Monday, December 17, 2007

Newly Reopened Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts showcases Priam's Gold and masterworks by Cranach and Tiepolo

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is hauling hidden masterworks by Cranach and Tiepolo out of storage and dusting off the golden treasures of Troy to mark tonight's gala re-opening of its main Moscow exhibition space.

Over the past year, the museum, the Russian capital's leading collection of Western European art, has revamped the display of its permanent collection -- modern lighting has been installed, artworks have been better arranged on walls and rarely seen masterpieces spruced up and put on display.

The project ties in with plans by U.K. architect Norman Foster, approved on Nov. 22, to add 110,000 square meters (1.2 million square feet) to the museum's current 40,000 square meters. The Pushkin aims to mark its centenary in 2012 with four new buildings on adjacent land within sight of the Kremlin, and the renovation of several decrepit czarist-era structures.

``The role of the museum in the world is changing,'' said museum director Irina Antonova, 85, in an interview in her office last week. ``The collection is growing, the number of personnel is growing, as is the number of visitors. The lack of space for exhibits and storage is an enormous problem.''

The remodeled permanent exhibition includes paintings never before displayed by the museum, such as ``Calvary'' (1515) by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and ``The Madonna Attended by St. Anthony, St. Louis, and St. Francis of Assisi'' by 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Rembrandt and his school now have their own room, as does the gold of Troy dug up by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, which was looted by Soviet troops in 1945. There's a new room for Ancient Greece, including items excavated in the Crimea by the Pushkin's own archaeologists.

Restored Works

Experts have skillfully restored many European paintings to reveal their original bright blues and reds, including ``The Virgin Suckling the Child Jesus,'' by 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran. Two works by 17th-century French artist Claude Lorrain also have been returned to their original bright colors.

The Pushkin, which owns about 650,000 items and is visited by about 1 million people a year, has one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, with works by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso. These have their own gallery, opened in August 2006, next to the museum's central building.

The new space planned by Foster will go toward conservation laboratories, state-of-the-art storage, more exhibition space, a library and rooms for classical-music concerts.