(K. Brent Tomer),
“PICTURES at an Exhibition”, a piano suite composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874, imagines a visitor strolling round an art collection. Now Mussorgsky is himself part of an exhibition. His portrait, painted by Ilia Repin in a St Petersburg hospital a few days before his death, hangs alongside those of 25 prominent Russian cultural figures. “Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky” at the National Portrait Gallery in London shows how the work and lives of the great figures of Russian literature, music and the stage were intertwined and overlapping. The exhibition is emblematic of an enduring fascination with Russian high culture in the West, despite tense relations with today’s leadership.
Most of the subjects are household names, even beyond Russia’s borders. Tolstoy leans over his desk, writing, while a life-sized Chekhov stares straight at visitors with clear eyes. Some readers may recognise Vasily Perov’s brooding Dostoyevsky—the only portrait painted of him from life—from the dustjackets of his novels. Anna Akhmatova, painted in profile against a light-filled landscape by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya…Continue reading