Letter: Paintings in Moscow and St Petersburg

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The Independent Online
Sir: Michael P. King is mistaken in disputing the testimony provided by Sir William Hayter (letters, 7 and 9 April). As might be expected from a former ambassador, well-versed in the arts, Sir William rightly recorded that the paintings by Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists, including the work of Matisse, some of which were exhibited in The Hermitage, were collected by the two Muscovite merchants, Mororosov and Schukins.

The relationship between Moscow and St Petersburg was neatly summarised by Arnold Haskell in his book on Diaghilev in 1935.

If St Petersburg looked to France, it was mainly the eighteenth century that held her interest, while Moscow was more venturesome and speculative, and her merchant collectors sought contemporary works for their galleries which are now the basis of Soviet museums of modern art.

Mr King has overlooked the power of the Soviet state which could move paintings from Moscow to Leningrad, or remove them from exhibition.

Soviet guidebooks cannot be relied upon as to the historical contents and evolution of the collections. They only tell us what was to be seen, and where and when. After a revolution, works of art can also become 'non-persons', and lose their identity. While they retain their intrinsic beauty, their pedigree and their provenance can be expunged if not remembered by those, like Sir William, whose first-hand testimony is to be valued and welcomed. Mr King should be reminded of the old joke, 'there is no news in Izvestia and no truth in Pravda'.

Yours faithfully,

IAN LOWE

Newton Reigny, Cumbria

April 11

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