The Odesa State Museum of Art opened its doors to the public in 1920, along with many other art museums set up in the Soviet Union in that year.
Later, based on this museum's collection of foreign art, the Odesa Museum of Western and Oriental Art (renamed Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art) was established, housed in a palace that was constructed between 1856 and 1858 to a design by the architect L. Otton.
The collection of Italian art is the most representative and comprehensive in the section on West-European art. It includes paintings, sculptures, and works of decorative and applied art dating from the Renaissance period (15th century) up to the twentieth century.
The painting "Madonna Enthroned" by a Florentine artist Francesco Granacci, 1519, is a typical example of the High Renaissance. The religious subject of the picture is given a conspicuously secular treatment: the imposing image of a mother, ready to make any sacrifice for the sake of mankind, is viewed in harmonious unity with the surrounding world, combining both spiritual and earthly qualities.
Magnificent creations of easel painting were produced by the Venetian School. The legendary and mythological subjects of the Venetian artists are permeated with elevated and festive moods. Thus, for instance, "The Rape of Europa" by an artist from the workshop of Jacopo da Ponte Bassano employs the antique subject just as a pretext for depicting Venetian beauties against the background of an Italian seascape.
Exceptional artistic merits can be easily traced in the "Portrait of a Woman" by an unknown Venetian painter of the sixteenth century. The seventeenth century, a significant and complicated period in the history of Italian art, is represented by a number of important paintings. "Susanna and the Elders" by an Italian artist of Giovanni Pittoni's circle, and "The Allegory of Summer" by Francesco Ruschi both demonstrate characteristic Baroque principles in painting.
The collection contains quite a few paintings executed by celebrated Italian artists who were active during the second and third 'academicist waves'. These paintings reflect diverse tendencies which existed at this particular period in seventeenth-century Italian art.
The problems raised by the seventeenth century - above all the problem of man in disharmony with his environment - were further developed in the eighteenth century, determining many features of the artistic life of the time. The violently rebellious Caravaggio, in defiance of the authorities, declared that living reality was of paramount importance for both the conception and execution of a painting, thereby ushering in a new epoch in Italian art.
This epoch came to an end with the despondency of Alessandro Magnasco, a representative of Romanticism, chronologically belonging to the eighteenth century. The five paintings of Magnasco exhibited in the museum make up one of the most important collections of works by this Genoese artist.
The distinctive feature of Magnasco's creative work is a particular expressiveness in his technique which is due to the artist's keen sense of man's loneliness in the world.
Magnasco's works in the museum collection give one an idea of both the various genres and principal stages of the artist's work.
Among them we encounter Magnasco's typical multifigured compositions "Corps de Garde", scenes from the monastery life "Tonsuring Monks", landscapes "Landscape with Figures and Mary Magdalene".
The painting St. Jerome (left) deserves special mention as it is one of the artist's early works distinguished by uncommon expressiveness where symbolism combines with powerful plastic modeling. Magnasco's paintings had a positive effect on the work of Marco Ricci, a prominent landscape painter of the eighteenth century.
The scope of his work is extremely broad: the picture on display demonstrates that the artist was a skillful landscape painter who succeeded in combining the typically classicist scheme with an immediate impression of setting, including man's daily activities.
Ricci made a valuable contribution to the development of the type of landscape painting known as veduta. Francesco Guardi is one of the best-known vedutisti who, in fact, discovered the charm of the cityscape, and in so doing manifested an individual and profoundly poetic attitude.
With his landscape "Grand Canal in Venice" (below) Guardi comes forward as a dexterous painter of the elements - air, water, and light - in which he anticipated the impressionistic discoveries of the future. The striving of Italian artists to explore the world through art engendered their special attention to the environment and its 'commensurability' with man.
Majolica and furniture are represented in the Odesa museum by typical seventeenth-century specimens. Produced in traditional pottery and furniture centers, these articles were the embodiment of the contiguity of the so-called 'everyday art' and daily life. The visual arts of the time, on the contrary, stressed the representation of man outside his natural environment.
The neo-academicist trend dominated Italian painting and sculpture in the nineteenth century. The marble "Valkyrie" by the noted master at the turn of the twentieth century Cesare Zocchi mirrors the academicist conceptions in sculpture. The prominent Italian history painter Domenico Morelli, who enjoyed wide popularity among his contemporaries as a portrait painter as well, was a student at the Rome and Bolognese academies, the most influential of the period. His "Portrait of a Lady" (below) at the Odesa museum (perhaps one of his best) speaks eloquently of his talent.
Alongside interesting examples of painting and sculpture, the section on Italian art also contains works of the graphic arts, notably, Giovanni Battista Piranesi's splendidly 'composed' etchings, distinguished for their monumental character and virtuoso technique.
Also of great importance at the Odesa museum is the collection of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Netherlander art. It is quite small but contains the works from studios of such important artists as Gerard David "The Grieving Virgin", Jan van Scorel "Calvary", (below), and Lucas van Leyden "David and Abigail'. Each of the above paintings reflects one or another tendency prevalent in Netherlandish art of the time.
