© istock/vladj55
© istock/vladj55

Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow: the greatest Russian fine art

3 minutes to read

If we are talking about Russian fine art, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow (or Tretyakovka) is the place to discover. Not only it is the greatest museum of Russian fine art in the world, but this gallery also treasures the biggest collection of masterpieces. To see them all, one would need several days. However, like in many other museums, such as the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, there are pieces you must not miss, as they celebrate Russian art in general.

Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, the founder

© istock/vladj55
© istock/vladj55

The history of the gallery began in 1856, when its future founder Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, after whom the gallery is named today, bought the first pieces of art for his private collection. He was a merchant who had been thinking about establishing a museum of national art one day. In 1867, Pavel Mikhailovich presented his own mansion in Lavrushinsky Lane in Moscow as a newly created gallery where everyone could see paintings he and his brother, Sergei Mikhailovich, then owned. This building, located in Zamoskvorechye, a neighborhood where merchants lived, reminds of a traditional Russian Terem, looking as if it came straight out of a fairy tale. Later on, new annexes were built. Nowadays, the façade of the building, designed by the famous painter Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, serves as a symbol of Tretyakov Gallery.  In 1892, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov granted his collection, consisting of almost two thousand pieces, to Russia. Nowadays, there are more than 190 thousand exhibits in Tretyakov Gallery, and the collection is consistently growing.

The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Lavrushinsky Ln, 10, Moskva, Russia, 119017

What not to miss

If you are on a short visit to Moscow but want to see the essential Russian artworks, it is better to plan a day for visiting Tretyakov Gallery. During the visit to Tretyakovka, you must explore its icon paintings and Russian art of the second half of the 19th century, as it is the best this country has to offer. Thus, here is the list of paintings you have to see in the gallery (please do not be confused if you see some queues in front of them - it just means they are very well-known):

1. Andrei Rublev. Trinity (1411 or 1424-1427)

2. Ivan Shishkin and Konstantin Savitsky. Morning In a Pine Forest (1889)

3. Ivan Kramskoi. Chirst in the Desert (1872). Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1883)

4. Alexander Ivanov. The Appearance of Christ Before the People (1837–1857)

5. Vasily Surikov. Boyarynya Morozova (1884-1887). The Morning of the Streltsy Execution (1881). Menshikov in Beryozovo (1883) 

6. Ilya Repin. Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 (1885). Religious Procession in Kursk Governorate (1880-1883). Unexpected Visitors (1884-1888)

7. Viktor Vasnetsov. Alenushka (1881). Three Princesses of the Underground Kingdom (1881). Bogatyri (1881-1898)

8. Konstantin Flavitsky. The Princess Tarakanova (1864)

9. Vasily Vereshchagin. The Apotheosis of War (1871)

10.  Nicholas Roerich. Guests from Overseas (1901)

11.  Mikhail Vrubel. The Demon Seated (1890). The Princess of the Dream (1896). The Swan Princess (1900). Lilac (1900). The Demon Downcast (1902)

12. Valentin Serov. Girl with Peaches (1887)

New Tretyakovka

© istock/Fotokot197
© istock/Fotokot197

In 1983, the new building was erected on Krymsky Val Street, and three years later, it was included in the network of museums together with the State Tretyakov Gallery and other institutions. While the original building in Lavrushinsky Lane was undergoing the restoration, many art pieces were stored in the new edifice on Krymsky Val. Later, in 1996, it was decided to form an individual exposition of works created in the 20th century. Now, paintings by great artists such as Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Lyubov Popova, Kazimir Malevich, Pavel Filonov, are being exhibited in the building on Krymsky Val, which is called New Tretyakovka’. 

The New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
The New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Above all, New Tretyakovka is located in a very picturesque place in Moscow, by Moskva River, together with Muzeon Park, and famous Gorky Park just at a stone’s throw. You may easily reach it when walking along Bolshaya Yakimanka Street.

Muzeon Park of Arts, Moscow
Muzeon Park of Arts, Moscow
Art Park MUSEON, st. Krymsky Val, 2, Moscow, Russia, 119049
Bolshaya Yakimanka Street, Moscow
Bolshaya Yakimanka Street, Moscow
Bol'shaya Yakimanka St, Moskva, Russia, 119180

Insider's tips

The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is undoubtedly the greatest museum of Russian fine art. This museum is popular not only because of its impressive collection but also for its spirit and atmosphere. I would strongly advise you to buy a ticket online and avoid visiting Tretyakovka during the weekend, as there can be long queues. After you visit it, take a stroll around Zamoskvorechye or Yakimanka District. Alternatively, try to guess the paintings you saw in Tretyakov Gallery in the silhouettes of the sculptural fountain 'Inspiration' or‘ Arts Fountain’, at the small square near Tretyakovka!

Inspiration Sculptural Fountain, Moscow
Inspiration Sculptural Fountain, Moscow
Bol'shoy Tolmachevskiy Pereulok, 3с4, Moskva, Russia, 119017

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The author

Maria Selezneva

Maria Selezneva

Hi, I am Maria, or Masha, as Russian speaking people call me. I’m your local guide for must-sees as well as off-the-beaten-track places in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I’ll show you my favourite destinations in both cities, where you can feel the true spirit of local traditions.

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