Vrubel and Polenov at Small Art Exhibition in Moscow

Today Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow opens an exhibition “Small” Art with more than 130 works by Isaak Levitan, Vassily Polenov, Valentin Serov, Ilya Repin, Mikhail Vrubel, Konstantin Somov, Kazimir Malevitch, Antonina Sofronova, Lev Bakst, and other artists. Two artworks from James Butterwick collection in London will be shown at the exhibition as well. The exhibition will be on until 5 September 2021.

This exhibition is a collection of works that usually remain in storerooms (in folders, on shelves) after the main, “convincing” items have been selected for display. Most often, small things do not get to openings, especially if it is only a sketch or an idea for a composition. But sometimes the small format adds up to the most significant part of the artist’s legacy, preserving what is most important to understand about his talent.

MIKHAIL VRUBEL (1856-1910). Portrait of Vova Mamontov reading, 1890’s, pencil on paper, 15 x 8 cm

Exhibition “Small” Art is divided into several sections according to the most common functions of the small-sized works. The first section is dedicated to the familiar, secondary function — sketch. Through the works of Levitan, Polenov, Repin, and other artists we will trace the development of ideas from small composition drafts into famous paintings.

When the academic art gave way to modernism, artists developed new understanding of an unfinished work and a more easy-going attitude towards the absence of a narrative. This is a theme of the second section of the exhibition. During this period new density of paper was introduced, while small-formatted works present the most precious evidence — style and logic of an artist’s work. Rapid sketch carries movements of hand (Bakst has them sharp and precise), and Konstantin Somov’s aquarelles convey (no need to consult his diaries!) how meticulously the artist used to work at even the smallest of pieces.

According to Malevitch, “an art form which is the most relevant for our time is a research institute”. In 1924 in Petrograd, Suprematists pursued their quest for universal formulas of the world order, and every composition was its embodiment. Next section explores the essence of the Avant-Garde movement and its ambition to transform large and small shapes of the objects. The display will include unique graphics by Kazimir Malevitch, Mikhal Larionov, Nikolai Suetin, Ilya Chashnik, and other Avant-Garde artists of the 1910-1920ss.

Grisha. Vasily Polenov

‘Chamber-like’ is the last theme to be explored by the exhibition in the context of the ‘small-scale’ art. It was developed in relation to the concentration camp miniatures by Mikhail Sokolov. In prison, he tried to keep working using available materials. This is how his series of a tiny works, size of a matchbox, was born.

The following artists, pushed out to the margins of the artistic world in the 1930s, have a unique ability to contain a huge range of human emotion in a small piece of paper: Aleksander Shevchenko, Pavel Basmanov, Antonina Sofronova, and others.

Works for the exhibition are courtesy of The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, The State Tretyakov Gallery, The Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, The Abramtsevo Museum-Reserve, The Schusev State Museum of Architecture, The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum and Heritage Site, and other museums and private collections.

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