Thus, the picture from David's workshop retains certain traits of medieval art, combining them with a purely Renaissance approach to the religious image; whereas the Scorel reflects the artist's search for new pictorial principles, greatly influenced by his profound knowledge of Italian art. The painting "David and Abigail" attributed to Lucas van Leyden is noted for its high artistic merits. Works of considerable interest represent Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century.
Among these are two works by the outstanding portrait painter Frans Hals: "St. Luke the Evangelist" and "St. Matthew the Evangelist". Both portraits illustrate their author's innovatory and profoundly national conception of portrait painting which consists, above all, in the rendition of a man's character caught in an instant of life. In these pictures, Hals came out as a completely established master with a perception of life all his own. His deep understanding of nature evolved into innovatory painterly principles quite unusual for the seventeenth century: the free impressionistic brushstroke with a variety of expressive qualities, such as its texture, etc.
The museum exhibition displays a number of interesting Dutch genres, landscapes, and still-life paintings. "Festive Procession" by Jost Cornelisz Droochsloot stands out among other genre paintings for its sparkling optimism and purely Dutch attention to the setting. The visitor is also drawn to the works of Abraham Bloemaert whose creative work incorporated a peculiar blend of national Dutch traditions and Mannerist or Baroque elements.
Love and consideration for life in its daily facets gave birth to such a significant phenomenon in European culture as seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. One of its founders was Jan van Goyen whose "Winter Landscape" hangs in the museum. Another place of note in this section is held by "Feeding the Horses" by Albert Cuyp, an artist who reached a high point of development in such a genre variety as landscapes with animals. Still-life painting, one of the most popular genres in Dutch art of its greatest period, is represented by Cornelis Lelienbergh's "Breakfast" in which ultimate materiality blends with an almost mysterious glimmer of light; and by Cornelis de Heem's "Still-Life' with its light emanating colours.
The seventeenth century is known to be the 'Golden Age' of Dutch painting, but this fact notwithstanding, the ensuing centuries produced quite a few prominent artists as well. The most important of them is Jozef Israels, an artist of the nineteenth century. His "Saul and David" (sketch for a painting) is on display in the museum. The growing national self-consciousness and freedom-loving spirit of Flanders brought forth vigorous and earthly images.
Such is the canvas "The Drunken Hercules" by an artist from Rubens' workshop. The mythological heroes featured are reinterpreted in compliance with the national conception of the beautiful: they are depicted as strapping and stalwart as if they had been born of the powerful forces of nature. The indissoluble unity of the real, the beautiful, and majestic constitutes the principal clement of the work of Flemish artists of any genre: landscape painters of the romantic and fantasy trend "Roelant Savery", "Landscape" and "Paradise", painters of still-lifes "Alexander Adriaenssen", "Fishes", "Pieter Boel", "Still-Life', and others.
The painting "Smoker" by the eminent Flemish painter of genre scenes David Teniers the Younger is noted for the artist's close attention to detail and his keen eye for reality. Flemish portrait painting, inherently close to the Netherlandish tradition, is represented by works of high artistic quality. They are, specifically, the "Portrait of a Girl" by an unknown artist and "Portrait of a Lady Wearing Pearls" by Justus Sustermans, a popular portrait painter of his time.
Artistic weaving has traditionally been a time-honored craft in Belgium. In the museum exhibition it is exemplified by the tapestry "Achilles' Argument with Agamemnon" executed at the Van der Borchts manufactury to the design of Jan van Orley:
The nineteenth century was an important period in the history of Belgian culture because it again played a major role in the European artistic arena. The painting "A Sunny Day by Emile Claus", a celebrated artist of the impressionistic trend, is on display in the museum. The seventeenth century, the period of the flourishing of Spanish culture, produced a number of splendid portraitists.
Among them we encounter Juan Carreno de Miranda who succeeded Velazquez as court painter to the Spanish King Charles II. His "Portrait of Maria Louisa de Bourbon" is striking for its masterful conveyance of the queen's restrained expression, and melancholy highlighted by the opposition of the gloomy and dark background to the pale face; and the heavy ornate dress to the woman's slender figure.
Of the exhibits in this section mention also should be made of "St. Jerome" by an anonymous artist of Ribera's circle, with its expressive use of light and shadow and realistic approach to the religious image.
The collection of French art in the Odesa museum dates from the period of absolutism to the twentieth century. "A Youth in Armour" by Pierre Mignard is probably the oldest work in this exhibition. A director of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, Mignard created brilliant formal portraits which reflect not only the outward appearance of the sitter but, what was more important, his social status.
Antoine Coysevox's "Fame Riding Pegasus" and "Mercury" are distinguished for their confident modeling of form and the tempestuous mood they convey, accompanied by a flamboyant treatment. The work of Edme Bouchardon is marked by the retention of the Grand Style tradition. However, the main features of his plastic modeling were determined by the new epoch with the sentimental grace of the Rococo style which was very popular at that time.
