Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blue Rose Art Blooms Late in Day

On March 18 in 1907, a group of 16 talented artists from the southern Russian city of Saratov gathered at the private residence of porcelain magnate Mikhail Kuznetsov on Myasnitskaya Ulitsa in Moscow. They were there to open the first - and last, for some time - exhibit of the work of the "Blue Rose," group, one of the most important Russian art phenomena of the early 20th century.

The "Blue Rose" movement - it was called "the last splash of the European symbolism movement" by art historian Valentina Krychkova in her book "Symbolism in Fine Arts" - focused on art that depicted what doesn't exist in nature - blue roses, for example.

The group broke up just three years after the 1907 exhibition. The subsequent destinies of the artists involved vary from early death to total obscurity to successful Soviet-era careers.

Only in 1925 was the work of nine members of the group exhibited together again at the "Masters of the Blue Rose" exhibit at the Tretyakov Gallery. Today, 75 years later, the work of all 16 group members plus that of the group's teacher, Viktor Borisov-Musatov, is on display for only the second time in history at the Museum of Private Collections' "Blue Rose" - a collection of 150 paintings, pieces of sculpture and works of graphic art that are today privately owned by 30 Russian art collectors.

"Thanks to Soviet power [which purchased little 'Blue Rose' work for state museums], the private collections are no worse than those at the museums," said Alexei Slavin, a Museum of Private Collections curator.

Indeed, since "Blue Rose" was declared "decadent, bourgeois and alien to the Soviet people" in 1927 - because it didn't conform to the Socialist Realism ethic, which dictated that art must champion Socialism - and remained in disfavor until the 1960s, private collectors were able to enrich their collections with a great many important pieces.

Valery Dudakov, director of Russia's Fine Art Collector's Club and the owner of the best private "Blue Rose" collection in Russia - 25 pieces of which are on display at the Museum of Private Collections - is one of the few collectors affiliated with the exhibit who hasn't asked to remain anonymous: Most are afraid they will be targeted for theft.

"[Blue Rose] is the quintessence ... of the rest of Russian art of the 20th century," Dudakov said. Certainly, theme in "Blue Rose" varies: from Pavel Kuznetsov's and Martiros Saryan's Eastern, to Sergei Sudeikin's and Nikolai Sapunov's theatrical, to Pyotr Bromirsky's religious, to Vasily Milioti's fairy tailish, to Nikolai Feofilaktov's erotic.

Art critic Sergei Mayakovsky early last century said the unlikely color and brightness of "Blue Rose" "transforms paintings into enchanting sights of colorful panels which glimmer like a fairy rainbow."

Dudakov purchased one of the 25 - the largest, Pyotr Utkin's "Night" (1904) - under extremely unusual circumstances in 1974.

It seems that immediately after Josef Stalin declared most types of avant-garde artwork illegal, Nikolai Vinogradov, the well-known pre-revolutionary collector, hid his collection in special secret cupboards in a wardrobe in his apartment in the center of Moscow. Vinogradov told no one of the cupboards, including his own son, who eventually stumbled upon the art by accident.

"One of my painter friends called me right from Vinogradov's apartment and told me that the first painting had been recovered from underneath the wallpaper," Dudakov said. "I purchased it right away - it was one of Utkin's best works."

The exhibit really isn't a uniform representation of the movement's work - the best works, according to another museum curator, Alina Volodina, belong to the Tretyakov Gallery.

"We are showing the rare pieces that aren't usually available for viewing," Volodina said. "And, of course, there are some masterpieces among them."

Generally, Slavin warned, however, "it's impossible to compare work from private collections with those belonging to a national treasury, such as the Tretyakov Gallery."

The private collection, for example, features the work of lesser-known artists from the movement, like Vladimir Drittenprais, Ivan Knaby, Vasily Milioti and Ivan Bromirsky, much of whose work has been destroyed and can only be found in private collections.

"Blue Rose" (Golubaya Roza) runs through Feb. 13 at the Museum of Private Collections, located at 14 Ulitsa Volkhonka. Metro Kropotkinskaya. Tel. 203-7998. The museum is open from 12 to 6 p.m. and is closed Mondays.