I’ve just spent four days exploring the art museums of St. Petersburg, Russia. I’ve spent a lot of time in the art museums of Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Tokyo, Madrid, Rome, Florence and Venice and I think St. Petersburg has the deepest collections. I spent three days in The Hermitage and one day in the Russian Museum and I feel as if I had tasted an overview of the history of world culture from 800 BC to 1950.
In almost every era the collections are incredible. The Italians, French, Spanish, German classical work is so extensive it took me two full days to get to 1650. But what is so amazing is the the art from 1880-1930. The role of the major collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, both of whom had their collections nationalized by the Bolsheviks, is instrumental to the depth of the Hermitage modern collection. Rooms full of the most amazing Picasso’s lead you into the world of Magritte, Monet, Van Gogh andGauguin. These two Russian Businessmen seem to have bought up most of the output coming out of the major Paris painters from 1900 to 1915. Of course, when the Revolution arrived, their collections were seized and they both fled to Paris.
What is just as amazing is some of the Russian Avant Garde art from the same period, particularly Malevich and his contemporaries. What seems obvious to me is that the art made in Russia in the years preceding the Revolution, when there was an amazing amount artistic tumult in the air, is quite superior to the art made after the revolution, especially after Trotsky was purged and the artist became a servant of the party.