Дата публикации: 14 сентября 2018
Автор(ы): L. KUCHUMOVA
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Номер публикации: №1536958208


by Lyudmila KUCHUMOVA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.)

Today, if asked who Pyotr Semyonov of Tien Shan was, most Russians will say: a geographer, the conqueror of Tien Shan. Some will remember that he was head of the Russian geographical and entomological association, the first honorary member of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, the organizer of the first all-Russia census in 1897. All this is true. However, statistics was his forte; he worked for the Central Statistical Committee of the Russian Empire, where all data were concentrated starting with taxes and levies, and ending with censuses and surveys-those of the population, productive forces and natural wealth. But there was another sideline to his interests, which is not so widely known. Pyotr Petrovich was an ardent collector, not a dabbler, but a real professional. Here we would like to acquaint our readers with this line of his activities.


In November 2000 the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow closed an exhibition of 18th century Dutch paintings, "Rembrandt's Age". As many as 200 canvases from the Museum's stock and 110 from its repository were exhibited. It elicited a great interest in the history of art collecting, and in links between the great museums of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Also, it attracted attention to well-known art collectors, prince D.I. Shchukin above all. As far as

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Pyotr Semyonov of Tien Shan (1827-1914) was concerned, he was as good as bypassed. Small wonder, he owned only twelve of the canvases on display A small part, sure, but still a gem in the museum's collection.

You can only imagine what big names were represented at the exhibition! "The Smaller Dutch"*, such as Jakob Backer with his famous Flora, Ferdinand Bol, the author of the big canvas Judah and Tamar, Quiringh van Brekelenkam or "imitator" with Making Dinner,Esaius van de Velde with Attack on a Wagon, W.W. van der Vliet with his Portrait of an Elderly Man, Nicolaes Maes of Circle with the canvas Portrait of a Man, Isaack van Ostade with A Peasant Wedding, Jahn Steen with A Merry Company and Allaert P. van Everdingen with Landscape with a Waterfall, the only landscape from the collection of Semyonov of Tien Shan.

We should also mention some more pictures from Semyonov's collection now in the custody of the State Museum of Fine Arts. Namely, Fishwife of the 16th century Dutch painter Pieter Pietersz, Dog and Game Birds of K.L. Monogrammist, an artist of the third quarter of the 18th century from Flanders and, finally, Head of an Old Man in Profile of Christoph Pauditz, a German master of the 17th century.

The hushing-up of Semyonov of Tien Shan's name at the exhibition might have been justified: it was not he but Shchukin who founded the Dutch collection and who was praised quite a lot. As usual we do not show due regard for our past. For a long time we would not talk about the merits of private collectors and their contribution to the culture of our country They were mentioned humbly, usually in the quiet of museums. Only in the 1990s the collectors' work drew attention and evoked admiration it deserves. Noteworthy here is what Mikhail Pyotrovsky, director of Hermitage, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Arts, had to say While informing about the changes planned in the museum in connection with the "Great Hermitage" project, he uttered a very important idea - there could be no museum without collectors. The scientist spoke about the latest research devoted to the Russian collectors closely connected with the Hermitage. It is not by chance that Semyonov of Tien Shan's name was mentioned among the first. Ninety years ago a long process of handing over Semyonov's huge collection to the Hermitage funds was initiated. Moscow got a part of this collection but 14 years later.


Pyotr Petrovich Semyonov (the high title "of Tien Shan" was granted to him in 1906) did not develop an interest in art collecting overnight. He was brought up in a highly cultural milieu. Even when a small child he knew he came of an old boyar's family from Ryazan province. His grandfather and father were career army officers awarded with high state decorations. Both took an interest in literature, wrote poems and verses. That's what made them famous in Moscow and St. Petersburg. His mother's ancestors, the Blanks, came from the South of France. Their forefather, Jacob Blank, arrived in Russia during Peter the Great's rule (1682-1725) with the first tide of foreign labour migration. He earned his living at the Olonets plants, and his children and grandchildren became well-known architects.

His forefathers' history inspired Pyotr Petrovich and prodded him to creative work. Even when a young man he showed interest in art collecting and made Ms first steps toward professionalism in entomology Later his collection of butterflies became the founding stock of the Entomological Museum set up in Russia's northern capital, St. Petersburg. Upon graduating from St. Petersburg University in 1851 Semyonov defended the Master's dissertation The Don River Flora.

However, a professional interest in painting is quite another thing. It happened in Berlin, where Pyotr Petrovich was sent in 1853 to attend the classes of such premier geographers as A. von Humboldt and K. Ritter. The young scientist was girding himself for a career of a naturalist and dreamed of climbing Tien Shan. However, his visiting art galleries of Dresden and Paris as well as Italian and Prague museums married him to art forever. He undertook art studies in good earnest and started visiting art auctions and purchasing canvases.

