The painters included in this collection represent a wide variety of styles – from the gentle Biedermeyer of Vasilii Tropinin to the military documentation of Petr Balashev and Franz Roubaud, from the playful eroticism of Andrei Belloli and Mihály Zichy to the historicism of Ivan Kulikov, from the mild Impressionism of Stanislav Zhukovsky to the grandiose salon portraiture of Konstantin Makovsky, and from the Romantic infancy of Petr Sokolov to the adult Decadence of Nikolai Kalmakov. At first glance, there would seem to be little that unites so many individuals, great and small, some familiar and many not, beyond the fact that all of them were Russian or, at least, trained in St Petersburg and Moscow, and that they all regarded studio painting as a vital medium of creative expression.
However, this rich array of artistic explorations and aesthetic engagements, with its extraordinary variegation in form and content, forces us to address a larger philosophical issue relevant to the general perception of Russian art … We realise just how capricious and at the same time how unbending the standard history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian art has become and how panoramic exhibitions and catalogues of this kind can help disperse the myth of a single stylistic sequence and of a single and perpetual Pantheon of cultural attainment. In other words, the evolution of modern Russian painting could well be narrated by reference to alternative progressions or at least to major works of art that lay beyond the traditional—and, of course, no less magnificent—perimeters of the heroes that now define the development of Russian visual culture.
– John Bowlt, scholar, specialist in Russian art, on the Ruzhnikov collection
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