Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) - Rape of Europa, 1655- Oil on Canvas, 100 x 137 cm. -  Pushkin Museum, Moscow

BUDAPEST.- In its exhibition the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts will display selected masterpieces from the uniquely wealthy collection of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The fifty-five works in the exhibition provide an overview of French painting from the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. The show runs until the middle of April and will greet visitors with prominent works of Impressionism, Symbolism from the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the first avant-garde movements bearing the stamp of the Fauves and the Cubists. The period is conjured up through masterpieces by Courbet, Corot, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Lorrain, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso and others.

The Budapest exhibition, which could previously be seen in the exhibition halls of the Pierre Gianadda Foundation in Martigny, Switzerland, does not merely seek to present a picture of the development and most important trends in modern French painting but also to pay tribute to two outstanding Russian collectors active at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin. The bulk of the masterpieces in the present Budapest exhibition originate from the extraordinarily rich, internationally acclaimed collections of these two wealthy Russian textile manufacturers. The fifty-five works selected from the Pushkin Museum’s collection provide a chronological overview of the most dynamic period in French art.

Numerous examples serve to demonstrate what a definitive role art collectors and art dealers played in the process of art's universal renaissance, ensuring a livelihood for pioneering artists who were neither understood nor accepted by the public opinion of the time, and bringing them publicity and recognition. Mutually reinforcing each other’s activities in the late-nineteenth century, the new bourgeois art dealer emerged simultaneously with the first great reformers who created a great stir on the Parisian art scene at the time. It was not only the French art dealers who were witness to the changes, as foreign patrons of the arts also actively contributed to the international proliferation of the developments they encountered in Paris. Alongside the Americans, Russian art collectors were the first to undertake the task of introducing the works of the Impressionists and later those of experimental artists to an international audience. The greater part of the purchases by their Parisian colleagues found their way to the galleries of the Louvre, the Musée du Petit-Palais and the Musée d’Orsay. In Russia, the expansion of the large public collections can be attributed to the nationalisation of art collections, and especially those of Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin, Russian art collectors who had maintained direct personal contact with the Parisian art world at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Pablo Picasso's The Two Saltimbanques (1901) is seen in the new exhibition "Degas to Picasso" French masterpieces from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow  -  AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky

Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin belonged to the new generation of nineteenth-century art collectors, which owed their fortunes to their own endeavours and the prosperity that followed the industrial boom rather than to their family background. They devoted most of the income - which they derived from their legendary business acumen and special intuition - to purchasing new French works of fine art little known at the time. Of the two businessmen, Morozov was the more cautious and in his purchases focussed equally on each of the new trends (Impressionists, the Fauves, the Nabis). The paintings in the exhibition by Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Denis came from his collection. The more daring of the two men, Shchukin, was obsessed with the works of Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, but he did not restrict his passionate collecting to works by these artists. He formed a lasting relationship with Matisse, who painted one of the most outstanding pieces in the exhibition, Nasturtiums with the Painting “Dance”, on a commission from Shchukin.

The two collectors from Moscow not only purchased works of art with their exquisite taste but also threw open their palaces housing their collections to young art enthusiasts who were thus given the opportunity to see the works of French painters before they became generally known. These Russian collectors could well be mentioned alongside Paul Mellon or Solomon Guggenheim, had history not intervened: Russian private property was nationalised in 1917 after the Bolsheviks seized power, and prompted Shchukin and Morozov to leave Russia. By the end of the 1920s these nationalised paintings had been placed in the State Museum of Modern Western Art. Following World War II, on the basis of a decision made by Stalin, they were hidden away in the vaults of the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage, where they languished until the 1960s, when they were again displayed to the public. An exhibition of works selected from the material of the Pushkin Museum was staged in Budapest in 1978, but the majority of the masterpieces in the present show have not yet been displayed in Hungary.

The co-operation between the museums in Moscow and Budapest is not limited to the present exhibition, Degas to Picasso, since masterpieces selected from the material of the Old Masters’ Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts will debut in the Russian capital this summer.

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Pause For Thought

Michael Caine on Art

"I know the value of money, and I know the value of art. If you have enough money, you buy it."