The Russian Museum today is a unique depository of artistic treasures, a leading restoration center, an authoritative institute of academic research, a major educational center and the nucleus of a network of national museums of art.
The Russian Museum collection contains more than 400.000 exhibits. The main complex of museum buildings – the Mikhailovsky Palace and Benois Wing – houses the permanent exhibition of the Russian Museum, tracing the entire history of Russian art from the tenth to the twentieth centuries. The museum collection embraces all forms, genres, schools and movements of art.
The State Russian Museum (Russian: Государственный Русский музей), formerly the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III (Russian: Русский Музей Императора Александра III) is the largest depository of Russian fine art in Saint Petersburg. It is also one of the largest museums in the country.
The museum was established on April 13, 1895, upon enthronement of Nicholas II to commemorate his father, Alexander III. Its original collection was composed of artworks taken from the Hermitage Museum, Alexander Palace, and the Imperial Academy of Arts. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, many private collections were nationalized and relocated to the Russian Museum. These included Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square.
The main building of the museum is the Mikhailovsky Palace, a splendid Neoclassical residence of Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich, erected in 1819-25 to a design by Carlo Rossi on Square of Arts in St Petersburg. Upon the death of the Grand Duke the residence was named after his wife as the Palace of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and became famous for its many theatrical presentations and balls.
Some of the halls of the palace retain the Italianate opulent interiors of the former imperial residence. Other buildings assigned to the Russian museum include the Summer Palace of Peter I (1710–14), the Marble Palace of Count Orlov (1768–85), St Michael’s Castle of Emperor Paul (1797–1801), and the Rastrelliesque Stroganov Palace on the Nevsky Prospekt (1752–54).
The Ethnographic Department was originally set up in a building specially designed by Vladimir Svinyin in 1902. The museum soon housed gifts received by Emperor’s family from representatives of peoples inhabiting various regions of the Russian Empire. Further exhibits were purchased by Nicholas II and other members of his family as State financing was not enough to purchase new exhibits. In 1934, the Ethnographic Department was given the status of an independent museum: the Russian Museum of Ethnography.
The city of Málaga, home to thousands of Russian expats, has signed an agreement to host the first overseas branch of the State Russian Museum. Works displayed in Malaga will range from Byzantine-inspired icons to social realism of the Soviet era. They will be on display in 2,300 square metres (2,750 square yards) of exhibition space in La Tabacalera, a 1920s tobacco factory. The new museum is scheduled to open in early 2015.
Over the past twenty years, the museum complex has grown to include the Stroganov Palace, St Michael’s (Engineers) Castle and the Marble Palace. The complex also includes the Mikhailovsky Gardens, Engineering Gardens, Summer Garden (including the Summer Palace) and the House of Peter the Great.
The collection originates from works received by 1898 from the Academy of Arts (122 paintings), the Hermitage (80 paintings), the Winter Palace, suburban palaces – Gatchina and Alexandrovsky (95 paintings), as well as purchased in private collections. In particular, a large collection of portraiture (several dozen paintings) came from the heirs of Prince AB Lobanov-Rostovsky, a collection of drawings and watercolors – from Princess MK Tenisheva and others. By the opening of the Russian Museum in the collection there were 445 paintings, 111 sculptures, 981 graphic sheet (drawings, etchings and watercolors), as well as about 5000 antiquities (icons and products of Old Russian decorative and applied art).
Further replenishment of the collection, according to the Decree of Emperor Nicholas II, was to occur through the purchase of “appropriated funds” and possible donations. During the first ten years of the museum’s existence, its collection almost doubled.