Paintings of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow: 7 masterpieces worth seeing

Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art is part of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (located in the adjacent building by address Volkhonka street 14).

It houses one of the best collections of impressionism and post-impressionism in the world. Only the d’Orsay Museum in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York can argue with it.

For such a legacy, we are grateful to two pre-revolutionary Russian collectors — the industrialist Ivan Morozov and the merchant Sergei Schukin. They spent thousands of francs per year on the future masterpieces’ purchase.

Here are just 7 paintings, which can not be passed by.

Part of the text is highlighted in a different color: this means that you can only observe these features of the paintings alive.

1. Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Portrait of actress Jeanne Samari. 1877

Renoir. Portrait of Jeanne Samari
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Portrait of Jeanne Samari. 1877. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art), Moscow.

This portrait is a sketch for another, ceremonial portrait of Jeanne Samari. It is now kept in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Renoir. Portrait of actress Jeanne Samari
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Portrait of actress Jeanne Samari. 1878. Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

However, most art critics consider this study to be one of Renoir’s main masterpieces.

This painting is the quintessence of female sensuality and charm.

It has a little secret. If you look at the actress’ dress directly, it is green. If you look at it from the side, the dress turns blue.

When Renoir showed the portrait at the exhibition in 1873, many contemporaries did not understand him: “Her hands are like fish scales!”

But there were supporters: “This portrait can be eaten with a spoon!”

Renoir embellished the appearance of the young woman. In life, Jeanne was not so pretty. But she was laughable and had a charming smile.

Photo by Jeanne Samari

Once a young man from a wealthy family fell in love with her. Aristocrats did not want to take a representative of a frivolous profession into the family. None of them came to the wedding.

Jeanne died at 32 from typhoid fever. Leaving her husband two daughters. And also this portrait. It hung in his apartment until his death.

2. Vincent Van Gogh. Red vineyards in Arles. 1888

Vincent van Gogh. Red vineyards in Arles
Vincent van Gogh. Red vineyards in Arles. 1888. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art), Moscow.

Van Gogh created this painting in the provincial town of Arles. He came here from Paris in search of bright colors.

His searches were crowned with success. He created the most vivid and famous paintings here. And his famous “Sunflowers”, and “Night Cafe”. Including the “Red Vineyards”.

In fact, the vineyards are not red. Greens only temporarily acquired a red tint under the rays of the setting sun.

Van Gogh could not get past such an optical effect.

The artist painted it in the technique of impasto. The paint is applied in very thick large strokes.

The painting is also known for the fact that it was purchased for decent money — 350 francs. Prior to this, Van Gogh managed to sell no more than 20 of his works for much more modest money.

It is believed that this was the beginning of his recognition. And if not for the fatal shot in the chest in 1889, Van Gogh would very soon become rich.

3. Paul Cezanne. Pierrot and Harlequin. 1888

Cezanne. Pierrot and Harlequin
Paul Cezanne. Pierrot and Harlequin. 1888. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art), Moscow.

Paul Cezanne was the complete antipode of the impressionist. He sought to create a monumental that exists outside of time. In contrast to the Impressionists, who sought to convey the impression of the moment.

Claude Monet created his paintings in hours and even minutes.

Cezanne worked on Pierrot and Harlequin for 2 years! A son and friend of a son posed for him. No one else would agree to hundreds of grueling sessions.

Notice how Pierrot’s costume is carefully drawn. It only seems white from some distance. Nearby, you will see that the folds are written in green and blue.

The composition of the painting is also unusual. Pierrot pokes at Harlequin’s back with his fist. Apparently, after hearing another causticity from the arrogant Harlequin, the sensitive but cowardly Pierrot did not dare to show his fist in response.

The artist changed the pose of Harlequin more than once. As a result, his leg was at the very edge of the canvas. Cezanne even bent it so that the foot fit.

4. Paul Gauguin. Are you jealous? 1892

Gauguin. Are you jealous?
Paul Gauguin. Are you jealous? 1892. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art), Moscow.

Paul Gauguin was always burdened by prim Europe. Half Peruvian on the maternal side, he lived up to seven years among the exotic nature of South America.
Therefore, it is not surprising that he once escaped from Paris to Tahiti.

