The Russian Museum

Aleksandr Demyanchuk/ТАSS
Locals rarely take a full tour of the main collection of the Russian Museum exhibited at the Mikhailovsky Palace. As a rule, people walk through the whole collection to see everything that has happened in Russian art between the 12th and the 20th centuries, twice: once as children and once as parents of children. But the Benois Building — a palace wing that opens to the Griboyedov Canal Embankment — is a completely different affair as it hosts many wonderful temporary exhibitions.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to walk through the entire Mikhailovsky Palace. The Russian Museum has an excellent icon collection, from the 12th-century masterpiece Angel with Golden Hair to the much later icons of the 18th century, far removed from the Greek canon. While it took European painters hundreds of years to move from flat paintings to three-dimensional ones, a process that led to the discovery of the laws of perspective and the intricacies of light-and-shade, Russian artists made a giant leap straight from flat icons and puffy painted portraits of the early 17th century. Symbolically, the museum collection is presented in such a way that the visitor only has to step over the threshold that separates the Middle Ages from Modern Times and come face to face with the portrait of artist Andrei Matveev and his wife. This 1729 painting is remarkable in that it’s the first self-portrait in the history of Russian art and it’s also the first representation of an amorous experience.

The farther, the deeper. Russian artists went to Italy, Italians came to work in Russia and this cultural exchange produced a real burst of creativity in a very short period of time. The collection of 18th-century art is brilliant proof of this. In addition to paintings and sculpture, Mikhailovsky Palace has a wonderful collection of Empire-style furniture. Walking through the suites of rooms towards the 20th century, you will see the works of serf artists and Peredvizhniki painters; monumental works of Karl Bryullov, Vasily Surikov and Mikhail Vrubel; smaller and more personal paintings by Boris Kustodiev, Valentin Serov and Robert Falk; works by Alexander Golovin and Nathan Altman, Vasily Kandinsky and Pavel Filonov. There is also the agitprop porcelain of the 1920s and the art of the first Soviet five-year plan.

In the Marble Palace, a branch of the Russian Museum, you will find the collection of early-20th century art that was gifted to the museum by philanthropist Peter Ludwig as well as the works of our contemporaries. The Stroganov Palace hosts the collection of decorative art and a waxwork exhibition, while the most interesting exhibition of St. Michael’s Castle tells the story of Emperor Paul I, his life and tragic death.

Ticket offices: Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Mon 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., Thu 1 p.m. - 8:30 p.m..