The outstanding private art collection of Sergei Shchukin is a must-see at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. There are long lines every day for the exhibition, “Icons of Modern Art“, which features masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir and other prestigious names from art history. The artworks were hidden for a long time in the Moscow mansion of the super-rich collector and have never been sent out of Russia.
This is even the very first time that some of the finest French impressionist and post-impressionist art will appear in public. I was particularly surprised to see Les Mouettes, one of the most famous Monet paintings.
As the organizers say: “This is a historic event which will have people coming from all over the world, something we are not likely to see again for a while”.
The show, which runs until February 2017, also includes 30 major pieces from the Russian avant-garde suprematist constructivist movements, loaned by the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow and the Russian Museum in St Petersburg.
Shchukin was a leading Moscow textile industrialist and a visionary. He started collecting as soon as he could become part of Parisian circles, and he shared his passion with professionals. He supported many radical artists at the time, visited their private studios, and invited them to his home in Moscow to work and explore their art. Sometimes the collector wouldn’t understand the artists’ ways of thinking or displaying art on walls, but he would always say, “They were the ones to be trusted.”
Among the 127 major oeuvres displayed from this great art patron, there are particular works that caught my eye:
Monet painted Les Mouettes in 1904 in Giverny after visiting London in 1887 where four of his works were exhibited at the Royal Society of British Art. During that time, the painter traveled regularly to England, which is how he produced a series of 19 paintings representing the Houses of Parliament. In this painting, we can see how the fog mixed with dusk affects the monument. Les Mouettes is the last Monet painting bought by Shchukin.
In 1900, art critic Alexandre Benoit saw this painting at the Durand-Ruel gallery and wrote about his reaction:
“Let’s dream and imagine someone will buy this painting in Moscow or St-Petersburg. One day such paintings will be part of collections. one day they will become classic art, but it will be too late.”
Shchukin read the story and decided to buy the artwork in November 1904.
In 1903, Picasso, only 22 years old, painted many portraits of his friends in Barcelona, We can see the classical style he used at the beginning of his career to portray Soler, a fashionable Barcelona tailor who helped young artists at the time. The two men were friends, and Picasso produced several portraits of the tailor.
Renoir met Anna in Montmartre in 1876 and decided to paint her. The woman appears very elegant with her discreet beauty. Although wearing dark colors, there is the blue color of the scarf, which matches the curtain in the background, rendering a harmonious style to the overall painting.
Matisse first saw this painting of fruits by Cézanne in the 1900s at Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris. Forty years later, he still remembered it. “At Durand-Ruel I saw many beautiful still lifes from Cézanne, with this unusual sad blue in the background. As I was showing Mr. Durand a few of my personal still life paintings he explained me to better focus on interiors paintings because he couldn’t sell Cézanne artworks.”
“Icons of Modern Art” is a must-see cultural exhibit in Paris this season. Book early online to ensure you get tickets!
When: October 22, 2016 to February 20, 2017
Where: Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 75016 Paris