29 September 2011–22 January 2012
The Peredvizhniki were a group of artists who came together in 1870 in protest at the conservative attitudes of Russia’s Imperial Academy of Art. The group aimed to portray contemporary Russian society, and to use art to highlight social and political issues. They organized travelling exhibitions to take art to the people and beyond the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow. Works by the Peredvizhniki have enjoyed huge popularity in Russia since the late 19th century but are little known in the rest of the world.
This autumn’s exhibition at Nationalmuseum is the first of its kind in Sweden. Thanks to the generosity of the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, and the Russian Museum, St Petersburg, in providing us with works on loan, we are able to present a comprehensive survey of the group’s art.
Social realism and folktales
The exhibition shows the diversity of the group’s work. The Peredvizhniki believed it was important to produce socially engaged art focused on social injustice and tough living conditions. Artists such as Vladimir Makovsky, Ilya Repin and Nikolai Yaroshenko depicted secret political meetings, convicts and starving peasants. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Ilya Repin’s famous Barge Haulers on the Volga, one of the best-known works in the entire Russian canon.
However, members of the group were also fascinated by Russia’s past. The exhibition includes images inspired by folktales, depictions of religious traditions, and scenes from daily life in years gone by.
Landscapes laden with symbolism
Several of the Peredvizhniki specialized in landscape painting. For them, it was all about portraying what was typically Russian. Images of Russia’s plains and forests came to symbolize the motherland and were influential in shaping national identity. At times, Russian landscape painting calls to mind the dreamy, melancholy landscapes painted by Scandinavian artists of the fin de siècle.
The landscapes could also contain a political message. Isaac Levitan’s Vladimir Highway, which to the uninitiated appears to be an idyllic scene of a sandy road across a meadow, in fact depicts the route to the penal colonies in Siberia.
In the exhibition we encounter several of Russia’s leading authors and musicians of the time. Some members of the group moved in prominent intellectual circles. The exhibition includes portraits of composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky and writers such as Tolstoy.
The exhibition has been curated by Professor David Jackson, University of Leeds, a leading specialist in the field of nineteenth century Russian art, and by Dr Per Hedstrom, curator at the Nationalmuseum.