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.



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.



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.

Out of Africa

A visit to the Louis Vuitton Fondation of Contemporary Art in Paris is a must, if only to admire (gape at!) the building, which was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. Construction of the museum began in March 2008, and was plagued by many lawsuits and appeals from people who were against building in the Bois de Boulogne, the largest park in Paris. However, the permits were finally obtained and the museum opened in October 2014. Its cost was supposed to be $143 million, but, according to some sources, it finally rose to around $780 million.

Be that as it may, it is an extravagant structure which definitely adds to the must-see list of Parisian sights, and those responsible for its design and construction have won several architectural awards in France and the US.



The building takes the form of a boat’s sails inflated by the wind. These glass sails envelop the “iceberg”, a series of shapes with white, flowery terraces; they are made of 3,584 laminated glass panels, each unique and specifically curved to fit the shapes drawn by the architect. The building incorporates interesting water features as well as commissioned  site-specific installations by, amongst others, Ellsworth Kelly, Olafur Eliasson and Adrián Villar Rojas.


View of the lobby from above

The LVF  houses an extensive permanent collection, including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gilbert & George and Jeff Koons. This summer, a major temporary exhibition showcased art from sub-Saharan Africa, made up of three distinct exhibits: offerings from the foundation’s own archive, a selection from Jean Pigozzi’s prestigious collection and an overview of the best in South African contemporary art.

It is obviously difficult for one exhibition to encompass the scope and variety of a continent made up of 54 different countries, but there was terrific work from artists we rarely see, or sometimes have never seen at all. Despite all the talk about the globalisation of the contemporary art world, art from Africa continues to be woefully under-represented.

I personally was galvanized and overwhelmed by what was on offer. Since I am no expert on the subject of African art, and it would be easy enough for anyone to look up any information needed, I will only attempt here to show a small sample of the works which enthused me.

Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé is of prestigious lineage, since his ancestor was a high priest of the Fâ at the court of the King of Port-Novo. His art reflects his close connection with his Yoruba culture, where masks hold center stage: his were made of recycled plastic cans and other household objects.



Rigobert Nimi is from The Congo and a lot of his work uses found objects. He had contributed enormous constructions resembling amazing imaginary spaceships.



Senegalese artist Seni Awa Kamara learnt pottery from her mother, who made everyday objects, but developed her own radically innovative style. She creates female figures to whom are attached many tiny statues meant to represent children, in animal or human form.



Activist Chéri Samba is inspired by everyday life and touches on a wide range of subjects from current political, economic, social and cultural events in Kinshasa – such as ecological problems, corruption, tragic events, etc. He incorporates text in his work, both in French and Lingala, as in the painting below, which highlights the problem of obtaining clean water.



Bodys Isek Kingelez, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, builds models of buildings with unusual shapes and bright colors, using recovered materials. Some are individual constructions, and some entire urban simulations, such as his enchanting rendering of an imaginary Manhattan, below.



Artist Abu Bakarr Mansaray, from Sierra Leone, taught himself chemistry, mathematics and electronics using school textbooks. In 1998 he fled the civil war and moved to the Netherlands where, in his art, he evokes the war and its traumas, but also UFOs and aliens of which he considers himself the interpreter. He draws upon his scientific knowledge to produce monumental drawings using pencil, ballpoint pen, felt-tip markers and colored pencils.


A Heath Robinson-esque contraption, and, below, a detail from another painting.


Artist John Goba was initiated by his grandmother into a secret female society. Inspired by this, he makes statues evoking traditional knowledges and tales of various ethnic groups, using wood and porcupine quills.



Benin artist Calixte Dakpogan comes from a family of ironmongers. He too reinvents the mask, either using found materials, or cheap everyday made in China objects, such as safety pins, beads, ballpoint pens etc.



Photographer Seydou Keïta (Mali, 1921-2001), is considered one of the greatest photographers of the late 20th century, and was one of the few artists whose work I’d seen before. Through a large number of exceptional portraits he painted a testimony of Malian society from the end of the Second World War through to Independence.



Even a short break for lunch was not devoid of artistic stimulation, since we sat under this lovely installation of paper fish in the restaurant.



After lunch I continued upstairs, to the part of the exhibition entitled Being There, showcasing  some of the most important South African artists. Legends of art such as William Kentridge, Jane Alexander, David Goldblatt, David Koloane and Sue Williamson were featured – artists who helped shape the local art scene and also influenced the younger generation, many of whom were also exhibited here.  Sadly, by then I was suffering from a surfeit of visual stimulation, so I skimmed over most of the works and only paused for a disturbing installation by David Koloane, whose work is devoted to the chaotic energy of Johannesburg. His art has distinct political and social overtones, and street dogs, ubiquitous in the townships, put in multiple appearances.



Last, but not least, I sat for a few minutes to watch the latest video production of William Kentridge, Notes Towards a Model Opera, which played simultaneously on three large screens (video below). Kentridge, an artist who experienced apartheid as a white man, has long been a favorite of mine.

It would have been nice to have been able to go back before the exhibition finished (on September 4), because it was impossible to take in such a wide range of extraordinary talent in detail and all at once. Even in this post it was too much to incorporate all the photographs I took, or present all the artists whose work I liked.