, Mikhail was the first to bring paintings by Van Gogh and Gauguin to Russia.
Some 200 of their portraits, sculptures and photographs will be exhibited at the Louis Vuitton Foundation from Wednesday, on loan from Russian museums.
They’ve had a torturous journey through the 20th century – the surviving revolution and the hidden years after World War II.
The new exhibition in Paris also had its concerns, delayed three times by the pandemic and finally started a year late.
But it promises to be another successful borrowing from the Russian archives, following the museum’s gigantic success with the Shchukin exhibition in 2016-17.
This fair, a similar treasure compiled by a contemporary of the Morozov brothers, attracted 1.29 million visitors to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which she said made it the most successful fair in France for half a century.
There is no doubt that much attention will be paid to the work of Van Gogh, who gets a separate piece for his little-known late work “Prisoners Exercising”, featuring a familiar red-haired figure staring at the viewer, a self-portrait weaving its way through the grim setting.
– Exile and recovery –
Mikhail Morozov’s high life brought him an untimely death at 33, although he has already amassed 39 masterpieces.
His brother Ivan took over and became one of the world’s greatest collectors.
But everything collapsed with the communist revolution of 1917 in Russia.
Ivan was reduced to being an “assistant curator” of his own collection as his house became a state museum, before quickly fleeing into exile.
Later, the paintings were sent to hide in the Ural Mountains when the Nazis invaded in 1941.
They spent years there, fairly well preserved in temperatures that often fell to minus -40 degrees, and it wasn’t until the late 1950s that the Soviet government dug them up and sent them to the Tretyakov, Pushkin and Hermitage collections.
“The Morozov Collection: Icons Of Modern Art” is at the Louis Vuitton Foundation until February 22.
© 2021 AFP