Exhibition: From Russia with Love: Selections from the Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, Collection of Russian Art
Mead Art Museum
Open until May 2017
Thomas Porter Whitney (1917–2007), a 1937 graduate of Amherst College, went to Moscow as a member of the US diplomatic corps during the Second World War. He married a Russian woman and soon became a connoisseur of the riches of Russian art and culture behind the public facade of the Soviet regime. When the couple relocated to the United States, in 1953, they were not allowed to export many cultural goods. Whitney began to collect rare books, manuscripts, and artworks in a systematic way only in the 1960s.
By the end of the 1980s Whitney had amassed over six hundred paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures by some 170 artists, most from the first half of the twentieth century. The collection he ultimately assembled represents the creative life of Russian cultural elites who, under the Soviet regime, were forced either to emigrate or to go underground to avoid persecution. Many of the artworks were purchased from émigrés who sold their possessions in times of financial need. The most significant works, however—including those on view in this exhibition—came from trusted galleries and auction houses.
Through the purchases he made, Whitney not only captured major trends in Russian art, but paid tribute to the multifaceted artistic currents—including sacred art, book illustration, geometrical abstraction, stage design, and the manifold treatments of representational motifs—that shaped twentieth-century Russian art. This exhibition presents highlights from Whitney’s collection, most of which he gave, toward the end of the century and near the end of his life, to his alma mater.
Organized by Bettina Jungen, Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, Curator of Russian Art. Presented with generous support from the Julia A. Whitney Fund for Russian Art and Faye DeWitt.
An interview with Bettina Jungen, Mead Art Museum’s senior curator and Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, Curator of Russian Art at Amherst College about her current exhibition, “Journeys in Space and Memory: Urban Scenes and Landscapes by Russian Artists,” can be found here.
This exhibition brings together seventeen twentieth-century Russian rural and urban scenes from the Thomas P. Whitney (Class of 1937) Collection. It offers a journey to places around the world that were cherished by the artists who depicted them. The works continue the nineteenth-century tradition of Russian landscape painting, founded by a group of realist artists called the Wanderers, which split off from the classical academic canon, with its emphasis on rendering scenes from the Bible and mythology, and started to depict their environment, frequently with sociocritical intentions.
Progressive artists of the twentieth century—as featured in the exhibition—rejected, however, the realism from the previous century, which continued to be popular with the Soviet regime. Their art was rooted in Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and, after the Second World War, in modernist currents from the early twentieth century and contemporary Western art. What remained active in these artists’ worldview was the dispute about Russian culture and politics, and questions of identity and belonging, nostalgia and survival.
The display includes views of St. Petersburg by Mstislav Dobuzhinskii, Alexandre Benois, and Vladislav Izmailovich. All three artists loved the city and depicted it throughout their careers, both while living there and when recalling it from memory while living abroad. Other works in the exhibition include a view of Paris by Robert Fal’k, a fantastic African landscape in Pavel Filonov’s Flight into Egypt, and an early work by Natalia Goncharova depicting Moscow, as well as paintings by Mikhail Larionov, Isaak Levitan, Oskar Rabin, and Marianne von Werefkin. Print materials on view from the holdings of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture include journals featuring David Burliuk, the “Father of Russian Futurism”; The City (Gorod), a poem by Aleksandr Rubakhin illustrated by Goncharova; and Chant of the Universal Flowering (Propeven’ o prorosli mirovoi) by Filonov.
The exhibition has been organized by Bettina Jungen, senior curator and Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, Curator of Russian Art, Mead Art Museum.