RUSSIA’S two greatest art museums are engaged in an unsightly public feud over an idea to revive a Moscow museum of Western art that was shut down by Stalin in the late 1940s.
The State Museum of New Western Art gathered the impressionist and early modern art collected by renowned Russian art collectors Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov in the late Tsarist era.
But it was closed on Stalin’s orders in 1948 as the Soviet authorities rejected anything reeking of “cosmopolitanism” in a drive to play up the importance of Soviet art.
Its collection was divided between the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow and the famed Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, where the pictures can be seen to this day.
The redoubtable director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, 91, last week personally asked President Vladimir Putin during his annual phone-in with Russians to consider reopening the museum in Moscow with its original collection.
However the idea did not in the least impress the Hermitage museum, which under the plan could see some of its most prized Matisse, Degas and Picasso pictures transferred back to Moscow.
Antonova however launched a stout defence of her position saying the recreation of the museum was a question of “historical fairness”.
In response to Antonova’s request, Putin on Tuesday asked the government to draw up by June 15 a report on the viability of recreating the Western art museum in Moscow.
Morozov and Shchukin amassed two of the greatest collections anywhere of European art.
But like other private collections, their holdings were nationalised after the Russian revolution and used to form the basis of the Museum of New Western Art (GMNZI) which was founded in 1928.
The dispute has highlighted the rivalry between the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage, with the much older Saint Petersburg institution keen to affirm its supremacy over the Moscow museum which was opened only in 1912.