From 1903 onward, the Russian businessman Ivan Morozov made a point of making an annual pilgrimage to Paris, which was then considered the art capital of the world. He had been so thrilled by purchases he’d made of works by Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet in the French capital that he decided to undertake the 1,800-mile journey each year. When he got there, he barely had to make an effort to locate treasures.
According to dealer Felix Fénéon, Morozov merely plunked himself down in a chair in the backroom while the gallerist trotted out masterpieces by Impressionists. “Having engaged his particularly discerning eye, Mr. Morozov was too tired in the evening to even go to the theatre,” Fénéon wrote. “After days at this pace, he left for Moscow having seen only paintings, taking a few chosen pieces with him. In 1913, his collection was world famous.”
Morozov’s holdings, along with those assembled by his brother Mikhail beginning in the 1890s, are now considered invaluable because they contain so many major works by the defining artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Mikhail, the elder of the two brothers, died first, in 1903; Ivan died in 1921 and assembled the collection with an edgier taste.) There are numerous paintings and sculptures in it by artists whose work now commands gargantuan prices at auction: Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and many more. They also added to their collection art by Russia’s top talents of the day, including Konstantin Korovin, Valentin Serov, and Mikhail Vrubel.
Starting in 1918, as Russia nationalized Ivan’s manufacturing company, the businessman’s holdings began entering the national collections. Today, the Morozov collection is dispersed across the Pushkin Museum and the State Tretyakov Museum in Moscow, as well as the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. (Mikhail’s collection was bequeathed to the State Tretyakov Museum, so it was already held by the state by the time Ivan’s art was nationalized.) Now, for the first time ever, works from the collection have traveled outside Russia.
Currently on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris is a survey of the Morozov collection. A blockbuster on the scale of the museum’s 2017 Shchukin collection survey, which brought in a whopping 1.2 million visitors, this show spotlights two patrons who helped “support the boldest modern art being made in France and Russia,” as the show’s curator, Anne Baldessari, puts it. Below, a look at six works from the collection.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary (1878)
When it came to buying art, both Morozov brothers showed a then-unusual openness toward modern art. Yet Mikhail proved to be the more aesthetically conservative of the two brothers, and this Renoir painting typifies his sensibility. Bought by Mikhail in 1902, Renoir’s 1878 painting shows the actress Jeanne Samary in a frilly light pink dress. Although it displays the Impressionist’s brushy painting style, which scandalized the Paris art world of the time because it was so unlike what was taught in the academy, the painting is nowhere near as radical as another portrait of Samary made the year prior that was owned by Ivan. In that portrait, Samary’s form appears to fade into a hot-pink background, blurring the boundary between its subject and the setting in which she is shown.
Paul Cézanne, Landscape: Mont Sainte-Victoire (1896–98)
In his interview with Ivan Morozov, dealer Felix Fénéon asked about which artist’s work got the most attention from visitors to his home. “Cézanne,” Morozov said. “I could have shown them twenty examples of his genius.” Indeed, Morozov collected Cézanne’s artworks in depth, and when his holdings were nationalized, important examples of the artist’s paintings of landscapes seen in the south of France, still lifes, and bathers headed to state-run Russian museums. For artists based in Russia, paintings such as this one proved inspirational because they were able to capture nature in flux by incorporating multiple perspectives at once.
Natalia Goncharova, Orchard in Autumn (1909)
While the bulk of the best-known works the Morozovs acquired were by artists based in western Europe, Ivan also developed a reputation for fostering rising talent at home. Painted when Natalia Goncharova was not yet 30 years old, this landscape draws on similar pictures being produced by the Post-Impressionists. Goncharova’s color scheme, which is heavy on mustard yellows, pays homage to hues used by Pierre Bonnard, whose work was also owned by Ivan.
Pierre Bonnard, The Mediterranean Triptych (1910)
Ivan Morozov was an avid buyer of works by artists associated with the Nabi group, which rose to fame in France at the end of the 19th century for their dramatic plays with color. Drawing on styles from Japanese art that made their way to Paris in the form of woodblock prints, these painters offered up flattened landscapes whose bright hues looked nothing like life itself. Of that group, no artist is better represented in Morozov’s holdings than Pierre Bonnard, who was commissioned in 1910 to paint this work for the collector’s mansion. (After the collection was nationalized, it headed to the Hermitage.) The quaint scene depicts women lounging by a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with a lush vegetal arch running across the monumental triptych’s three canvases.
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910)
Ambroise Vollard, the Paris gallerist who helped spin Cézanne and Gauguin into market sensations, acted as one of the main dealers to Ivan Morozov. Indeed, it was Vollard who turned Morozov on to Picasso, spurring the collector to buy the artist’s 1901 painting Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and His Companion) seven years after it was made. This Picasso painting depicts the dealer in a way that could hardly be described as traditional—Vollard’s bearded face is discernible, though not much else around him is. Instead of a gallery or a home, Vollard is shown emerging from something closer to a void. The portrait has been considered a shining example of Analytic Cubism, a style in which forms are represented from every angle at once, so that everything appears to shatter into an array of geometric forms.
Ilya Mashkov, Still Life, Plate of Fruit (1910)
Partly thanks to Ivan Morozov’s deep holdings of the Post-Impressionist’s work, the Russian art world caught Cézanne fever in the early 20th century. Among those to follow in Cézanne’s footsteps was Ilya Mashkov. Mashkov exhibited alongside other self-proclaimed Cézannists as part of a group known as the Jack of Diamonds, who also drew their inspiration from the Cubists active in France. In this painting, Mashkov synthesizes the look of Cézanne’s still lifes with the fractured forms that had come to define paintings by Picasso and Georges Braque.