The William Turner Exhibition


Between 17 November 2008 and 16 February 2009, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts hosted an exhibition of oil paintings and watercolours by the outstanding British landscape painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851).

The exhibition of this British master became one of the most anticipated and important cultural events of past years. It was organised thanks to the efforts and donations of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation, and in particular through the personal support of its founder, Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist Alisher Usmanov.

The exhibition included 112 works by William Turner from the collection of the Tate Britain, which houses much of the creative heritage of this British master. In addition to his best-known paintings and the famous Turner watercolours created in the artist’s late period, the exhibition also presented a series of works previously little-known to the Russian public. These were the creations from the artist’s early period, as well as his training sketches and studies that reveal his work as a teacher and an art theorist.

At the press conference preceding the official opening of the exhibition, Alisher Usmanov said: “It gives me great pleasure to participate in this event which will provide our public with an opportunity to appreciate the work of this artist, an artist who can be fairly described as the embodiment of English painting... As a member of the Board of Trustees of the Pushkin Museum, I gladly responded to the request of the museum to organise this exhibition... I think that business will always occupy a worthy place in the development of cultural relations between states, and we, as far as our capabilities allow us, will certainly continue to help the museum develop and grow.”

The Director of the Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota, said that a cultural event of this magnitude could only be achieved through the joint efforts of all stakeholders. He expressed his special thanks for the generous assistance in the organisation of the exhibition to Mr. Usmanov and his colleagues from the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation.

General feedback about the Moscow exhibition of William Turner’s oil paintings and watercolours proved it to be a phenomenal success.

During its three months 200,000 visitors came to see the exhibition. According to the Director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, in the last week before its closing, the museum “experienced a genuine assault”: the exhibition had to work in 11-hour shifts, from 10 am to 9 pm, to allow all the visitors in. Many of the viewers visited the exhibition two or more times.

For the first time in the history of the Moscow Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the end of the exhibition was marked by an official closing ceremony.

The cultural and educational program organised especially for the exhibition period was also unprecedented.

The educational program dedicated to the exhibition included group tours of the exhibition for adults and children, an initiative that was also new to the Pushkin Museum. The tours were attended by about 3,000 visitors. Special tours called “Sunday Strolls” were organised over the weekends, and were personally guided by the exhibition curator. The exhibition saw particularly strong interest from the capital’s schools, the language and humanities faculties of Moscow’s universities, as well as from diplomatic academies.

The Turner exhibition became the leitmotif of the annual musical festival, December Evenings, that year held under the slogan “A Dedication to Turner: Image and Sound”. In 2008, the festival program included numerous performances from the works of the well-known British composers: Purcell, Handel, Elgar, Taverner, Bridge, Vaughan Williams and Ireland. For some of the works it was their very first time being performed in Russia.

Another event timed with the Turner exhibition was held by the Children’s Centre for Aesthetic Education “Museion”. It was an exhibition of children’s art, featuring 1920s children’s drawings from Britain. The tutors of the Centre also staged the sketch, “A Journey with William Turner”, and some scenes from this mini-production were also included in the official closing ceremony.

On the literary side, the educational program included an essay contest for young exhibition visitors of 14-16 and 17-25 years old. In total, the contest received more than 60 essays, 20 of which were selected as the most interesting. At the closing ceremony, the authors of the best works received memorable gifts from the Pushkin Museum, the British Council, and the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation.