Reveal the riddle, wrapped in a mystery of the Wanderers

Lovers of Russian paintings are in for a rare treat as the Shanghai Museum exhibits an eye-opening collection of "The Wanderers: Masterpieces from the State Tretyakov Gallery."

Lovers of Russian paintings are in for a rare treat as the Shanghai Museum exhibits an eye-opening collection of “The Wanderers: Masterpieces from the State Tretyakov Gallery.”

The Wanderers were a group of liberal artists who protested against the official academy and united several of Russia’s most talented and ardent artists of the late 19th century. 

Their touring exhibitions became popularized in Russian cities and the countryside, and the Wanderers gradually grew into one of the biggest and most important movements in the history of Russian art.

As one of the most foremost art institutions in Russia, the State Tretyakov Gallery boasts the most comprehensive collection of the Wanderers’ artworks and even has its own gallery called the “Home of the Wanderers.”

This Shanghai exhibition features 68 canvas works on loan from the Tretyakov Gallery. The exhibition is divided into six categories ─ Academy of Art and its Tradition, The Wanderers and Their Predecessors, Landscape Paintings of the Wanderers, Portrait Paintings of the Wanderers, Historical Tableaus, Genre Paintings of the Wanderers and the Young Generation of the Wanderers.

“Some of them have never traveled outside of the gallery and are ‘best of the best’ in the gallery’s collection,” said Yang Zhigang, director of the Shanghai Museum. “The Wanderers formed a new realist art form that would serve the common man and society as a whole, rather than the high and the mighty.”

Portraiture was one of the strengths of Russian painting and of the Wanderers’ creative legacy as well. It was the Wanderers who created a consummate type of psychological portrait with an insightful understanding of the essence of individuality. They were able to express the movements of a human soul and the vibrations of human thought in a portrait image.

“An Unknown Woman” (1883), by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, is the spotlight of the exhibition. The painting is widely considered as the most renowned masterpiece of the 19th century. It features a well-dressed young lady sitting in a britzka in the mist of a winter morning. 

Kramskoi always wanted to express “the meaning of the face.” Not only an appealing face, but also the beauty of every detail in this portrait prompts the viewer to figure out the mystery in the image. It would be a tough task, as the artist took the secret, and name of the lady in his paintings, to the grave. 

Another highlight of the exhibition is “The Boyarynia Morozova in a Sleigh” (1886), created by Vasily Ivanovich Surikov. The 19th-century artist recreated one of the most monumental tragedies of the era in an epic tableau. Before rendering the daunting work, the artist created many sketches, drafts and paintings. Through this painting, art lovers get to have a glimpse of his final work.

Exhibition details

Date: Through March 4 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm

Venue: Shanghai Museum

Address: 201 People’s Ave

“An Unknown Woman” (1883) by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi

Ti Gong

“The Boyarynia Morozova in a Sleigh” (1886) Vasily Ivanovich Surikov

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