Moscow travel

On the trail of art in Moscow and St Petersburg


For decades, their treasures were shrouded by the Iron Curtain that separated East from West. Today the fabulous art collections and museums of Russia can be viewed in all their glory. The two largest cities in Russia – Moscow and St Petersburg – are also where visitors will find the greatest art in this vast nation.

Holidaymakers keen to go on the trail of art in Moscow and St Petersburg will find themselves spoiled for choice. But here are some of the galleries that simply cannot be missed when visiting these amazing destinations.

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Moscow and St Petersburg have been swapping places as Russia’s capital since the early 18th century with Moscow retaining its premier spot since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. However, the city that bears the name of its founder, the tsar Peter the Great, can also lay claim to one of the most extraordinary art collections in the world.

The State Hermitage Museum and Winter Museum was once the home of Catherine the Great and the Russian Empress began this amazing art collection that now numbers some three million artefacts, including Old Masters and Modernist classics.

The Hermitage complex is quite simply enormous – it’s said that to see everything in the collection, you would need to spend an extraordinary 11 years in the museum! Guided tours, with English language commentary via headphones, will give you a flavour of this most Russian of museums.

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flickr image by Igor Klisov

St Petersburg is also home to the State Russian Museum, which rivals Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery as the greatest collection of Russian art in the world. With more than 400,000 artworks, the museum details Russian history from 11th century icons to contemporary artists.

The Museum of Nonconformist Art offers an insight into the counter culture and alternative art scene that somehow thrived during the post-war Soviet era when St Petersburg was then known as Leningrad.

Another must-see is the Museum of Applied Art, one of the city’s best-kept secrets but boasting a superb fine arts and antiques collection.

Moscow is one of the world’s most intriguing cities and certainly its myriad of art galleries and museums add to its allure. Possibly its finest art gallery is the State Tretyakov, the largest collection of Russian only art and artists in the world – and often described as “a window into the soul of Russia and her peoples”. The State Tretyakov contains more than 150,000 objects, such as paintings, sculptures and graphics, which date from the 11th century to the 20th century.

The State Tretyakov Gallery of Modern Art contains more contemporary Russian art, including a collection of Socialist Realism sculpture. And another branch of the State Tretyakov is the Central House of Artists, where the best of modern Russian and Soviet era art is on display, along with artworks by the likes of Dali.

Wider European art can be viewed at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Its original collection of copies of Italian, Greek and Roman works dates from its beginning as part of the University of Moscow’s art history department but today it is best known for containing Russian’s entire collection of Western art which was compiled by the Soviet government. Its Impression Art collection alone is said to be the best in the world.

Part of the Pushkin is the Museum of Private Collections, a quite breathtaking collection of antique and contemporary art that was seized by the state during the Soviet era. The art came from 12 private collectors and its artefacts and works, both Russian and Western, date from the 16th century to the 20th century.

For those who prefer 20th and 21st century art, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art has to be on the list of places to visit. Established to maintain the tradition of avant-garde art in Russia, the MMOMA has among its collection some of the best-known modern Russian artists while also offering a showcase for new native artists and non-contemporary artists from around the world. This is the place to see pieces by Chagall and Kandinsky, Picasso and Rousseau.

Moscow and St Petersburg are two cities rich in art history and also in galleries and collections, and both will provide a marvellous art trail for any visitor keen to enrich their experience.

Date posted: 7th September, 2013

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