On to the Russian Museum and the Mikhailovsky Palace

If a person wanted to sample more than 400,000 works of art covering all of the historical periods, forms, genres, styles, movements and schools embracing nearly a thousand years of Russian history, a person would be standing in The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg right this minute. Even reading that description (entirely plagiarized from the museum brochure) is stunning and humbling, and we’d be tempted to say it couldn’t be true, except we were there and saw it in person.

If you go, be sure to set aside an entire day as there are several buildings, and none of them are to be missed. We started by splitting up and deciding where we would meet up again.

Art by Russian artists

Every painter paints his or her own world. The light, the colors, and the subject matter shift depending on the artist’s geography. The angle of the light the artist captures, the colors that emerge, the vegetation of the area, the ethos of the people — as you walk through this magnificent collection, all of this is revealed and all of it is uniquely Russian. We’ve all seen flowers nodding in the Provencal sun, but how many paintings of snowy landscapes have we seen? This was a rare (and maybe even unheard of) opportunity for Westerners to see works by Russian artists never seen outside of Russia. As residents of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Liz and Mike are lucky enough to live blocks from The Museum of Russian Art, the only place of its kind in the U.S., so we had a bit of a clue as to what to expect. But we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have had a chance to view this extraordinary collection in situ. (And we may have a suggestion or two for our museum director on future exhibits.)

In the paintings section, we were drawn to the massive scenes from history, surrounded by the artists’ studies of individual characters from the scene, the masterful brushwork of Russian Impressionists, the powerful energy in Soviet era works, and much more. So much of Russian painting seems derivative of nothing else we’ve seen. And, of course, there are court portraits and icons galore.

On to the decorative arts

From Soviet-era porcelain, to traditional wood carvings of bears and characters from fairy tales, to braided straw figurines, to traditional clothing, to lacquer boxes, lacework and you name it, we saw it all. Mike was particularly taken with the wood-carving of a whale with an entire city living on its back. In fact, he was SO taken with it that he lost one full night’s sleep, and forced poor Masha to tell him the story of the three sons and the trampled wheat, even though it was really long and she never quite got to the part about the whale because “that’s in Part Three.” Throughout, we trailed an army of school girls wearing jackets with the word “souvenir” emblazoned on the back. Liz had to pose for a picture next to her pal Tolstoy and also paid a visit to poor old dead Socrates, who is just lying out in the hallway right next to the gift shop.


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Russian Art Museum

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