Painting “Ah, are you jealous?” — one of his best Tahitian works.

She is bright, exotic. It is from such works that Gauguin is recognizable.

The painting depicts the moment of life of Tahitian girls spied by the artist. They lead a leisurely conversation, taking relaxed poses.

One is surprised why the other is jealous. We understand the topic of conversation by the phrase written by Gauguin below “Ah, are you jealous?”

For us, this scene will not be understandable if you do not know the customs of the Tahitians.

Tahitians were supporters of free love. Even a married girl could spend the night with another man. Therefore, jealousy was considered inappropriate.

Hence the surprise of one girl in relation to the jealousy of another. Yes, she spent the night with her friend’s lover. What is so here? These are the mores.

Unlike Van Gogh, Gauguin did not like impasto technique. Imposed a thin layer of paint. Therefore, through the paint it is easy to see the weaving of the canvas.

5. Edgar Degas “Blue Dancers”. 1897

Degas. Blue dancers
Edgar Degas. Blue dancers. 1897. Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow).

It is believed that Edgar Degas was a painter of dancers. But as he himself claimed, he did not like dancers, but movement and beautiful dresses. That is what he was looking for in the ballerinas.

You may think that four dancers are dancing in the painting. In fact, they do not dance. And there are not four of them at all!

Most likely, Degas portrayed one girl from different angles. After his death, photographs were discovered in his archives. The same girl was captured on it at different moments of movement.

We see how she bent to correct pointe. In the next instant, she straightens the straps of her dress. And then she holds onto the scenery to inspect her dress.

Degas achieved a blue shining color in an unusual way. The picture is painted in pastel. This is a kind of wax crayons.

Degas worked on the pastel with steam. Under the influence of steam, it softened, and the artist distributed it over the canvas with a brush. This made her even more radiant.


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6. Claude Monet. White water lilies. 1899

Monet. White water lilies
Claude Monet. White water lilies. 1899. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art), Moscow.

Closer to 50 years, Claude Monet finally received a well-deserved recognition. His paintings began to buy for decent money.

Without hesitation, he bought a house in the picturesque province of Giverny. Here he set up a magnificent garden with a pond.

Initially, there was no pond on the purchased plot of land. Manet created it artificially, changing the bed of a nearby river.

Monet lived in Giverny for 43 years. In his garden, he created hundreds of paintings.

12 works are with a Japanese bridge. The one that is stored in the Pushkin Museum is considered one of the best in this series.

By the way, water lilies in the pond appeared shortly before this painting was created. Prior to this, the bridge extended over the clear expanse of water, as in the painting “The Bridge in Monet’s Garden”.

Monet. The bridge in Monet's garden
Claude Monet. The bridge in Monet’s garden. 1895-1896. Private collection.

7. Henri Matisse. Red fish. 1912

Matisse. Red fish
Henri Matisse. Red fish. 1912 Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American Art), Moscow.

In the painting we see a very small part of the greenhouse. On the table is a jar of goldfish. On the left you can see a wicker chair. The greenery of the plants makes the fish even brighter.

Often Matisse’s painting is said to have been painted by a child.

Yes, the still life seems unfinished and naive. Matisse deliberately simplified his painting. He refused to mix paints and small details so as not to drown out the effect of colors on the viewer.

The master created the painting after visiting Morocco. There he was amazed at how the Arabs looked at goldfish for hours.

Matisse created the “Golden Fish” for leisurely contemplation and meditation.

You can feel how the picture “pulls” you into its space. And you want to stand in front of it for a long time, not in a hurry.

Matisse said, “I want a tired, exhausted viewer to taste the peace and repose in front of my painting.”

Matisse wrote many still lifes with fish. Compare the “Red Fish” from the Pushkin Museum with the other two from MOMA in New York.

Paintings by Henri Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
Paintings by Henri Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Left: Goldfish and Sculpture 1911. Right: Goldfish and Palette. 1914.


After the revolution in 1917, the collections of Schukin and Morozov were nationalized.

Schukin’s house turned into a museum. The former owner was allowed to live in the gatekeeper’s house. Before leaving Russia in 1919, he guided tours of his former mansion.

Ivan Morozov, meanwhile, was appointed assistant curator of his own collection. He also left Russia in 1919 and soon died in France…

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