Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting in the 18th – 20th Centuries

Date:9 March 1935 – 31 May 1935

Place: Prague, Clam-Gallas Palace

Organizer:Slavonic Institute in Prague

Conception:Nikolaj Lvovič Okuněv


The largest exhibition of Russian art in interwar Czechoslovakia was to open an ambitious series of shows introducing the visual art of Slavonic nations under the auspices of the Slavonic Institute in Prague. However, it remained an isolated event. Founded on the initiative of President T. G. Masaryk, the Slavonic Institute, along with the Oriental Institute, was mandated to “study Slavic nations and countries from all perspectives and in a scientific manner” and “develop cultural and economic relations between the Czechoslovak Republic and the Slavic world [Stanovy 1934, art. 1, para. 1]. In addition to the Archive of Slavonic Music, the Institute began to build the Archive of Slavonic Art, which included a valuable collection of works primarily by Russian emigre artists, assembled under the guidance of Byzantologist and art historian Nikolai Lvovich Okunev. Through its “Commission for the Archive and Gallery of Slavonic Art,” headed by Antonín Matějček, the Institute led long-term negotiations about including its art collection in an art museum, preferably as a “Slavonic department” of the planned city gallery. According to the 1935 exhibition catalogue, the future permanent exhibition of Slavonic art was to make Prague “more interesting and captivating compared to Western galleries” [Katalog 1935, p. 6]. 

The exhibition at Clam-Gallas Palace aimed to showcase the collection deposited at the Institute’s headquarters in Lobkowicz Palace in Prague’s Lesser Town, provide an overview of works by Russian artists, especially those held in Czech private and institutional collections, and present in the broadest possible scope the oeuvres of Russian artists, whose documentation the Slavic Art Archive collected.

The exhibition’s preparation and subsequent reception reflected the changing political climate and the current relations with the Soviet Union (recognized de jure by Czechoslovakia in 1934) and the Russian emigre community, whose public activities were gradually losing official support compared to the 1920s. Instead, the state supported the twin exhibitions of Soviet art in Czechoslovakia and Czechoslovak art in the USSR, prepared by the Mánes Fine Arts Association. The former show, however, was postponed a few times, and in the end, only the latter took place in Leningrad and Moscow in 1937. Due to these complicated circumstances and his participation in the forthcoming Czechoslovak-Soviet show, Kamil Novotný resigned from the preparation committee of the Slavonic Institute’s exhibition, which was to do without loans from the Soviet Union and show only works present in Prague at the time. Art historians Jan Květ, Vojtěch Volavka, and František Kovárna soon followed suit and also resigned. Shortly before the opening of the Russian art exhibition, these experts distanced themselves from the whole project because they were not allowed to influence the selection of artworks that Okunev had gathered in Prague from artists in France. Therefore, although the original preparation committee consisted of several professional members, the sole person to create the final concept and select the artworks was Okunev himself. He divided the exhibition into two main parts: a retrospective section outlining the development of Russian art from the beginning of the St. Petersburg Academy in the 18th century to realistic painting of the circle around the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions (Peredvizhniki) and a section dedicated to contemporary art. The latter aimed to present, in the broadest possible scope, the work of Russian artists living outside the Soviet Union. In addition to many artists around the group Mir iskusstva, which resumed its activity in Paris in the 1920s, it represented artists of the early avant-garde groups (Bubnoviy valet, Oslinniy khvost), a few abstractionists, but also several lesser-known representatives of contemporary neo-academism (e. g. Vasily Shukhaev) and styles that, according to Okunev “strive to nourish today’s abstracted art with the eternally living spirit of antiquity” [Katalog 1935, p. 19]. Interestingly, Okunev concluded his text for the catalogue with a passage about art in Russia, in which he claimed that many artists “leave to stay permanently in Paris where they completely blend with the French art world” [Katalog 1935, p. 18], abandoning practically all avant-garde output of the 1910s and 1920s (that is, the work of artists who did not emigrate) and contemporary art in the Soviet Union.

Reviewers generally concentrated on the exhibition’s two problematic aspects. Alexandre Benois, a painter, printmaker, art critic, and co-founder of the St. Petersburg magazine Mir iskusstva pointed out that it was practically impossible to present the history of Russian art from the 18th century onward without borrowing works from Russian collections. In his text for the Parisian periodical Poslednye novosti, he described any such attempt as “somewhat paradoxical” [Беноис 1997, p. 205]. Czech reviewers also criticized the overall randomness and emphasis on quantity evident in Okunev’s choice of artworks. For example, Josef Čapek mentioned the visible gaps in the selection (“This is not a coherent exhibition, neither is it the retrospective one would have wished for. Even so, one must appreciate the numerous and often captivating material that the organizers managed to gather.”) and suggested that future events of the Slavonic Institute focusing on the work of Slavic peoples be more selective (“It would be desirable if these exhibitions stood out for the value of the material exhibited rather than for its quantity. The selection and overview should be as distinctive and representative as possible.”) [Čapek 1935, p. 9].

Despite the shortcomings, the significance of the exhibition was extraordinary – not because of the number of works and artists represented (this turned out to be a disadvantage), but mainly because it represented some of the iconic artists of Russian emigration (e. g. Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova) and also many remarkable artists who were practically unknown in Czechoslovakia. In 2019, the Art Gallery in Náchod opened a semi-permanent exhibition entitled 1st Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting from the 18th to the 20th Century – a Commemoration of the Show of the Same Name Held in Clam-Gallas Palace in Prague in 1935, which offered a partial reconstruction of the 1935 show.

