Balagurov N. V. Emperor at an exhibition: a story from the modern era (.pdf)


The paper examines Alexander III’s visits to the shows organized by the Partnership of Travelling Art Exhibitions (the Peredvizhniki). It addresses two historiographical threads that had traditionally emphasized the opposition between the autocracy and the Peredvizhniki. The author examines the contexts and motives that brought the Emperor to the Partnership’s shows and reinterprets those relations as reciprocal. Since their break up with the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1875, the Peredvizhniki were seeking, in Bourdieu’s terms, an alternative institution of legitimation. However, on the late 19th century Russian art market, the only comparable alternative was to be found in the figure of the Emperor and other members of the royal family. At the same time, with Alexander III’s ascension to the throne, visual arts, and the Partnership’s shows in particular, were perceived as an important tool in service of the current political agenda. In supporting the Peredvizhniki, the Emperor demonstrated his patronage of contemporary art, popular in the capitals and the provinces of the Empire. The Emperor’s support of the group drew attention of the government towards the kind of art exhibited at their shows. Drawing on documents, letters and memoirs, the author demonstrates that Alexander III never initiated censorship of controversial pieces by himself, rather following the response of St. Petersburg audiences as it was communicated to him by Konstantin Pobedonostsev. In other cases, he allowed the Peredvizhniki to use his persona to rescue the paintings questioned by lower ranking officials. In return, he received the opportunity to preview and buy paintings before the official opening of the shows, leaving his market rival, collector Pavel Tretyakov, with second choice options. The author concludes by suggesting that modernity should be employed as a key concept in explaining the reciprocal relationship between the Emperor and the Peredvizhniki.


Key words: Alexander III, Peredvizhniki, exhibition, censorship, scenario of power, art market, modernity.


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