A Careful Art Collector and the Russian Revolution: Notes on Ivan Morozov
Nov. 27 is the birthday of a textile magnate who plotted how to build and display an impressive collection of modern art. Then came the Bolsheviks.
Ivan Morozov (1871–1921) seems to have accepted that the Russian Revolution took his wealth and his home. What he could not bear was the loss of his art collection.
In 1918, a Russian sculptor Sergey Konenkov appeared at Morozov’s mansion in Moscow in his new capacity as a Bolshevik official, according to a biography by Natalya Semenova. (There is a link at the end of this essay to a bibliography of sources used in my research.) Konenkov, who knew Morozov, presented him with what’s called a ‘preservation order,’ essentially taking the mansion and its collection.
A member of a family made wealthy generations earlier through textile manufacturing, Morozov initially took a post as a deputy curator to oversee his collection after the Soviets seized it. He was granted use of some rooms in his own mansion as an apartment for his family. By 1919, Morozov decided to flee Russia with his family. But he remained concerned and hopeful about the fate of the collection he’d arranged with such care.
‘’The collection is unharmed, “ Morozov told French art critic Félix Fénéon in a 1920 interview, as quoted in Semenova’s book.” “None of the 430 Russian works, none of the 240 French paintings have suffered.”
“The collection is still in the palace where I assembled it and whose walls are decorated with Bonnard’s Spring and Autumn and the Story of Psyche by Maurice Denis,” Morozov continued. “It has been nationalized, however, just like my factories, and is now called the Second Museum of Western Art.”
The First Museum of Western Art was what the Russian revolutionaries called the commandeered collection of Morozov’s fellow art collector Sergei Shchukin. Shchukin fled in Russia in 1918, while hoping the Soviet takeover would be a passing phase. Instead both he and Morozov died far from home. Morozov passed away at the age of 49 in 1921 in Carlsbad, a spa town that is now part of the Czech Republic. Shchukin lived for decades in exile, dying in Paris at the age of 81 in 1936.
The initial Bolshevik seizure of the Shchukin and Morozov art collections was only the beginning of the shakeup.
Under the Soviet Union, works from the Morozov and Shchukin collections were parceled out over time among several Russian museums.
In his 1920 interview with Félix Fénéon, Morozov seemed proud that the series of paintings French artist Maurice Denis made about the story of Psyche were still intact. But today these Denis paintings are not even in in Morozov’s hometown of Moscow, never mind in remaining in his home, as he’d wished.
Instead the giant Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg acquired Denis’ series about the myth of Psyche, along with many other works once owned by Morozov.
To me, this transfer of paintings seems a bit unfair. Catherine the Great gave Saint Petersburg a significant head start over Moscow in terms of art collections with her grand Hermitage.
Shchukin and Morozov, both made wealthy through sales of textiles, had intended to help Moscow catch up with their grand collections of modern European art. They also bought paintings by Russian artists who were inspired by avant-garde movements, such as Natalia Goncharova (1881–1962).
Shchukin always planned to use his wealth to expose more of his countrymen to modern art. Even before the Russian Revolution began in 1917, Shchukin’s entire collection was open to the public one day a week. In terms of American collectors, Shchukin reminds me of Andrew Mellon, whose hard work and valuable donations started the National Gallery of Art of Washington, D.C.
But Morozov reminds me more of the creators of two of America’s most intimate and personal collections of modern art: Albert C. Barnes of the Barnes Foundation, now located in Philadelphia, and Duncan Phillips of the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
A Russian poet and art critic Sergei Makovskii who knew Morozov described his friend as being the “type of collector completely immune from outside influence,” wrote historian Sergius Yakobson in the New York Times in 1973.
Morozov “added to his collection only what he liked and what was in line with his understanding of art objectives,” Yakobson wrote. “In his friend’s opinion, Morozov never bought a picture because of snobbism or for the sake of a great name.”
And read in this essay how paintings Catherine the Great acquired for the Hermitage later found their way into western collections in the Soviet years, including works Andrew Mellon donated to the National Gallery of Art.