“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” – Henri Matisse
My head is still spinning from my Parisian design adventure filled with inspiration, ideas, and awe. What began as an initial visit to see Deco-Off, Maison et Objet and shopping the Marche aux Puces turned into a full fled art immersion with so many amazing exhibits taking place in Paris at one time. It was truly an art lover’s dream and I have never felt pulled in so many directions!
The once in a lifetime exhibit took place at Fondation Louis Vuitton showcasing the collection of Russian industrialist Sergei Shchukin. For the first time in 100 years, 130 art masterpieces were allowed to leave Russia from the Hermitage’s breathtaking Shchukin collection which includes 12 works by Gauguin, 8 by Cézanne, 8 by Monet, a staggering 22 works by Matisse, and a whopping 29 paintings, pastels, collages, drawings, and gouaches by Picasso. The historical importance and value of this collection is unlike anything that has ever been on view. Works of this quality barely exist on the market and when they do, the prices they fetch are mind blowing. For example, a colorful work by Gauguin sold last year for a reported $300 million.
Shchukin’s story is remarkable. He was considered a crazy, extravagant fool for supporting and being a patron of the modern French artists of his time. The colors, compositions and patterns made him happy. Although he was criticized for his inane taste in art, his palace became a refuge for Russian artists seeking to learn more about the modern art movement. Between 1897 and 1914, the Moscow textile magnate Sergei Shchukin amassed 275 masterpieces, including 8 Cézannes, 13 Monets, 16 Gauguins, 41 Matisses, and 50 Picassos.
He displayed his artwork with abandon at Trubetsky Palce often covering architectural ornament with his beloved works of art. Russia had never experienced anything like this and was horrified by his lack of respect. He had rooms dedicated to specific artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin which are seen below.
His palace and collection were seized by the Bolshevicks in 1917. After the Revolution, Shchukin emigrated to Paris, and in 1918, Lenin officially absorbed the paintings into the collection of the Russian State and were hidden away for several decades during Stalin’s reign because of their “decadence.” In 1948, Stalin decreed that the pictures were decadent, and they were hidden until his death (1953), when some of them began popping up on the walls of the Hermitage and Pushkin museums. Throughout the horrific ordeal, Shchukin remained hopeful about the fate of his paintings which he had always planned to donate to the public.
In recent years, Shchukin’s 74-year-old grandson, André-Marc Delocque-Fourcaud, a French citizen, has been working to re-unite the collection in a major exhibition that would finally establish its eminence. No museum in Russia or France, however, had the hefty funds or the political clout to make it happen until Bernard Arnault. The chairman and C.E.O. of LVMH with an empire of 70 luxury brands, from Christian Dior to Dom Pérignon, “jumped,” according to one of his advisers, when he learned about the collection.
Almost exactly 100 years after Shchukin’s French masterpieces were taken from him and he escaped Moscow by train, the works are finally able to be admired by the rest of the “crazy foolish” population that adores the work of these artistic geniuses and this visionary collector.
Merci beaucoup Monsieur Shchukin!
Exhibition on view through March 5, 2017. Click here for tickets.
Interior shots courtesy of the Shchukin Collection.