The Morozov art collection

It was a great treat to visit the Morozov Collection at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. The show, presented for the first time outside Russia, includes some 300 impressionist, post-impressionist and expressionist masterpieces amassed at the turn of the 20th century by the vastly wealthy Russian brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov,  before being swept away by the Russian Revolution.

 

Paul Gauguin

The brothers, born in 1870 and 1871 respectively, were the great-grandsons of a serf. With five rubles from his wife’s dowry, their ancestor set up a ribbon workshop, which he developed into a factory, and bought his family’s freedom. In a few generations, the family became wealthy, philanthropic industrialists.

 

Edvard Munch

Besides being fabulously wealthy, the brothers had very avant garde tastes, and built up the stunning collection which includes works by Russian as well as French artists. At the turn of the last century, the upper social echelon in Russia spoke French and the Morozov brothers created their collection on the advice of Parisian dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. Mikhail, who died prematurely from a heart attack at the age of 33, discovered Bonnard’s work in Paris and acquired the first paintings by Gauguin to enter Russia.

 

Picasso from the Rose period

His brother Ivan took over the family business, abandoning his dreams of becoming a painter, and kept adding more French impressionists, post-impressionists and Fauvists to the collection, his favourite artist being Cézanne. In 1912, he commissioned Bonnard to decorate the staircase of his opulent Moscow residence, resulting in wonderfully luminous panels.

 

At the same time, he became close to Russian artists of his generation who advised him on his acquisitions and contributed their own works to the collection. I discovered with great pleasure and admiration the lovely portraits by Valentin Sérov, a painter I did not know.

 

Valentin Sérov


In a twist worthy of fiction, it all ended with the Communist revolution of 1917 in Russia. Ivan was reduced to being ‘assistant curator’ of his own collection and his home became a state museum.

 

Claude Monet

In 1918, the Morozov manufacturing company, whose real estate value was estimated at 26 million rubles, was taken over by the state and later that year the collection of artworks was nationalised by official decree.

 

Matisse

In the summer of 1919, Ivan and his family secretly crossed the border to Finland and then emigrated to Switzerland. He died in Germany at the age of 49.

 

Van Gogh


When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, the paintings were sent to be hidden in the Ural Mountains, where they stayed fairly well-preserved by temperatures that often fell to -40 degrees.

 

Bonnard

It wasn’t until 1950s that the Soviet government decided to redistribute them among the Hermitage, Tretyakov and Pushkin museums.

 

Bonnard. The visitors give an idea of the scale of the work

One of the most unexpected paintings in the exhibition is Vincent Van Gogh’s The Prison Courtyard (1890), which he made while in the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence psychiatric hospital. The artist’s brother Theo had sent him a photograph of Gustave Doré’s drawing of a London prison’s courtyard which Van Gogh reinterpreted into a primarily greenish blue-hued painting, the conditions of the prisoners echoing his own

And finally, two more portraits, a self portrait by Alexander Golovine,

and a portrait of Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov, which features one of his paintings by Matisse in the background.

A new museum in Athens

Although we are spoilt for choice in Athens as far as antiquities and Byzantine icons are concerned, up to now there were no permanent exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. This hole has just been filled with the advent of a new museum hosting a wonderful collection of modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture.

 

 

After 26 years of planning and six years of construction, the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation has opened its new space in a totally renovated neoclassical building in the Pangrati neighborhood of Athens. The museum showcases the stunning private collection of the late Basil Goulandris and his wife Elise, and boasts around 180 paintings, sculptures, and artifacts.

 

Young man with bouquet, from Picasso’s rose period

 

A shipping magnate whose shrewd eye and passion for art was equaled by his wife’s, Basil Goulandris collected unique pieces over the years, starting with a wonderful El Greco, The Veil of San Veronica.

 

 

The couple lived with the paintings on the walls of their houses and, in 1979, when the works of art had become too numerous to be privately enjoyed, they inaugurated the Museum of Contemporary Art on the island of Basil’s birth, Andros; this was, at the time, the country’s first institution devoted to the art of the present.
However, they always nurtured a dream to establish another art space in the center of Athens, which would offer broader audiences an opportunity to see contemporary art.

 

Gauguin, Bowl of grapefruit

 

Now, 30 years after Basil’s death and 20 years after Elise’s, their vision has become reality. The original 1920s listed, three-floor building has been complemented by a modern extension hovering above the facade and now contains 11 stories (5 of which are underground to house the annex activities such as archives and storage) connected by a central stairwell made of white marble. The combination of the two styles on the outside is harmonious, and inside the different areas merge seamlessly into each other, giving an impression of spaciousness. In front of the building a little square, also renovated by the foundation, abuts the steps leading up to the church of Agios Spyridon, which was built in 1903 on designs by the noted German architect Ernst Ziller.

 

 

The museum boasts all the relevant amenities, such as a museum shop, a lovely restaurant, education spaces, and a library containing 4,500 volumes. There is also a 190-seat amphitheater, where screenings, concerts, and other events can take place. The foundation is headed by Elise Goulandris’ niece Fleurette Karadonti (President), and the museum’s director Kyriakos Koutsomallis, plus his daughter Marie Koutsomallis-Moreau (the collection’s chief curator). Their plan is to rotate the paintings of the collection on a regular basis, so that visitors can eventually get to see them all.

 

Giacometti, portrait of Yanaihara

 

The collection includes lovely pieces of sculpture, such as the Giacometti below

 

 

And a little dancer by Degas, which caused major controversy in its time, being presented in a glass case and with the addition of tulle, leather and ribbon.

 

 

There is a luminous room of works on paper, such as the Matisse below.

 

 

And a floor devoted to major and rising Greek artists. See below two beautiful works by Tsarouhis.

 


 

 

Like many diaspora Greeks, Basil and Elise had a deep love for their motherland, and always wanted to give something back to Greece. Having no children, they dedicated themselves to art, and their Paris home became a meeting place for many personalities of the art world, such as Callas, Baryshnikov, Balthus and Chagall, whose portrait of Elise graces the entrance.

 

Hauntingly misty Balthus landscape

 

However, finding a site for the museum took several years because its original location, a plot next to the Byzantine and Christian Museum, yielded an amazing archaeological find during construction: Aristotle’s Lyceum. After many setbacks, all obstacles were happily overcome, and the new museum is already teeming with visitors.

Van Gogh, olive grove

The collection is certainly unique, and I advise anyone planning to go to make time for lunch or at least a coffee and cake in the restaurant. The food is delicious and the waiters super friendly.

 

Francis Bacon

 

All photographs are mine, which is why they’re very moderate. The light in the museum was low, in order both to preserve the works but also to bring out their wonderful colors.

 

A small Jackson Pollock