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.