State Tretyakov Gallery Main Branch

sights / Other

Lonely Planet review

The exotic boyar castle on a little lane in Zamoskvorechie contains the main branch of the State Tretyakov Gallery, housing the world’s best collection of Russian icons and an outstanding collection of other pre­revolutionary Russian art. Show up early to beat the queues.

The building was designed by Viktor Vasnetsov between 1900 and 1905. The gallery started as the private collection of the 19th-century industrialist brothers Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov. Pavel was a patron of the Peredvizhniki, or Wanderers, a group of 19th-century painters who broke away from the conservative Academy of Arts and started depicting common people and social problems. Nowadays, these are among Russia’s most celebrated painters, and the Tretyakov boasts some of the most exquisite examples of their work. Within the museum grounds is the Church of St Nicholas in Tolmachi (noon-4pm Tue-Sun), where Pavel Tretyakov regularly attended services. It was transferred to this site and restored in 1997, and now functions as an exhibit hall and working church. The exquisite five-tiered iconostasis dates back to the 17th century. The centrepiece is the revered 12th-century Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, protector of all Russia, which was transferred here from the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin. The Tretyakov’s 62 rooms are numbered and progress in chronological order from rooms 1 to 54, followed by eight rooms containing icons and jewellery. In rooms 20 to 30, the art of the most prominent Peredvizhniki artists occupies its own space. Look for Repin’s realist work, including the tragic Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan , in rooms 29 and 30. A selection of Levitan’s landscapes is in room 37. Vrubel’s masterpieces, including Demon Seated (1890), are in rooms 32 and 33. Icons are found on the ground floor in rooms 56 to 62. Rublyov’s Holy Trinity (1420s) from Sergiev Posad, widely regarded as Russia’s greatest icon, is in room 60. The entrance to the gallery is through a lovely courtyard; the Engineer’s Building (Lavrushinsky per 12) next door is reserved for special exhibits.