The aesthetic aspirations of the eighteenth century found their reflection in the paintings of Claude Joseph Vernet, a celebrated artist of the time. His "Landscape with a Waterfall" is in accord with Jean Jacques Rousseau's ideas, interpreting nature as the embodiment of eternity, with the life of man and all his deeds as something transient, as an instant in the perpetual current of time. The same ideas received further development in Vernet's "Shipwreck" noteworthy for new aesthetic qualities evincing the approach of Romanticism.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a high point of development was reached by the craft of artistic weaving in France. It was precisely in that country that Gobelin tapestry originated, a complicated weaving technique that requires a high degree of professional mastery and a delicate artistic taste.
The tapestries "Zeus and Semele' (first third of the 17th century), marked by the noble restraint of color gradations, and the "Reception Given by a Chinese Emperor", executed in the then fashionable chinoiserie style, are excellent specimens of this art form.
French porcelain and faience, with their inherent national features, are also represented in the museum exhibition. The further development of French visual arts put in the foreground the problem of the depiction of nature. And it is only natural that the new pictorial principles which composed the basis of French Impressionism were formed in landscape painting.
The painters of the Barbizon School, the precursors of Impressionism, are represented by two landscapes: one by Charles Francois Daubigny, and the other by Victor Jean Binet, an artist who continued the Barbizon School traditions in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The creative search of these artists had much in common with the work of Pierre Jules Mene, a prominent French animal sculptor of the latter half of the nineteenth century. His thorough knowledge of animals' movements, habits, and attitudes enabled him to strike distinctive animal forms.
In contrast to the Barbizon School artists who were strongly attracted by the epic landscape, the French artists Charles Cottet and Guirand de Scevola widely employed impressionist pictorial techniques and created, in fact, a sort of the 'intimate portrait' of everchanging nature. The general scope of the evolution of French visual arts as presented in the museum is supplemented by the collection of graphic art which includes, in particular, the works of such renowned masters as Paul Gavarni and Honore Daumier.
The section on German and Austrian art consists of three subdivisions presenting various art forms: painting and applied art of the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries; porcelain of the eighteenth century; and painting of the nineteenth century.
The exhibition displays "Portrait of a Man" by the painter Jan de Bray from the circle of Hans Holbein, as well as "Christ and the Apostle John" painted by a German master supposedly at the turn of the seventeenth century. Early in the eighteenth century, Germany was to become the center of European porcelain manufacture.
There is on display a small basket ornamented with the heads of fauns and faunesses, produced at Europe's first porcelain manufactory in Meissen about 1730.
Apart from this, there are also a number of porcelain articles dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were made at other German factories which were noted for a specific approach to expressive qualities and functional properties of porcelain. The museum exhibition also contains works by artists whose creative personalities played an important role in molding the essential features of nineteenth-century German culture which in turn influenced European culture.
The work of Gabriel Max, an eminent artist of his time "Light", appears to be a complicated combination of the academic tradition and the theological and philosophic quests characteristic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The aesthetic principles of symbolism formed the basis on which the artist worked. He lent allegorical and extremely generalized implications to all the details of the picture, transforming it into the pictorial embodiment of the ethical categories of Christianity.
Austrian art is represented by a small but valuable collection of paintings of the nineteenth century and Viennese porcelain of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Chronologically, this collection begins with three paintings by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder which are important examples of late eighteenth-early nineteenth-century portrait painting. Of special historical interest is the portrait of "Admiral Deribas", a likeness of the famous military leader and statesman who took an active part in the construction of Odesa.
Tina Blau-Lang's "Landscape with a Canal", Hans Makart's "Gifts of Nature" and Alois Schon's "A Courtyard with Caryatides" represent Austrian paintings of the nineteenth century. The painting by Hans Makart, master of easel painting,interior decoration, and stage scenery, is executed in an inventive and bold manner, with certain patches of an expressive and splendidly selected color.
A number of fine works represent European and American art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among them is the canvas "Mother and Child" by the out-standing Hungarian painter Mihaly Munkacsy, two pictures by the Norwegian landscape painter Fritz Thaulow, several paintings by the prominent Finnish painter Albert Gustaf Edelfelt and a painting by the eminent American realist artist Rockwell Kent.
The art collection of the Orient contains paintings, pieces of sculpture, works of graphic art, and articles of decorative and applied art of the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
Persian metalwork and embroidery of the eighteenth century are particularly noteworthy for their consummate mastery of execution. Ivory and metal articles, as well as popular prints and fabrics, represent Indian art of the eighteenth-twentieth centuries.
The works of Chinese art - bronzes, porcelains, embroideries, and scrolls - are fashioned with marvelous artistic skill. The museum also displays works by Japanese craftsmen of the eighteenth-twentieth centuries.
These are, in particular, delicate ceramic articles, toys, masks, household utensils of rice straw or ivory, and colored prints. The collection of the Odesa museum is continuously enlarged by new acquisitions from various art exhibitions, thereby providing a deeper insight into foreign art, both old and contemporary. The museum's large-scale exhibition activities consist in organizing various art shows of works from major museums, participating in international itinerant art exhibitions, as well as in the exchange of exhibits with other countries.
The Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art enjoys wide popularity. It is visited annually by thousands of visitors from all over Ukraine and abroad.