The Collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov
Two Russian art collectors stood out at the beginning of the 20th century: the cloth merchant Sergei Shchukin (1854–1936) and the textile manufacturer Ivan Morozov (1871–1921). Both acquired modern French art, developed a sensibility for spotting new trends, and publicized them in Russia.
Shchukin was among the earliest to appreciate the work of French Impressionist artists. When the French were pronouncing them insane and worthless, Shchukin boldly sought out the work of “rejected” artists. By 1904, he owned 14 Monets. Impressionist works adorned the music room of his villa in Moscow. He then turned his attention to the artists of the next generation. He wanted to introduce the latest art developments to Moscow and purchased Paul Gauguin’s South Sea pictures followed by works by Cézanne and Van Gogh.
In 1906 Sergei Shchukin met the young artist Henri Matisse, and became one of Matisse's main patrons, acquiring 37 of his best paintings over an 8-year period. Shchukin also commissioned several large-scale pictures from him that would later acquire worldwide fame. In order to come to terms with these huge canvases and their radical simplicity, Shchukin shut himself away alone with them in his palatial house for several weeks. Many of his visitors reacted with bafflement to these latest purchases. Shchukin jokingly remarked, “A madman painted it and a madman bought it.”
Shchukin and Matisse would develop more than just a commercial relationship. With Shchukin’s support and backing, Matisse was free to strive toward even greater artistic challenges and it was through Matisse that Shchukin got to know Pablo Picasso, who became the final master in his collection. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Shchukin owned the largest collection of Picassos in the world. 51 pictures covered the walls of an entire room, right up to the ceiling.
Ivan Morozov’s passion for art began at the same time as Shchukin’s. Initially he collected the works of the young Russian painters, but in 1907 began purchasing French art for his newly rebuilt villa. Morozov entered into fruitful competition with Shchukin. But whereas Shchukin was somewhat adventurous, Morozov collected more prudently. He focused on fewer, more select works of the highest quality.
Beginning in 1907 Shchukin opened his home to the public on Sundays and personally conducted tours of his collection for curious visitors. Although Morozov had planned to give his collection to the city of Moscow, following the October Revolution of 1917, both collections were confiscated by the state and turned into museums. Their owners fled abroad with their families. In the 1930s, the pictures were divided between the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in Leningrad. However, they soon vanished into storage. Stalin’s cultural policy did not approve of them. Not until the 1960s did they gradually reappear. Thanks to the courage of these two private collectors, both museums now sparkle with the best works of the French transition into modern art.
About this work
Henri Matisse’s (1869–1954) early years were spent in northern France where his middle-class family owned a general store. Although he studied in Paris to be a lawyer, in 1890, while confined to his bed for nearly a year after an operation, he chose drawing as a pastime. When he recovered, he decided that painting would be his career.
At first Matisse followed in the footsteps of the Impressionists, but he soon abandoned their more delicate palette and established his characteristic style, with its flat, brilliant color and fluid line, a style that came to be known as Fauvism. Like many avant-garde artists in Paris, Matisse was receptive to a broad range of influences. He was one of the first painters to take an interest in non-European art, studying Persian miniatures, Japanese prints, and African sculptures, but a visit to Moscow where he saw early icon painting seemed to hold special importance to him. He once commented, “What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape but the human figure. It is through it that I best succeed in expressing the nearly religious feeling that I have toward life.”
Matisse traveled widely in the early 1900s when tourism was still a new idea. Brought on by railroad, steamships, and other forms of transportation that appeared during the industrial revolution, travel became a popular pursuit. As a cultured tourist, he developed his art with regular doses of travel and in 1911 visited his patron Shchukin’s collection in Moscow. During the trip Matisse encountered Russian icons. This would have a tremendous impact on his future work. Matisse is known to have said, “I spent 10 years searching for what your artists already discovered in the 14th century. It is not you who need to come to us to study, but it is we who need to learn from you.”
As we can see from Girl with Tulips, which was completed a year before his visit to Moscow, by 1910 Matisse was already working with luminous color and simplified forms. The model for the painting is Jeanne Vaderin, or Jeannette, as Matisse called her. She was the subject of several of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
Matisse arrived in Moscow on October 23, 1911. The next day, he visited the Tretyakov Gallery and asked to be shown their collection of Russian icons. Matisse was delighted by the icons and declared that to see them was more than worth the arduous trip. Matisse spent much of his time in Moscow frantically visiting monasteries, churches, convents, and collections of sacred images. Excited by what he saw, he shared it with all who came to interview him during his stay in Moscow. “They are really great art,” Matisse excitedly told an interviewer. “I am in love with their moving simplicity.… In these icons the soul of the artist who painted them opens out like a mystical flower. And from them we ought to learn how to understand art.”
- Describe this painting to a classmate as completely as possible. What new things did you discover that you had not noticed at first glance?
- Take the pose of the woman in the picture. How does it feel? Is your body relaxed or tense? What might she be thinking? What do you think she is looking at? What might she do next?
- Where is this woman standing? If you could look beyond the frame what might you see?
- Matisse was known for his brilliant and complex use of color. Describe how color is used in this work.
- Compare Matisse’s Girl with Tulips (1910) to Levitsky’s Portrait of Agafia Dmitrievna (Agasha) Levitskaya (1785), which is also pictured in this guide. What similarities do you notice? What differences? If you could meet one of these women, who would you choose? Why? If you could meet one of the artists, who would you choose? Why? Which portrait do you prefer?
- Why do you think Shchukin initially needed to be alone with his new paintings? Have you ever needed some time to get used to something completely new before you decide how you feel about it? Recall that experience and whether additional time helped you clarify your opinion.
- Girl with Tulips was painted a year before Matisse visited Moscow and its collections of icons. In looking at his work can you see any clues as to why he found them so inspirational to his own art?
- A collection can consist of objects a person finds interesting, beautiful, unusual, valuable, or fun. What do you collect? What is the most treasured object in your collection? How did you get it? Shchukin kept his collection on the walls of his palatial home and invited artists to study there. Where do you keep your collection? Is it in a place where others can see it, or stored in a box or plastic bag, safe from dirt and damage? What would you like to add to your collection?