Galleries - April 2013

500 years of changing Russian tastes in art is revealed this month as museums, galleries – and a stately home – open their doors to Russian art. It was power and wealth that defined the blingso appealingto the earliest Romanov Tsars. Even their smallest portraits were covered in gold, like the painting of the dynasty’s founder, Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich (1596-1645) sittingastride his sturdy Arabian stallion daringanyone to challenge his authority. And, judging by the gifts of ornate silver given by visiting foreign ambassadors, like those from the Royal Courts of the Tudors and Stuarts at the Victoria & Albert Museum , the fiercer the animal motif, the better. A silver ewer shaped into a ferocious-looking leopard with bared teeth looks ready to pounce. Then there was 18th Century autocrat Catherine the Great who knew a good deal when she saw one, greedily amassing Europe’s finest collections of art, porcelain, furniture, tapestries and more for her private museum at the Hermitage. Amongthem was that of our first ‘Prime Minister’ Sir Robert Walpole, with its stunning, eclectic selection of 198 paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Velazquez and other masters. Havingrarely left Russia since, the collection is now back at the Walpole ancestral home in Norfolk, Houghton Hall (from 17 May). Meanwhile modern day Russian artistic tastes are very much in evidence too, with Vladimir Yankilevsky’s early work (1957- 1960) at the Aktis Gallery . Now based in Paris, Yankilevsky was one of the original non- conformist or underground artists who eschewed the Socialist Realism of the Soviet era. Inspired too by the European masters of the early 20th Century, he re-interpreted the iconic styles of Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh and Miro. That is until he found his own powerful voice – with visceral abstracts like the monumental Triptych, with its pulsatinglandscape, throbbing industrial design and unsettling inside view of a child still in its mother’s womb. On the other hand the young St Petersburgartist, Yulia Kosulnikova at Erarta eschews these European traditions in favour of Soviet ones like the hammer and sickle for her neon, cartoon-esque images. Later on, in May and also at Erarta, Vyasheslav Mikhailov, another former non-conformist artist, has created his own language with thick, textured, relief-like layers of levkas, usingtraditional Russian icon paintingtechniques for his modern 3D effects. A Good Mixer An 80s graduate of Glasgow School of Art, Peter Thomson from top: V ladimir Yankilevsky ‘Two on the Beach’ 1958 oil on canvas, at Aktis Gallery Water Pot, the Historic Collection of the Armoury 1604-5, The Moscow Kremlin Museums, and ‘Portrait of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich Mounted on a Horse’ unknown artist, c.1670-80, © State Historical Museum, Moscow, both at the V&A M IKHAIL to MIKHAILOV Melanie Abrams explores Russian Art 10. GALLERIES APRIL 13