Exotic artworks in the Unknown Russia exhibition

October 25, 2010

The Groninger Museum will reopen on Sunday 19 December 2010 with the exhibition entitled Russia’s Unknown Orient. Orientalist painting 1850-1920. This exhibition will present more than 100 works of art from Russia, Uzbekistan and Armenia which were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The many other paintings, by the renowned Russian painter Vasili Vereshchagin among others, provide a wide-ranging picture of Orientalism in this period.

Russia and Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan in particular formed a great source of inspiration for Russian painters in the 19th century. The exhibition will display the greatest collection of works by Vereshchagin, the chronicler of Russian military campaigns to Uzbekistan, that has ever been shown outside Russia. Other works are by Russian artists who, inspired by the history, culture and landscape of the region, decided to settle in the far south. Many of these works come from the capital of the autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic Nukus: hidden deep in the Uzbek desert this city has a splendid museum of modern painting. 

Armenian art and Martiros Sarian
The rich tradition of Armenian painting and its connections with Russia form one theme of the exhibition. In this context, the painter Martiros Sarian is a central figure. This eminent artist lived from 1880 to 1972 and portrayed many exceptional figures from Armenian culture. His paintings articulated a new language based on bright colours. Sarian’s work has been borrowed from the National Gallery of Armenia in Yerevan and the State Tretjakov Museum in Moscow.

The Orientalist story
Other themes covered in the exhibition are symbolic representation, the Biblical East, local oriental artists, and orientalist motifs between the two revolutions. The exhibition also deals with the way in which the Russian dominance and subjugation of the East ought to be regarded in the cultural, social and political context of the time.

The confrontation with the past and the construction of the future are the central issues within the upsurge of Orientalism in Russia in the late 18th century. The Biblical East is primarily represented in the exhibition by the artworks by the painter Vasili Polenov, who made extended trips to Palestine. The local orientalist painters come from the Caucasus and Central Asia. The keystone of the exhibition is formed by Yevgeny Lansere’s monumental, seven-metres-tall The Peoples of Russia.

The exhibition has been made possible by the Stichting Fonds Kunst en Economie (Fund for Art and the Economy), which is an initiative of VNO-NCW Noord and the Groninger Museum. The project is also supported by Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland en EZ/Kompas (North Netherlands Co-operative Venture).

Note for the editor, not for publication
For additional information please contact Josee Selbach, Head of Communications. Telephone: +31 (0)50-3666555. E-mail: jselbach@groningermuseum.nl