The clash of European and St. Petersburg impressions inspired Semyonov to make a bold decision - to fill the gap of the Hermitage collection, a really fantastic venture at the time. The situation of this museum was lackluster as it was but poorly financed compared with museums abroad. And the main problem was that it lacked system. Yekaterina II (Catherine the Great), for instance, usually purchased masterpieces, but she seldom purchased whole collections. The only exception was the collection of a European collector A.R. Mengs (1779) representing artists of different levels. Remarkable in this respect is a note of I. Bernoulli, a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and a royal astronomer, who stayed in Russia in 1777-1778 and visited Hermitage. "The paintings hang without rhyme or reason, a mix of different schools", and further, "Many masters are represented by a great number of works, others are not represented at all, that does not square with the purpose of such a splendid institution". This point of view on the situation in His (Her) Majesty's gallery was widely known to Russian collectors, in the middle of the 19th century anyway. Semyonov might have upheld it as well. And it was not by accident that he started collecting pictures the museum needed.

Pyotr Petrovich went back to the era of Catherine the Great when the Hermitage was set up. He paid partic-

* "Smaller Dutch" - the many Dutch painters of the 17th century, called this way because of the chamber character of their work and a small size of their pictures as compared with their outstanding contemporaries (Rembrandt, Halls). This is an arbitrary name, for the painters it stands for are in fact great masters. - Ed.

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ular attention to the Dutch collection of the 17th century, which he had surely known before. But at that moment he clearly realized its drawbacks: lack of a historical method in the first place. What one needed was to restore the artistic atmosphere surrounding Rembrandt and Ms school, i.e. the history of the Dutch art of the 15-16th centuries. One knew but little about the time that followed the division of the Netherlands and Flemish schools.


We can well say that among Russian collectors Pyotr Semyonov had actually no predecessors. Catherine the Great, for instance, invited European experts to her court to systematize Her Majesty's collection. The first attempt to catalogue the art masterpieces in Hermitage was made by I. Minikh in 1773-1778.1. Haufgave a good example of drawing up a catalogue of art collections in estates of the nobles (one was Count Bezborodko in St. Petersburg). J. von Stelin's chronicle was a source of studying Russian collections and the artistic life in St. Petersburg. The Arens' catalogue of 1770 dealt with the art of Western Europe. But all that occurred back in the 18th century.

Pyotr Semyonov studied very closely the art literature published abroad since Russia of the early 1860s didn't have such kind of publications. Vaagen's work on the art of the Hermitage published in Munich in 1864 was of great use to him (Semyonov). Yet it was not devoid of errors either. I. Meter's and V Bode's work on the European museums was also of great importance. In 1882 A. Wortman and K. Feuerman published a work on art history in Leipzig. In the second half of the 19th century A. Bredius and Ch. de Groot were considered good authorities by European art critics.

As to up-to-date information, Pyotr Petrovich gleaned it from the academic magazine Repertorium Kunstwis-senschaft and from the popular edition Kunst fur alle.

Subsequently, by the way, these magazines carried comments on

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Semyonov's articles and books.

Pyotr Semyonov joined hands with Professor V. Bode of the Dresden gallery with whom he cooperated for decades. Professor Bode pulled weight as art critic and patron of the Netherlands, Flemish and Dutch art in Central Europe. In the early 20th century, when thanks to Bode and Semyonov there came a revival of interest in the "old painting", it was the German art scientists who, more than other Europeans, found themselves ready for overall analysis of new collections gathered in the second half of the 19th century. In the 1900s Bode was placed in charge of a research team who acquainted the public with a large collection of A. Tritsch, a collector from Vienna. He owned 46 pictures of "The Smaller Dutch" - such as S. Konink, N. Mas, Van der Gelst, K.G. Brekelenkam, brothers Adrian and Isaac Ostade, etc.

Buying an authentic painting was no easy in the 19th century Since there were a lot of fakes in astern Europe, Semyonov turned to reliable sources and consulted with A.F. Bushing, director of the Hermitage before the 1880s. He cooperated for more than 50 years with A. Mezing, the owner of the Frederick Muller and Co from Amsterdam. He teamed up with Stange, a merchant of art curiosities in Cologne, with collector Lepenau in Berlin and, with A.K. Lipgart in Derpt. With time Pyotr Petrovich started acting on his own and with much success. His collection expanded rapidly to hundreds of items by the 1880s.

Semyonov knew that Paris was the hub of art business and commerce, it was there that art auctions had well established themselves by the 1730s. As to Germany, it was just the land of art critics and art appreciation. In 1863 during his trip abroad Semyonov visited the Sauret auction. He never missed the opportunity of getting in touch with art dealers on the banks of the Seine. Now and then he was lucky enough to purchase real masterpieces.

Certainly Pyotr Petrovich knew the situation in St. Petersburg better than elsewhere. Here he was a regular visitor to the local auction halls. He searched high and low for "The Smaller Dutch" in Russia, no matter how far away from the capital. In the 1860s he bought a lot of things on the art markets of St. Petersburg, which had considerably changed since the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and came into the hands of merchants. The once rich Western immigrants, among them artists, who settled down in Russia, flooded the market.

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Marketed now and then were trophy paintings imported from Europe during the Napoleonic wars, items dating from the reign of Empress Anna loanovna (1730-1740), Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna (1741-1761), and even from the age of Peter the Great (1725). These articles happened to be in a deplorable condition every now and then.