Jakub Hauser

Works Cited

Беноис 1997: Александр Беноис, Прага, in: Idem: Художественные письма 1930–1936: газета „Последние новости“ Париж, ed. И. П. Хабаров, Москва 1997, pp. 200–206

Čapek 1935: -jč- [Josef Čapek], Retrospektivní výstava ruského malířství XVIII.–XX. století, Lidové noviny XLIII, 1935, no. 133, 14. 3., p. 9

Katalog 1935: Katalog retrospektivní výstavy ruského malířství XVIII.–XX. stol., Clam-Gallasův palác v Praze 1935

Stanovy 1934: Stanovy Slovanského ústavu v Praze, Praha 1934

Further Reading

 Александр Николаевич Бенуа и Мстислав Валерианович Добужинский: переписка (1903–1957), ed. И. И. Выдрин, Санкт-Петербург 2003

Jakub Hauser, Výstava o výstavě ruského malířství v roce 1935, Art & Antiques, 2019, no. 5, pp. 80–81

Jakub Hauser, Sans retour. Výtvarníci ruské emigrace v meziválečné Praze, Praha 2020

Julie Jančárková, Nikolaj Okunev und die „Erste historische Ausstellung russischer Malerei und Plastik (18.–20. Jh.)“ in Prag, in: Die russische Diaspora in Europa im 20. Jahrhudert: Religiöses und kultrelles Leben, eds. Adelbert J. M. Davids, Fedor B. Poljakov, Frankfurt am Main 2008, pp. 215–234

Юлия Янчаркова, Коллекция профессора Окунева. Как в межвоенной Праге сохраняли русскую живопись, Родина, 2006, no. 4, pp. 93–95

Юлия Янчаркова, Н. Л. Окунев, Архив и галерея славянского искусства, in: Марина Досталь (ed.), Российские ученые-гуманитарии в межвоенной Чехословакии: сборник статей, Москва 2008, pp. 140–147

Юлия Янчаркова, Историк искусства Николай Львович Окунев (1885–1949): жизненный путь и научное наследие, Frankfurt am Main 2012

Юлия Янчаркова, Архив и галерея славянского искусства при Славянском институте в Праге. Подробности организации, in: С. С. Степанова (ed.), Павел Федотов: Феномен личности в контексте времени – О. Д. Атрощенко – Л. И. Иовлева (edd.), Валентин Серов и русская культура XIX- начала XX века – С. П. Домогацкая, Л. И. Иовлева (edd.), Сергей Тимофеевич Коненков: Скульптура XX века – М. И. Лисаковская (ed.), Русский культурно-исторический музей в Праге: Творческое наследие русского зарубежья – часть отечественной культуры XX века (Материалы научных конференций), Москва 2016, pp. 539–558

Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, K organizaci pražských galerií, Dílo XXV, 1935, pp. 111–120

Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, Slovanská galerie a Ruské kulturně-historické muzeum v Praze, Nedělní list, 1935, no. 90, 31. 3., p. 8

Аlena Míšková, Slovanský ústav v ČSAV v letech 1952–63 (od reorganizace k likvidaci), Slavia LXI, 1993, no. 2, pp. 157–174

Matyáš Murko, Paměti, Praha 1949

Archival Sources

Masaryk Institute and Archives of the CAS, fonds Slovanský ústav [Slavonic Institute], sign. P 2/1 – Archiv a galerie slovanského umění [Archive and Gallery of Slavic Art]

Masaryk Institute and Archives of the CAS, fonds Slovanský ústav [Slavonic Institute], sign. K 1/1, Retrospektivní výstava ruského malířství 18. – 20. století v Praze [Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting in the 18th - 20thCenturies] 9. 3. – 31. 5. 1935.

Exhibiting authors
Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting in the 18th – 20th Centuries
Technique: paper, offset print
Owner: Museum of Decorative Art

Catalogue of the Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting in the 18th – 20th Centuries


Publisher: Slavonic Institute in Prague

Place and year of publication: Praha 1935

Authors of the introduction: Theodor Saturník; František Táborský; Nikolaj Lvovič Okunev

Author/s of the introduction:Saturník Theodor
Reviews in the press
Čapek Josef

-jč- [Josef Čapek], Retrospektivní výstava ruského malířství XVIII. – XX. století, Lidové noviny XLIII, 1935, no. 133, 14. 3., p. 9

Dějev Platon

Platon Dějev, Umělecká revue Veraikon, Edice grafická XXI, 1935, nos. 2–3, p. 35


Fdl., Retrospektivní výstava ruského malířství, Pestrý týden X, 1935, no. 17, 27. 4., p. 7

Бельговский Константин

Константин Бельговский, Выставка сокровищ русского искусства в Праге, Сегодня XVII, 1935, no. 76, 18. 3

Kolman-Cassius Jaroslav

c. [Jaroslav Kolman], Poučení z výstavy ruského umění, Dílo XXVI, 1935, pp. 120–122, 136–140

Kuba Ludvík

Ludvík Kuba, Retrospektivní výstava ruského malířství XVIII. – XX. století, Slovanský přehled XXVII, 1935, pp. 168–169

Marek Josef Richard

Josef Richard Marek, Ruské umění, Národní listy LXXXI, 1935, no. 81, 22. 3., p. 5

Еленев Николай

Николай Еленев, По выставкам, Центральная Европа VIII, no. 3, 1935, pp. 167–172


[red.], Výstava ruského malířství v Praze, Umění VIII, 1934–1935, pp. 416–420

Views of the exhibition

View of the Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting in the 18th – 20th Centuries

View of the Retrospective Exhibition of Russian Painting in the 18th – 20th Centuries

Brief notes about the exhibition

Anonymous author, Činnost výstavní, Ročenka Slovanského ústavu v Praze sv. VIII. Za rok 1935, Praha 1936, pp. 20–21.

Anonymous author, Výstavy v březnu 1935, Typografia, časopis pro technické a společenské zájmy knihtiskařů XLII, 1935, p. 126

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