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Home | Russian Art | The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London

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The National Gallery boasts one of the richest and finest collections of Western European painting in the world that amounts to more than 2,300 works of art from late medieval and Renaissance periods to early 20-th century paintings.

The National Gallery, LondonThe National Gallery, LondonThe Gallery was founded in the beginning of the XIX c. on a series of personal bequests and its collection expanded through decades by means of a shrewd acquisition policy. After lengthy discussions Trafalgar Square, as the very centre of London, was considered to be the most suitable site for the national art collection. The new building housing the National Gallery collection opened in 1838.

Russian collection. There is currently only one painting by a Russian artist in the huge collection of the National Gallery, and even that one is on loan from Tate Britain. It is Study of an Old Man by Ilia Repin, executed in oil on canvas in 1878. This study is believed to belong to a series of work, painted by Repin when he returned to his birthplace of Chuguyev after having spent three years in Paris. The image can be seen in on-line regime at 

© The National Gallery, London

However, the works of art, which any visitor of the National Gallery encounters first, are four large floor mosaics by Russian artist and poet Boris Anrep (1883-1969).  Commissioned by the National Gallery and paid by private patrons, the mosaics were executed between 1928 and 1952 and cover the landings of the Gallery’s main staircase. While each mosaic has its own main theme, reflected in their individual titles, the artist regarded his work as a philosophical cycle.

The earliest to be executed are the two mosaic pavements made in 1928 and 1929 respectively, which cover the vestibule’s floor of the Main Hall. They are: The Labours of Life in the West Vestibule and The Pleasures of Life in the East vestibule. They illustrate the two main aspects of human life: work and leisure.

The marble mosaic set into the floor of the half-way landing in the Gallery’s Portico entrance, is called The Awakening of the Muses, and it is the first to greet visitors. Completed in 1933, it develops the themes of the first two mosaics further as it represents the eternal dichotomy of the Dionysian and Apollonian elements (personified by corresponding Greek Gods) as the source of creative impulse, that is, the awakening of the muses. Anrep added an unconventional twist to the treatment of the motive, representing both Gods and the muses as portraits of his contemporaries, so that Clio acquires the features of Virginia Wolf, Terpsichore is impersonated by prima ballerina Lydia Lopukhova, and Melpomene by Greta Garbo.

The last work, finished in 1952 is the North Landing’s mosaic The Modern Virtues. As it was the case with The Awakening of the Muses, The Modern Virtues also acquire features of some prominent contemporary personalities: the celebrated physicist Lord Rutherford represents Curiosity, while Sir Winston Churchill fighting a creature in a shape of swastika is Defiance.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill depicted as Defiance

Prime Minister Winston Churchill depicted as Defiance. © The National Gallery, London