Patrick Legant is an independent art advisor in London for 19th and 20th Century art as well as specializing in German & Austrian Expressionism. This essay is based upon the show “Icons of Modern Art. The Shchukin Collection” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (Oct 22, 2016 to Feb 20, 2017.) Subscribers to AMMpro may read the entire work. All subscriptions begin with a free month, so feel free to register to read and cancel as you see fit.
“I am ashamed of my weakness and lack of courage. One must not desert the battlefield without trying to fight. For this reason, I am resolved to exhibit your panels. People will shout and people will laugh, but since I am convinced you are on the right path, maybe time will be my ally. And I will achieve victory in the end.”
Shchukin in a letter to Matisse
Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936), a textile merchant, was one of the most important contemporary art collectors in Russia, if not Europe, until the outbreak of the Russian revolution in 1917. It is his “art of collecting” that is as fascinating to observe and to experience as it is to learn about the developments of the French and Russian avant-garde during the first decades of the 20th Century.
The recently opened, sensational exhibition “Icons of Modern Art. The Shchukin Collection” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris is an overwhelming experience to see one of the most iconic collections re-united again with holdings of masterpieces from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to understand and realise the genius and magic of one of the most extraordinary collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern Art of the early 20th Century. It ranges from Paul Cézanne’s major Mardi gras (Pierrot et Arlequin) of 1888-90 and his Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves (1904-05) to Claude Monet’s monumental Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1866) to Paul Gauguin’s Aha oé fee? (Eh quo, tu es jalousie?) (1892) to Picasso’s early major Cubist oil Trois femmes (1907 or 1908), to name only a few stand-out works.
The current exhibition can be seen as the mapping of a collecting journey. It starts off with Shchukin’s so-called “First Collection” (gathered between 1898 and 1905). It clearly represents the approach of a well-to-do, successful businessman who collects art for its decorative value as it was expected of his class. The works ranged from a large and decorative Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones tapestry to a pleasant Armand Guillaumin Impressionist landscape painting. The decorative and the narrative were clearly the guiding points throughout his “First Collection”.
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