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« Elsewhere | Main | Giclée OK? »

October 05, 2005

Flash! Moscow Unknown Lady Found in NYC

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When I was in Moscow and St. Petersburg a few weeks ago I zipped around some galleries looking for important late-19th and early 20th century paintings. But I didn't see everything I had hoped to find. I chalked that up to not hitting quite the right era during my time-limited gallery scrambles. (For example, in one museum I looked at the late-19th Century stuff but missed paintings from the early 20th that were on another floor.)

At Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery I was halfway hoping to stumble across Ivan Kramskoy's popular Unknown Lady.

Uknown Lady - Kramskouy- better color.jpg "Portrait of an Unknown Lady" by Ivan Kramskoy

In Russia, this painting is like Gustav Klimt's The Kiss is in Vienna -- reproductions seem to be almost everywhere (I even saw one in a Russian farmhouse).

I never found Unknown Lady, and simply shrugged it off. But I also noticed that three galleries had been closed off in the general area where the painting might have been: shrugged that off too, but maybe it was a signal.

Today in The Wall Street Journal's Personal Journal section I found a review of a new exhibit of Russian art at the Guggenheim in New York City with Unknown Lady glancing back at me. [Sound of scream of anguish here.]

The exhibit runs through 11 January. My travel plans are locked in through then, so it looks like I'll just have to miss seeing her and maybe a couple paintings that weren't on display in St. Petersburg either. [End scream and cue sound of gnashing teeth.]

Anyway [sob], if you happen to see her, ask Unknown Lady how she likes New York and wish her a pleasant stay.



posted by Donald at October 5, 2005


Donald: will do.

I'm inclined to think she'll approve of the city; she clearly was unhappy in Moscow.

Sadly, the famous blue satin ribbons and black fox jacket are illegible on your reproduction (or on my screen).

Posted by: Tatyana on October 5, 2005 8:07 PM

Oh, wait, it just dawned on me: you've been to a Russian farmhouse?

Posted by: Tatyana on October 5, 2005 8:16 PM

Tatyana -- Okay, I replaced the image with one that has the coloring you indicated, but at the cost of looking a little blurred. Since the color is indeed improved, I think I'll stick with it. (For those curious as to what's at issue, other images can be found by Googling "unknown lady"+kramskoy with Google in image mode.)

The farmhouse? En route (by tour bus) from Novgorod to Moscow, the tour director did a tour-director thing, having us stop at this farm by the highway. It was some sort of deal where the lady got some income from such stops. The tour group got some kind of pancake-thingy (I forget the name) plus the opportunity to buy souvenirs. The building wasn't fancy at all, but the structure and smells reminded me of farmhouses in the Catskills such as the one where my Ex's parents lived back in the 70s.

And yes there was a small print of Unknown Lady on one wall. By the way, the Tretyakov gift shop area had 2006 calendars for sale featuring a cropped version of Lady on the cover.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 5, 2005 8:33 PM

Thank you, the colors are better now.
Your "farmhouse visit"...shudder. That's why I prefer solo traveling.
Was going to suggest this bookshop for the calendar, than noticed it's on "special order" - probably sold out! (calendars are usually $7-9)

Posted by: Tatyana on October 5, 2005 8:55 PM

Unknown? No, that's Anna Karenina.

Posted by: nate on October 5, 2005 9:33 PM

The poor Unknown looks best on chocolate candy boxes, really, and the famous bears from Shishkin's Morning in a Pine Forest look charming on Russian chocolate bars.

I once got into a situation almost exactly opposite to this: during the few days I spent in Paris in 1999, the d'Orsay hosted two exhibits, of photographs by Lewis Carroll and of paintings, tapestry and stained glass by Burne-Jones.

Posted by: Alexei on October 6, 2005 2:18 AM

Lesha, how's this situation opposite? It woud be if wherever you travel, Tretyakov's treasures shadowed you.

[and damnit, you shouldn't mention Shishkin; it reminded me of an academic-speak philological discussion I followed yesterday, accompanied by this link]

Posted by: Tatyana on October 6, 2005 9:04 AM

What's so wonderful about a painting that tries to be photographic?

Posted by: ricpic on October 6, 2005 10:32 AM

Does it? Try to click on the link I provided above, may be you'll change your opinion.

Or better yet, come to NY to find out.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 6, 2005 12:44 PM

Nate -- Geat detective work. Now we need to get our people to talk with Tolstoy's people and Kramskoy's people to set Kramkoy straight on who that gal was.

Alexei -- You mean she's on candy boxes? (Mmm...chocolate.) Sounds like Mozart in Austria. And Sissi. That's Kaiserin (Emperess) Elisabeth, wife of Franz-Josef, assassinated in 1898. I happened to be in Vienna in 1998 when they marked the centenary of that event. In parallel with the Mozart candies (in red wrappers) there were Sissi candies in violet wrappers.

ricpic -- Famous paintings are, well, famous and folks will even stand in line to see them, subject matter or artistic style be damned. Mona Lisa was pretty realistic in its day. Guernica is very Picasso-ish. Both draw crowds. Unknown Lady is big in Russia and might seduce a few of us Yanks while in NYC.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 7, 2005 9:38 AM

ricpic, I can't explain why I like strictly representational things, I'm like that with books too. Magical realism and flights of fancy irritate, for some reason. And I will never, never, never tire of looking at the human face. I liker her expression in this one: it's a challenge, isn't it?

Posted by: MD on October 8, 2005 12:41 PM

Tatyana, this is what I had in mind. Case 1: you go to city A to visit Museum B hoping to see famous painting C. On arrival, you find it missing, being displayed in another country (such as your own).

Case 2: you go city D to visit Museum E to see famous painting F and find that, in addition, famous paiting G is being displayed there, having been brought from over the sea just for a week or two.

Chocolate is art's curse: I can't take the Unknown Lady seriously just I can't listen to The Swan Lake and not get sick. Seeing the real thing does not always help. Mona Lisa turned out a small picture in a glass box curiously placed in a hall bedecked with mural-like Veronese paintings in lavish frames, East Asian tourists taking turns by La Gioconda's side to be photographed.

Posted by: Alexei on October 10, 2005 3:50 AM

I'm going to be in New York this week. Another thing to go and see. Splendid.

Posted by: Michael Jennings on October 14, 2005 9:45 AM

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