As the author of this catalog Marina Senenko notes, among the collections of Dutch paintings in Russia the Pushkin Museum of Art is second only to the Hermitage. Given the five landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, six nearly unanimously accepted compositions by Rembrandt, and five late works by Vincent van Gogh included among the 400 works cataloged here, one can only agree. It must be said, however, that this catalog is much harder to use than its companion volume published two years earlier, which covered the remainder of the Netherlandish collection. The liberal use of good color reproductions made that volume a useful visual resource, despite the language barrier. Presumably economic circumstances dictated that only twenty-six works could be illustrated in color in this catalog, arranged together at the head. Even though most of the black and white illustrations of the subsequent entries fill at least a third of the page, and despite the fact that the photographs are printed at a fairly high level of resolution, it is difficult to ascertain much of what is depicted in many compositions.
Since few scholars of this material outside Russia read the language, it is somewhat disappointing that more was not done to the design of the catalog to make it accessible to non-natives. The color plates are arranged chronologically (with both early and late Rembrandt represented, but no Van Gogh). The entries themselves are arranged according to the Cyrillic alphabet, meaning, for example, Esais van de Velde precedes Hendrik Goltzius. Since each artist’s name is also given in English/Dutch and the title is translated into English, a reader can consult the index tucked away at the back that gives the page of the first work by each artist. Unfortunately the artist’s name is only listed with the first title attributed to him instead of with each work, so simply leafing through the catalog repeatedly entails turning back the pages to make certain whom among the lesser known artists a particular work is given to. (There is also a list in Russian and English of attributions that were changed since the comprehensive 1995 catalog, which only included abbreviated entries.)
The Russian bibliography is extensive and includes a long list of archival sources that, with what must have been considerable labor, yielded extensive provenances for many of the paintings. Correspondingly, among the non-Slavic sources the numerous citations of catalogs of long-dispersed private collections will prove useful to many. In a fascinating introductory essay Senenko details the history of the imperial demands, soviet politics, numerous nationalized private collections, and cast-offs from the Hermitage that formed the collection. The Shchukin family, long associated with the art of Matisse and Picasso, included a little-known black sheep who collected old masters from the Dutch school. Four of the museum’s five Van Goghs, on the other hand, were bought in Paris by the voracious collector I.A. Morosov. It is in this carefully delineated patrimony that the eclectic characteristics of the Pushkin Museum of Art come to the fore, and the collection comes alive. This is a catalog written for the Russian museum world. For the rest of us, it is a cumbersome but useful research tool.
Nina E. Serebrennikov