Greatest Art Collectors Series:
Pavel Tretyakov

Biography of Russian Art Collector, Founder of Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov.

Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898)

Arguably the greatest-ever collector of Russian art, Pavel Tretyakov initially collected European works before specializing in paintings by Russian artists. A wealthy merchant and industrialist, he made a fortune from textiles and spent much of it on his art collection. Almost from the very beginning, his patronage was guided by his ultimate aim of establishing a national museum of art. As a result, he bought a wide variety of works representing all the painting genres, and the major movements of modern art, commissioning many modern artists to produce works especially for the collection. In 1874, he founded a gallery to house his collection, which opened to the public next door to his Moscow mansion. In 1892, he donated both the gallery and the mansion (together with his and his brother's art collections) to the city of Moscow. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the institution was taken over by the new State and renamed the Tretyakov Gallery. In addition to its outstanding assembly of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century Russian artworks, the Tretyakov contains the world's finest collection of Russian icons (c.1600-1800) - a fitting legacy from perhaps the greatest arts patron of Russia. Other great Russian art collectors and patrons include Savva Mamontov (1841-1918), Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936), patron of Matisse, and Ivan Morozov (1871-1921), who collected Cezanne, Bonnard and other modern French artists.

Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
Greatest collector of Impressionism.
Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924)
Renaissance, Dutch Baroque collector.
Solomon R Guggenheim (1861-1949)
US art collector, museum-founder.
Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939)
First modern dealer in Paris.
Dr Albert C Barnes (1872-1951)
America's greatest art collector.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942)
Founder of the Whitney Museum.
Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947)
Collector, Impressionist paintings.
Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884-1979)
Dealer of Picasso & Cubism.
Duncan Phillips (1886-1966)
Founder of Phillips Collection.

Paul Guillaume (1891-1934)
Dealer of Ecole de Paris paintings.
J Paul Getty (1892-1976)
Oil tycoon, art/antiquities collector.
Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)
Collected modern abstract art.
Leo Castelli (1907-99)
Leading New York art dealer.
Charles Saatchi (b.1943)
Collects contemporary art.

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Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov received his schooling from a series of home tutors. At the age of 18, he inherited his father's business and carved out a profitable trade in the sale of textiles.

In addition, he developed a number of other lucrative businesses in banking and commerce, eventually amassing a multi-million ruble fortune, much of which he spent on art collecting and other philanthropic activities.

Tretyakov's Art Collection

He began collecting art in 1854 at the age of 24. Over the next 36 years, he was present at every important art exhibition in St Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev, purchasing as far as possible a complete representative sample of available works, across all the genres.


He bought paintings at exhibitions, or sometimes direct from the artist, before they were even exhibited. He might even buy whole series, such as the 102 studies by Vasily Polenov painted during journeys across Turkey and the Middle East. Later, he also explored the area of illustration, amassing some 471 by 1893. Not surprisingly, during his 'career' as an art collector, Tretyakov met a huge number of painters, writers and other cultural figures, most of whom frequented his home.

Tretyakov Museum Gallery

By 1872, he had assembled over 150 paintings which were too much for the family house in Moscow. So he constructed a special gallery adjacent to his house. The two-storey building opened in March 1874. Later (in 1882, 1885 and 1892) three further extensions were added by his architect Kaminski. By 1890, it was attracting more than 150,000 visitors each year.


Collection: 18th and Early 19th Century Works

Tretyakov's collection of 18th century and early 19th century works included: portrait art by Ivan Nikitin (1688-1742), the Dutch Realist-trained Andrei Maveyev (1701-39), the classical Alexei Antropov (1716-95), the rococo-style Ivan Vishnyakov (1699-1761) and Dmitri Levitsky (1735-1822); as well as Count Sheremetyev's favourite artist Ivan Argunov (1727-1802), Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825), and the sfumato expert Fyodor Rokotov (1735-1808). His 19th Century portrait paintings included: romantic compositions by Orest Kiprensky (1782-1836), celebrity portraits and genre-paintings by Vasily Tropinin (1776-1857), realist portrait art and genre works by Alexei Venetsianov (1780-1847), portraiture and history painting by Karl Briullov (1799-1852). Tretyakov also collected works of religious art, such as those by the Ukrainian Anton Losenko (1737-73), and Alexander Ivanov (1806-58), as well as early genre painting by Alexei Venetsianov (1780–1847) and Yevgraf Krendovsky, townscapes by Andrei Martynov (1768-1826) and Stepan Galaktionov (1778-1854), and still life painting by artists like Ivan Khrutsky (1810-85), Kapiton Zelentsov (1790-1845) and Alexei Tyranov (1808-59).

Collection: Later 19th Century Works

Tretyakov was a particularly keen collector of 19th century modern art by Russian artists, notably contemporary painters who belonged to the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions (peredvizhniki). He acquired works by the portraitist and genre-painter Ivan Kramskoy (1837–1887); the quieter Vasily Perov (1834–1882); the realist Ilya Repin (1844-1930); the Impressionist Valentin Serov (1865-1911); the symbolist Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910), the drawing expert Leon Bakst (1866-1924) and the history painters Vasily Surikov (1848-1916) and Nikolai Gay (1831–1894). Landscape painting, however, remained the principal genre of the Itinerants, and Tretyakov bought works by Feodor Vasilyev (1850–1873), Ivan Shishkin, (1832-98), Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910), Nikolai Dubovskoy (1859-1918) and Isaac Levitan (1860-1900). He also acquired genre-paintings by the itinerants Vasily Pukirev (1832-90), Grigory Miasoyedov (1834–1911), Vasily Maximov (1844-1911), Konstantin Savitsky (1844-1905), Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920), and Abram Arkhipov (1862-1930).

In 1892, his brother Sergei - himself also an art collector and philanthropist - passed away, leaving Tretyakov his personal collection of European painting. Pavel's collection (valued at about 1.5 million rubles) now consisted of 1,280 paintings, 520 drawings, and 9 sculptures by Russian artists; together with 75 paintings and 8 drawings by foreign artists. Some months later, Tretyakov donated the entire art collection to the municipal authorities, as well as the gallery housing it, which was duly renamed The Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov Moscow City Art Gallery. He continued to support it over the following years, however, donating additional paintings and sculptural works, and compiling a catalgue of exhibits.

Tretyakov the Philanthropist

In addition to his art collecting, Tretyakov also devoted time and money to numerous philanthropic causes. He provided financial assistance to the Moscow Art Lovers Society, the Moscow Art Society, and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. As well as this, he made a significant contribution to the establishment of the University Museum of Antique Art in Moscow: plaster casts of Classical sculptures kept in Rome, were paid for out of his donations.

Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov died in 1898. He was interred in Danilov Cemetery until 1948, when his remains were transferred to the higher status Novodevichy Cemetery.

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