If we follow step by step the circle of Semyonov's relations of that period, it will become clear that he mastered the subtle points of art collection, much better than other Russian art collectors did. While many collectors in St. Petersburg and Moscow were out to buy masterpieces, Semyonov looked for "second-rank" artists. These artists were less known or had simply sunk into oblivion. Semyonov realized that only a mix of big and small works would give a full idea of the pictorial arts in the Netherlands in their integrity.


The scope of Semyonov's activity as an art researcher is seen in his Sketches of the Dutch Art Based on Samples from Public and Private Collections of St. Petersburg (Part I - 1885, part II - 1890). This work came as a surprise for Semyonov's contemporaries because he hadn't disclosed Ms hobby for a long time. Even close friends did not know what a topnotch art expert he was. His monograph drew high praise both in Russia and abroad. W.A. Seiderlitz, director of the Dresden museums, gave top marks this work. He knew that the Russian researcher had delved into the age prior to the period of the Dutch art, an age well-nigh forgotten for the Europeans themselves. As far as Russia was concerned, the Dutch painting of the 15th-16th centuries was but little known there. Seiderlitz wrote that in this field Semyonov showed his analytical talents above all. That is why he did what others could not collecting a founding stock for a museum. Our compatriot, an authority on art history A.N. Benois, justly wrote that thanks to Semyonov's influence, the scientific principles won in the Russian art.

Semyonov's arguments in authentication of the old masters' canvases eventually proved true. The attribution of a canvas now in the Moscow Fine Arts Museum can serve as an example. This is J.A. Backer's marvelous Flora. Semyonov purchased it in a poor condition. The author's name was unknown, and Semyonov suggested the first hypothesis. Other opinions were uttered too. They are summed up in the latest catalogue The Netherlands in the 17th-19th centuries (2000) published by the Fine Arts Museum. Other efforts, too, were made to reconsider the Flora's authorship, but they were not as cogent.

Historism as a method of collecting is seen in every step made by Pyotr Petrovich. He so selected paintings as to give the descendants an idea of the pictorial style in a particular period and of the staffage technique.*

Meanwhile the soul delight of art collecting, as the "old folks" regarded it, degenerated into commercial business. Semyonov always stayed apart from business; he did a lot of things gratis and did not feel shy of criticizing colleagues who sold their collections in Europe for considerable money.

In the meantime Russia found itself in the grip of revolutionary turmoil of

* Staffage (German) is a secondary small-scale image of people and animals in the landscape composition. It was widespread in the 17th-18th centuries and was often painted not by a landscape painter himself but by another master. - Ed .

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1905-1907. But Semyonov, who had been granted the high title "of Tien Shan" to Ms name opened a picture gallery in his St. Petersburg apartment. This gesture came by way of tribute to the so-called "old Russians" (such as A. Repnin, D.M. Golitsyn) who had presented their collections to society. These people influenced Pyotr Petrovich greatly in the beginning of his carrier.

In 1906 Semyonov hurried to publish the catalogue of his personal collection. It was came out in St. Petersburg in French by way of reminder of the French roots of his family.

Pyotr Petrovich was the first to realize that a museum reform was imminent. Most museums, especially old ones, were overcrowded with exhibits and random collections. Many went on a give-and-take spree at the expense of their collections. Only a few museums, like one in Boston, embarked on a plan of duplicating their stocks. Special departments were opened for art lovers. Besides, the so-called "Studiensammlungen" were being set up for art researchers.

Such an approach saved many exhibits. Semyonov of Tien Shan was among the trend- setters in the museum studies of the early 20th century His disciples VA. Shchavinsky, P.V. Okhochinsky and J.A. Smith had a point in comparing Semyonov's collection (actually a museum) with the Boston National Gallery.

In 1910 the Hermitage was getting ready to accept a new collection, that of Semyonov of Tien Shan. In the autumn several canvases were exhibited. In 1914, when the collection was passed to the museum, the total number of canvases was immense - 719 as well as 3,476 engravings and etchings of West-European masters, more than 1,000 photographs. At that time many experts hailed this event, called unprecedented in the life of St. Petersburg. Art experts N.N. Vrangel, E. Stark, Academician V Konradi and A.N. Benois, all of them associated with the Hermitage, singled out Semyonov's contribution. His collection really filled the gap in the Hermitage with the so-called "second rank of celebrities" in the Dutch art: Ja. van Reisdal-junior, P. Artsen, S. de Braya, L. Bramer, E. Burs, V Geda, L. de Geer, Ja. van Hollander, D. Fabritsius, G. van der Vliet, I. van Kleve, M. van Eitenbrock and many others. So their time now appeared as an integral whole.

Semyonov's collection, now in the Hermitage, also had Rembrandt's work-a small Portrait of a Man's Head (unknown to contemporaries).

J.A. Schmidt hit the nail on the head: "Had it not been for the Dutch art collection of Pyotr Petrovich there would have been no fame of Hermitage as the world's that preserved the quality and variety of the Dutch painting".

Опубликовано на Порталусе 14 сентября 2018 года

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